PBS signs up with Nielsen

Public broadcaster will not receive overnight ratings

For the first time in nearly 40 years of broadcasting, PBS has signed on as a weekly Nielsen subscriber, a move that will allow the public television service to provide clients with a more accurate look into its audience deliveries.

PBS is not ponying up for overnight ratings, but the weekly Nielsen NPower data will offer sponsors a more timely read on programming performance.

Although PBS does not run traditional call-to-action advertising, it does solicit marketers to underwrite its programming expenses through sponsorships. Rather than a 30-second spot shilling a product or service, PBS sponsors are identified by short creative that runs immediately before and after the supported program.

In the past, sponsors backed PBS programs for a 52-week run. This spring, the broadcaster began accepting shorter commitments, some as brief as a week. The decision to loosen the sponsorship guidelines reflects clients' increasing desire for greater flexibility -- a phenomenon that also has informed the broadcast and cable scatter market in the past several quarters.

Content restrictions remain in place, in accordance with the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

PBS said it began kicking the tires on the new service in the fall, with the premiere of the Ken Burns documentary series "The National Parks: America's Best Idea." Each episode of the six-part series averaged 5.5 million average viewers, per Nielsen data.

Among the primetime PBS programs that Nielsen will measure are "Antiques Roadshow," "Masterpiece Theater," "PBS NewsHour" and "Nova." Kids-targeted series that will get the Nielsen demo treatment include "Sesame Street" and "Curious George."

"PBS is meeting the evolving needs of our program supporters, who are essential partners in making our content available to the public," said Andrew Russell, senior vp of PBS Ventures. "The new Nielsen ratings service will provide current and potential sponsors with a detailed picture of the diverse audiences our programs serve."