Connecting the Dots

Overview of Paper and Its Findings

Who are your viewers and how do you talk to them? We present a variety of evidence showing that use of code words and slogans is not a very effective way of communicating with viewers, members and lapsers. We argue that you have to know what kind of viewers you have, when they view and how to talk to them about what is important to them about Public TV.

The paper is in two sections. This section summarizes and gives a general overview of the concepts. It is designed to stand alone. The second section of the paper provides details about the core values and concepts and tells how to use them to communicate with Public TV viewers and members.

One crucial feature of research - like focus groups or field surveys - is that the findings are presented almost like a string of beads, with one nugget of data after another in some kind of list or litany. But one not only wants to know what the most important findings of any research are, one also wants to know how "things fit together". What are the processes involved in people's thinking? How do things work together? How do you connect the dots?

"It's All in Your Head"

Marketers and psychologists tell us "a brand" is an interconnected set of ideas and thoughts in people's brains. When people think of Coke or Pepsi as brands, meaning does not reside in the cans of soda but rather in people's heads. And advertisers have spent millions of dollars to create and sustain that brand identity in human hearts and minds.

Public TV is a very complicated "brand" in comparison with a can of soda. For many people, it is like a Gordian knot of many different ideas, feelings, memories and beliefs that stand for "Public Television".

Using a research technique described elsewhere in the paper, we established that people had a core set of values that they associated with Public TV and its programming. Viewer's own values mesh with the Public TV's core values. And as we said above, it's all in their heads. Core values are like the roots of a large tree; and, like roots, most components of these values are buried in a person's cognitive unconscious mind and not easily accessible.

We found that core values are layered sets of associations. Hence, we develop the maps of core values as ladders of associations that detail how people relate to and experience Public Television programming. Some ancillary values flow from the programs themselves - something we call the narrative voice (more on this later).

Here are the findings in a nutshell.

People trust Public TV to telecast uninterrupted programs of quality that engage the mind and spirit and that promote personal growth and life long learning. People also want Public TV to be a safe haven for children and their programming.

The values of honesty, fairness (balance), tolerance, ethics, civility and so on lie within these core values. In a sense, the norms of living in a civil society are deeply associated with the core values for Public TV.

The core values that we explicated in our studies are summarized as follows:

The mega core value is trust. People trust Public TV to do the right thing in terms of programming, fundraising and community relations.

The narrative voice of Public TV is a seriousness and deliberativeness in its programming that we dub calm discourse. Because the programs are uninterrupted, they are more likely to engage viewers in engrossing long narrative "story" arcs. (The programs "Don't insult your intelligence".)

Most of the news and documentary programs are distinguished by their calm discourse in terms of narrative voice. Viewers want balance and perspective in these programs and cherish the ability to draw their own conclusions and make up their own minds on matters. This distinction should not be lost. The programs allow people opportunities to form their own opinions. They believe that this helps them become better citizens and makes possible meaningful social interactions with their friends and family as they discuss what they just learned. Finally, it reinforces -- in a pleasing and satisfying way -- their self-esteem. Hence, there is a ladder of relationships between narrative values, content and personal development.

Three important value clusters emerge that truly distinguish Public TV from commercial TV:

  1. Children's programming provides a safe haven for kids, and the programs themselves have a robust and focused moral and ethical curriculum that parents endorse. In the audience for children's programs are modest-sized "Bands of Mothers," whose influence should not be underestimated. These cadres of mothers almost defiantly defend and explain their selection of Public TV for their children's viewing at the expense of commercial television. They are an untapped resource for most stations.
  2. "The More You Know, The More You Want to Know" is a mantra for the second cluster of viewers. Lifelong learning core values reflect the hunger for informal education that resides in some people. Many genres and series meet this need. Nature, science, finance, how-tos, travel and Antiques Roadshow are some genres that fulfill the need.
  3. Patron of the Arts is an important cluster of viewers and members who gravitate toward a sometimes neglected set of genres: namely, arts and drama programs. These people say that there are not enough of their favorite programs on the air.

The model that follows shows the interrelationships of the values and the genres. For example, some children's viewers watch nothing but that genre, hence the use of the dashed line. The same is true for some viewers of the weekend programs who may or may not watch drama and the arts.

The viewers of Public TV are intelligent people. Besides being smart, they are curious and inquisitive about the world around them. They do not seek to be entertained in the passive way that characterizes much of commercial TV viewing; they are active, attentive viewers, absorbing the content of many programs. At its heart, what drives this model of viewing is trust and curiosity.

So what happens if a person does not feel and endorse these values? Generally, they don't watch much Public TV. The programming on Public TV may not appeal to some people, especially younger adults. And if they are snared in a pledge drive and pledge for some premium there is a good chance they will not "renew" because they are not true "believers". (As they age, that may or may not change.)

Types of Viewers

Since dayparts vary in their programming fare, they attract different kinds of viewers. The children's programming, of course, is for children. Weekend programming differs substantially from prime time fare telecast Sunday through Friday.

For simplicity's sake we have created four classifications/types of viewers.

  • NPS Loyalists are people who like and view the major prime time strands in the National Program Service. They like series like Nova and Masterpiece Theater. Generally, they do not view much on the weekends. They are very busy and active people and do not spend much time with television, especially commercial TV.
  • Weekenders are people who generally only view on the weekend. They like the how-tos, the nostalgic music and the Britcoms. They view very little during the week. They generally like pledge shows. Their formal education levels are somewhat lower than the NPS Loyalists, and they are younger.
  • The Children's Audience is comprised mostly of kids and their caregivers. These programs attract significant numbers of viewers from the various ethnic minorities in America. Large numbers of people in this audience only view the kids' shows.
  • Last, are the Butterflies. These are occasional viewers who surf in and view an occasional program. They are attracted by shows that are events (e.g., Frontier House) that have enough buzz to function as tune-in promotion. They are younger (like the Weekenders) and they are not very committed to Public TV.

Relationship Between Types of Viewers and Core Values

Viewers of the weekend shows are not going to have many core values deeply embedded in their belief systems. Some adult viewers of the children's block do view the NPS prime time schedule. They generally are college educated and active in many activities. These women whom we dubbed "Bands of Mothers" have absorbed many of the core value schemes. The other viewers of the kiddy block have not; and that is why it is difficult to get them to support Public TV.

The diehard core of the viewership (and membership) is made up of NPS Loyalists. Their values are literally a part of their civic DNA. They view more often and more different kinds of programs than the other groups. This is the group that gets upset when their programs are preempted by pledge or scheduled too late in the evening, and when they feel there are "too many repeats."

"Putting Words to My Thoughts"

In the body of the paper we argue that most viewers have poorly articulated core value schemes. This means that when you talk to viewers on-air in pledge or promotional spots, or via direct mail (or any other kind of communication), your message has to articulate these felt states. You have to literally put words around their feelings. In other instances (with weekenders and butterflies), you have to educate these na�ve viewers about their obligations and feelings toward Public TV. In other words, you help create the value structures for them.

To assist your efforts, we have laid out the value maps associated with these core concepts. When you talk with viewers, you need a relatively elaborate dialogue. Simply spieling out slogans and code words does not connect viewers with the key intellectual and emotional aspects of the values.

The second part of this paper, which follows, lays out those values and begins to develop better communication strategies to reach viewers.

Part 2: Core Values and Public TV

Core values are those beliefs about one's personal self and institutions that do not change over the course of time. For example, trust, virtue, honesty and tolerance are values that shape both one's expectations and behavior. What follows is a review of the seven key program value clusters that drive Public TV. A discussion of the research methodology is in the appendix and endnotes. 1

The figures are from an earlier PowerPoint Presentation. They are to be read from the bottom to the top. The nodes or boxes are values or benefits that flow from the program genre or institution.

Key Variable: Trust of Public TV

Trust: People have been viewing years, if not decades, and they have acquired norms of viewing and developed station expectations. The principal relationship between a Public TV station and its members is the trust that people extend to the station to do the right thing in its programming, its membership activities and its community service.

One of the more commonplace comparisons that people make is to contrast Public TV with commercial television. In that comparison, Public TV is seen as more trustworthy, more tolerant, less violent and more wholesome. The key observation we wish to convey is that trust is not a vague, warm and fuzzy feeling (although it can be that also); rather, trust flows from a complex web of observations and beliefs that the viewer has developed throughout the years and is summed up in that one word. As has been observed before, it usually takes years to build trust in an institution, but only moments to destroy it.

Program Core Values

Public TV programs are different. For some critics, viewing and appreciating the programs is an acquired taste, meaning the programs require some educational process to appreciate them. "Complex" and "dense" are two characteristics often cited about the programming. More unflattering observations are "boring" and "slow." Like it or not, most of the people that are regular viewers are intelligent, curious, and confident, and they think of "complex" as a virtue rather than a deterrent.

Narrative Voice/Long Story Arc/Advertising Free: This slide outlines a typical value ladder associated with uninterrupted programming that is ad free. It is worth repeating that nodes and values represented here came from viewers and members. They perceived and articulated these values.

The people list the attributes and benefits of "no ads:" uninterrupted viewing, which allows the viewer to maintain continuity, become more engrossed in the program, thus leading to greater viewing enjoyment. This ladder plots the now famous long narrative arc that characterizes most Public TV programming (e.g., Nova or Masterpiece Theater). Furthermore, being uninterrupted by advertising, the programs are seen as free from corporate influence, and this enhances program quality, keeps the content from being "dumbed down," and adds to viewing enjoyment. Additionally, ad-free programming is impartial and leads to programming independence. Public TV programs are seen as less materialistic, and this increases the intellectual appreciation of the programming.

Diagram: Uninterrupted Programs

When people refer to Public TV as "quality programming," what is often implicit in that statement is this appreciation for the narrative voice and the long story arcs that characterize the programming. Public TV viewers are bright and curious and have an urge for life long learning (which we will get to shortly). They appreciate programming that is complex, content that is dense in layers of meaning, and a format that has a slow, deliberative development of the narrative arc.

Calm Discourse/Balanced Perspectives: The viewers, especially middle-aged women, liked the "calm discourse" often associated with Public TV news/talk programming. They said that this programming was characterized by hosts and panels that were calm, respected one another, and did not create uncomfortable atmospheres.

Diagram: Balanced Perspectives - news/talk

In moving up the ladder, what emerges is the perception that these programs provide intellectual simulation that leads to social interactions with others. Viewers feel such programs let them form their own opinions and enhance and reinforce their self worth as persons and citizens.

One concept deserves a comment - secular. Respondents valued the idea that when something was discussed it did not get political, religious or ideological interpretation. It is not quite the same as neutral; more that the host interprets events and people without a bias influenced by doctrine of any sort.

Safe Haven/Bands of Mothers: As several persons said, the children's shows on Public TV are a "national treasure." But the days of learning the alphabet and counting to 10 on Sesame Street are long gone. Now, Public TV is in the moral and ethical training business. The first set of values (those to the far right) revolves around providing a safe haven for children to view media. From that flows the trust parents have in Public TV. Second, is the complex web of values that resides in the programming itself. The programming teaches values, how to make good decisions and social skills, and it promotes a tolerance of people's diversity. The ladder ends with two key values and consequences: the programming helps their children become successful in life and fosters a sense of belonging to society.

Bands of Mothers: Children's Programs

Borrowing a term from U.S. Military Veterans' groups, we have invoked the notion of "Band of Mothers." These women were proud, if not defiant, about having their kids view Public TV while others around them succumbed to the siren song of commercial kiddy programs that turned their children into "so much animated toast."

New Worlds/Fiction: In Public TV fiction programs, people are searching for "new worlds" that the programs will reveal to them. They value the narrative arc and complexity of the dramas. Mystery viewers do not want bodies or blood; rather, they want complex plots and "having to figure it all out." A continuing metaphor among Public TV fiction viewers was a comparison of their viewing satisfaction with "having a great meal at home or in a restaurant." Notice also that viewing, here, is not passive. In the words of interviewees, it's not like "just killing time watching commercial TV."

New Worlds: Fiction Programs

Fond Fun/Music and Britcoms: Two other genres are "lighter" ones; namely, Britcoms, nostalgic music and popular biography. These programs are acquisitions and are valued by older members. The values generated by these series are emotional, nostalgic, and the programs are close to pure entertainment. These programs are accessible to all ages and education levels. Their importance in the schedule is that they generate viewing from a diverse group of viewers, mostly on the weekends. The Britcoms are quite attractive to African American women, who pledge them from time to time. There are two kinds of music programming: Welk, which is a weekend show for some stations, and "Others", which are usually pledge programs that revolve around a genre that usually no longer exists or is only available on radio. The premium is usually the music and the motive is sheer enjoyment.

Fond Fun - Nostalgic Music and Britcoms

"The More You Know, the More You Want to Know"

Lifelong Learning: A critical viewer and member theme that emerged around multiple value structures is best described as "lifelong learning." It is very important because it is a theme that permeates much Public TV viewing and spills over into many genres. In primetime, three lifelong learning genres that have a great deal in common are nature, science and finance series.

Nature, Science and Finance: Each series engages the mind in terms of learning and reinforces important concepts, activities and self-growth. Nature viewers mention environmentalism and appreciation for the cosmos and other species; science program viewers talk about engagement in puzzle solving, gaining new perspectives, being stimulated, and having their life view enhanced. People who view the finance programs (Wall Street Week, Nightly Business Report, local business shows) say they gain practical and useful information to assist them in making correct decisions that improves their understanding and their lives. The underlying theme tying these genres together is the viewer's insatiable curiosity about the world, learning more about it, and being proud of his/her intellectual accomplishments.

Nature, Science and Finance

Documentary: This genre closely resembles the above three genres. Documentaries are often described as "windows on the world." Clearly, here one learns a great deal about the world, and one's perspectives are enhanced. You will note that there are some similarities with this and the news/talk ladders. This should not be surprising: they share many of the same values and objectives and fit the lifelong learning value structure.

Lifelong Learning: Documentaries

How-tos and Travel: Much is made of the fact that many genres that were unique to Public TV are now found on cable channels. On the surface that is true, but viewers tell us they can tell them apart, because cable programs are "slapped together" and "not deep" like Public TV's. That response, ironically, frequently emerged around two genres that Public TV professionals are apt to think of as "shallow:" how-tos and travel programs.

Lifelong Learning: How-Tos amd Travel

Here, again, learning and curiosity emerge as the driving motives for viewing. While one does not regularly think of how-tos and travel shows as self-enhancing or validating a viewer's perceptions of empowerment, they clearly serve a function beyond simply imparting information. But, viewers say, many of the genres on Public TV do exactly that - reinforce and validate their self worth as a functioning human being.

Patron of the Arts:

Cultural Music and Dance: This kind of performance programming is truly an acquired taste. Symphonic music and dance are appreciated by audiences that number about million or so homes. The pleasure is aesthetic but also communal, in that viewers know and sense they are part of a group of people who appreciate this kind of programming fare. The programs are ends in themselves, but some folks say they learn new things about the music/dance from Public TV, and they enjoy and appreciate that.

Performance Programs

Suggestions On How Use These Data

The programming on Public TV serves a wide variety of functions. It does a number of things simultaneously. It informs, educates, and engages a viewer's curiosity and intellect. We rarely sufficiently grasp the impact these "learnings" have for the viewers -- who are forever changed -- if ever so slightly, for the better.

Aesthetic pleasure is not negated by core values, but rather programs, production values, individual core values and the viewer's own interests and needs are intertwined - as we said earlier -like some Gordian knot that we must unravel carefully.

We turn now to the most complex part of the knot; namely, how the human brain deals with decisions and values. 2

Most of What We Know We Don't Know We Know 3

How the human organism functions is a mystery to most people. Few can comprehend the complexity of the most basic acts - such as breathing - or the immense number of impulses that surround the act of typing at a computer or driving a car to work. The cognitive unconscious exists for a purpose: if we did not have it we could not get through an average day. About 95 percent of what occurs in our brains is unconscious. Conscious thought is about five percent of the brain's activity.

Amazingly, most decisions people make about things in their lives are made in their unconscious brain, and they are not even aware of the decisions. Many evaluations and decisions are hard-wired, such as fear of snakes or strangers. For example, we evaluate a stranger - like/dislike, threat/no threat - in something like 1/25th of a second. Other immediate evaluations are based on value structures, social "norms" and expectations created by previous experiences and learning. These evaluations are also made in the cognitive unconscious, and the person becomes aware of "the decision" later. Often, the value structure has not been articulated, so "the reason" offered for the decision may be superficial, limited and imprecise.

These unconscious evaluations are part of the reason why people are not turned into automatons. Consider how many automobile commercials and how many pledge breaks the usual viewer/member has seen. Thousands, we assume, for the middle-aged and older viewers. But they have not pledged nor bought all those automobiles whose ads they have seen. Why? Because the cognitive unconscious has made a decision before the person is even aware of what is transpiring. If you are frugal, your unconscious is frugal. If you are profligate, so is your unconscious. You are trained (or your hard-wiring and norms train you) to be fairly consistent in your behaviors.

What does this mean to producers and Public TV stations? Many people who have been viewing Public TV for decades have formed a set of unconscious and conscious expectations or "performance norms" for their favorite shows. That these expectations are out of peoples' consciousnesses does not mean their brains are not sensing what is going in a program, or not calculating what to expect next, as they view.

Why do viewers become upset when a program violates their program norms and expectations? Most of these reactions occur almost instantaneously, outside of consciousness. People sense something is wrong or "not right;" they try to understand why they are experiencing a feeling/discomfort and eventually, somewhat willy-nilly, words and concepts surround the feelings and thoughts. That is why emotion often precedes thought when we are evaluating something. And when someone calls and complains on the viewer hotline they may sometimes be more emotional than rational. They are still trying to put words to their thoughts.

"Putting Words To My Thoughts"

Clearly, it is a producer's (and management's) job to help the viewers and members make explicit their implicit positive feelings (and, in the process, re-appraise their negative ones) in a comprehensible way that allows their affection and support for Public TV to become rational and explainable. That is where the value ladders and the core values come into play. They are, in a fanciful sense, the unconscious thoughts of members rendered explicit.

Our depth interview research, and the Lapsed Member survey research that followed, suggested that viewers need some help in articulating their positive feelings about Public TV and about expressing what's bothering them. And when we help them articulate it, they feel understood. When we help them phrase their unarticulated feelings, they are enlightened or relieved, grateful and responsive. You have shown you know them, and, perhaps, you have helped them better understand themselves. And when you know their most critical values and expectations, you will be, perhaps, less likely to inadvertently violate them.

"Show Me That You Know Me"

When you talk to viewers (and producers, as the case may be) about the core values of the programming, you should not just use phrases like "lifelong learning" in isolation. Certainly, code words and catch phrases might work (communicate) with some viewers, but not with many. The most effective method is to define an abstract idea like "calm discourse" or "lifelong learning" with a story that contains the core elements from the value ladders. We have attached a pledge script (as imperfect as it is) that lays out most of the elements in the "calm discourse" value ladders. This script, we know, communicates and resonates with viewers… since it has moved many of them to pledge.

How would you talk about lifelong learning? Here is a suggestion.

When you come to Public TV (or your station's call letters) and watch programs like � (Nova or Nature or Wall Street Week), you can expect to learn something every time. Our viewers are curious and value learning new things everyday, and our programs provide you with an opportunity for life long learning. Our viewers tell us that they use what they learn to discuss things with their friends and family. They feel informed and confident when they talk about issues and things with others. Public TV performs these functions everyday in thousands of different ways.

This is just one way to summarize a value ladder for a target audience. Communication professionals will be able to do it better. Some managers have used ladders to tell stories about how viewers use Public TV ('it's like going to school and learning all kinds of things, and there are no tests!").

The research literature tells us that when, in your communications (be they via direct mail, on-air spots, or pledge pitches) you render something implicitly felt into something explicit, you strengthen the bond with your viewers and members. As we have said elsewhere, our members are asking, "Show me that you know me." That's the viewer/member's hope. When you do, you will benefit your station with increased loyalty and enhanced support. It is simply a matter of "connecting the dots".

Appendix A

Laddering Interview Technique


Laddering Example

Appendix B

Example of How To Write Scripts Using Core Values Map

There is no real trick to doing this. You take the values and put them into words. Think of your task as taking a set of vague feelings that a person has about a program or the station and your script makes those feelings explicit…. In a sense you are helping a person connect with the station, the mission and institution of public service broadcasting. Values by themselves often do not communicate emotionally or intellectually. Values connecting a person's self worth, the service provided by the station and its role in a civil society closes the loop. Tell them what you are going to tell, tell'em, and tell them again.

The Map

Balanced Perspectives -- News/Talk