Jan 2, 2012

Reaching more Latino listeners is crucial to NPR's survival, Tovares says

The efforts by noncom Radio Bilingue, which is expanding and building five stations along the U.S.-Mexico border, "are key as the number of Latinos in the U.S. keeps growing and the nation moves toward a presidential election," reports the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. "We want to offer news and information that's relevant to the lives of our listeners," said executive producer Samuel Orozco, "so that they can use it as citizens, to be able to participate in the decision-making process and be active members of society."

"They're a model of how Latino public broadcasting can flourish," Florence Hernandez-Ramos, director of Denver-based Latino Public Radio Consortium, told the paper. "There are a lot of people in the U.S. that speak primarily in Spanish. They have a right to engage in the national conversation."

Only about 5 percent of the listeners of NPR are Latino, said Joseph Tovares, senior vice president for diversity and innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. "If we are to survive," Tovares noted, "we need to reach these folks."

Radio Bilingue also oversaw Los Angeles Public Media, the CPB-backed startup that hoped to serve a new generation of minority listeners. It shuttered operations June 15 after failing to acquire an FM station and secure renewed support from CPB (Current, June 27, 2011).

Wilson: PBS is "premium television on the honors system"

PBS is hoping to "make audiences think of public television more like the top-tier programming of HBO, Showtime and other channels they are willing to pay for," according to the New York Times. As chief programmer John Wilson said, “Think of PBS and the local stations as premium television on the honors system.”

An aggressive promotional campaign helped "Downton Abbey" on Masterpiece win six Emmy Awards, the paper noted. "The thinking was that [PBS] had to up their game,” said Kliff Kuehl, president of KCPT in Kansas City, Mo. “That’s what we’ve evolved to — trying to give people that pay-TV moment.”

And federal funding remains an important component of PBS's success, said President Paula Kerger. "People say ‘your business model is broken’ and we should walk away from federal appropriations,” she said. “It’s an unusual system but frankly, PBS was envisioned as a public/private partnership. I don’t think we can trade out that blend that makes public television different.”

UPDATE: Variety blogger Brian Lowry thinks the New York Times is giving PBS too much credit for its "strategy" with "Downton Abbey." He writes: "PBS and Masterpiece didn't set out to justify public broadcasting's existence by ordering 'Downton Abbey.' They simply happened to stumble onto a terrific, compelling program (or programme, if you prefer) that connected with viewers. Now, they are doing what they should do — trying to capitalize on its success by reminding people public television carries certain fare that doesn't often flourish in the commercial space. In other words, PBS is like pretty much everyone else in TV: A surprise success dictates strategy, not the other way around. Still, let's not get carried away: The prospect of public television replicating that success and delivering another showcase with this kind of impact is a complete crapshoot."