Is It Something That We've Done?

Summary of the Findings

People remain members because they like/love the programming. Members view more Public TV than lapsers. Members also view more different genres than lapsers. Members have a deeper commitment to a set of attitudes and beliefs about Public TV than do lapsers. These beliefs are almost like the articles of faith one normally associates with a religious belief system.

There are two kinds of lapsers: those who gave only one gift and lapsed and those that gave multi-gifts and lapsed. Single gift lapsers are younger, view mostly on the weekends, and endorse fewer of the articles of faith. They generally pledge and lapse. Multi-gift lapsers view a little more Public TV, but not as much as members. Multi-gift lapsers resemble members in many of their program preferences and endorse a few more of the articles of faith than single gift lapsers.

There is a commitment continuum that moves from the situational to the psychological. Lapsers view less Public TV, value its programs less and have a weaker commitment to their obligations as members.

Some multi-gift lapsers have lapsed because they are irritated about something. Irritations can range from perceptions of biased programming, programming that is too liberal, and too much fundraising (too much mail and too many pledge drives).

Membership and age are highly correlated. Lapsing is negatively correlated with age. Most lapsers are younger than members (under 50). That means that membership and lapsing are heavily influenced by one's generation.

The major finding was that Silents (58-69 year olds) are lapsing off the file for two reasons. They are upset by the constant fundraising and lack of attractive programming for them. They are still viewing, however.

We found that the mechanics of membership creates a renewal fog. Fifty percent of the respondents who said they were members were not. Most of these confused lapsers were pledgers and lapsed for less than 24 months. So they may be recoverable. There is much confusion about their obligations and the station's obligation for this thing called "membership".

There is little evidence that economics are the main cause for lapsing. Lapsers and members "gave" to about the same number of charities. A fact that is seldom noticed is how few people are truly donative (only one person in three gives to non-church charity). Many viewers are either former members or people who will never give.

Markets differ in how donative their viewers and members are. The western markets were the least donative. So, it is harder to raise money in some areas than in others.

Members and lapsers are smart, educated, and have high self-esteem. Both groups are civically active. Renewals are driven by women. Two-thirds of all people interviewed had a college degree. Many of the people we interviewed have been viewing for decades. That means they have viewed a lot pledge drives and seen a lot of mail. In turn, this means most fundraising messages are old and tired.

Our findings concerning the coherence of a viewer's attitude system for supporting or not supporting Public TV suggest that giving-paradigms need to be better understood by fundraising professionals. Cultivation and assimilation messages need to be honed and used to help people understand their obligations to the station.

The research reinforces the suggestion that PBS should develop and expand its variety of programming. The cume is shrinking because appealing programming in different genres has diminished. The linkage between liking a program or series, viewing it, and membership is tautological. If the range and variety of programming in a schedule becomes too constricted or focused too much on one generation, then membership will become limited to that group. So, it is crucial to find programs that bridge the generations, at best, or programs for each generation, at the least.

Report of the Study's Findings

Demographics and Lapsing: The Impact One's Generation

There is little need to belabor the point shown by much previous research: people who become PUBLIC TV members are usually women, usually well educated and usually older.

Education: In this study, two-thirds of the current members have a college degree. So the probability of a single person becoming a member is increased if that person has a college degree. However, we found there was almost no relationship between education and lapsing. In other words, college educated members lapse at about the same rate as high school drop outs. So lapsing, per se, is not a function of education… lapsing is due to something else.

Age: The fact of life is that as one ages and accumulates a little extra cash, one has the ability to donate to various causes. The above graph displays the number of people giving to Public TV (the line with the diamonds) by age. As age increases, so does the number of people giving to Public TV. The threshold (or high point) occurs at about age 55; the level stays high for almost two decades and then declines in the late-70s. The solid line shows the number of people lapsing. It is highest among younger people, who lapse in their 40s. Lapsing levels off for awhile through the 50s-60s, and then declines. Why do younger people lapse more than older people? Certainly age plays a role in one's giving and lapsing; but we think it is something more than physical age � it is the differential impact of one's generational cohort.

Generation: The figure above displays the size of the various generations. The key assumption of generational marketing is that people born at about the same time will share values and perspectives about the world that will differ from those of other generations. Conventionally, the Silent and G.I. generations are thought to be civically minded, team players and more apt to support charities. Boomers are assumed to be more individualistic, self-centered, less likely to be team players than their civic parents, and not given to charitable giving.

To test the age hypothesis (the older one becomes, the more apt one is to give to a charity), following Meredith and Karlovich we split the boomers into two groups. They argue that the leading edge of the boomer generation differs psychologically from the trailing edge portion of the generation, who are dubbed Jonesers. The oldest boomers are now in their mid-50s. Supposedly, they should be moving into their donative years, and we should be seeing some evidence of increased giving in comparison to the younger Jonesers. And there is some evidence in our graph that this is occurring. The Joneser cohort is giving at a very modest level. The oldest Jonesers are in their mid-40s, and it will be a decade or so before they (should) begin giving in earnest. But there is a huge divide between the Boomers and Silents, and the question remains whether the boomers will ever reach the Public TV donative levels of their parents.

Our data show that younger people can and will support Public TV, primarily through pledge, and then, generally, they will lapse. Our analysis argues that it is a function of a combination of age/generation and, perhaps more importantly, attitudes about and use of Public TV that is responsible for maintaining membership or lapsing.

Number of Gifts and Types of Lapsers

In this study, we quickly recognized that there were two very different kinds of lapsers, and these groups differ on a number of dimensions. Single-gift lapsers are very different in their attitudes, beliefs and viewing of Public TV than are multi-gift members who lapse. For that reason, in the discussion that follows, we compare three groups: current members, lapsers who gave only one gift and members who gave a number of gifts and then lapsed.

In the next graph we excluded the GenXers because they gave so little and concentrated on the boomers - early and Joneser - and their parents.

Once again we see the generational divide between the Boomers and their parents. Boomers and Jonesers are most apt to give single gifts and lapse. And there is some disturbing evidence that lapsing is growing among the Silent generation as well (the black bar in the above graph). Nonetheless, Silents, the very small depression-baby generation, have a higher number of current members than any other generational cohort. The Public TV supportive G.I generation membership numbers are in a state of decline through advanced age and death, and they will soon shrink into oblivion.

Markets: We also found that the markets in our study differed somewhat in membership behavior. We will deal with this subject later, when we discuss charitable giving behaviors.

Now, however, we turn our attention to three topics that comprise the environment for membership and lapsing. The first deals with programming.

What They Watch

The conclusion is no surprise. Current members watch more Public TV than lapsers. Actually, in our study, current members may or may not actually view more Public TV than lapsers - since we had to employ self reported viewing estimates. The important fact is that members think they watch more. Previous research suggests that perception of viewing is just as important as actual viewing behavior when it comes to respondents' valuation of Public TV and radio. Lapsers report less viewing, with single gift lapsers reporting less Public TV viewing than multi-gift lapsers.

Top Five Programs for Each Group
Percent Citing They View the Program "Often"*

Single Gift Lapsed 2 + Gifts Current Members
Britcoms (25%) Britcoms (26%) Britcoms (38%)
Antiques (24%) Antiques (26%) Great Perfs (35%)
Home Garden (23%) NewsHour (25%) Masterpiece (34%)
Nova (21%) Nova (22%) NewsHour (32%)
Nature (20%) Nature (22%) Antiques (32%)
The complete table is in the appendix

In the above table the percentage reflects the percent of people in that segment that reported viewing the series or program "often". Current members report viewing more core PBS/NPS programs than lapsers. Both lapser groups report viewing "often" four of the same five programs. But multi-year lapsers' sixth program was Masterpiece Theater at 21%, bringing the multi-year lapser a bit closer to the current members in viewing of key programs.

Some of the differences between lapsers and members are due to age. The single gift lapsers tend to be younger than the other two groups. But even more important - single gifters view less of the traditional or core PBS schedule and view more of the weekend's fare of how-tos.

Viewing is one of the key defining elements in lapsing. More importantly, what a person views or doesn't view will help determine renewal behavior. People who view the high brow series are more apt to stick to the file, while those viewing weekends and accessible titles like Nature or Antiques Roadshow are more apt to lapse.

Why They Support Public TV: The Articles of Faith

Another area to explore involves the reasons people have given for supporting Public TV. We developed an 11 item battery based on prior research in depth interviews. We asked each viewer if they considered a particular reason "a very important factor" for them in considering their support for Public TV.

Reasons for Supporting Public TV
Percent Citing "Very Important" to Me

I would consider this a very important reason to support Public TV Lapsed 1 Gift Lapsed 2+ Gifts Current Member
It has programs that are thought-provoking 43% 45% 54%
The programs have no commercial interruptions 52% 53% 61%
I support quality children's programs 45% 37% 35%
It has balanced perspectives 28% 26% 28%
It offers good drama programs 28% 33% 46%
The programs reflect your values and morals 32% 30% 37%
Its programs aren't influenced by advertisers 39% 39% 45%
It offers good music programs 32% 33% 52%
There are programs you can't find on other stations 50% 46% 55%
I feel a duty to support it because I use it 31% 34% 59%
I support it because it's good for the community, even if I don't watch it 36% 38% 53%
Note: Items were rotated randomly when read to respondents to reduce response order bias.

In every instance, members were more likely to endorse the item at a higher level than the lapsers. Just as we saw with the viewing items � members view more Public TV than do lapsers — here we see members endorsing more reasons for supporting Public TV.

The next table simply counts the number of items endorsed by each group and at what level. Among Single-gifters only two items reached the 50% endorsement threshold, while the members placed six items at 50% or higher. The multi-gift lapsers resemble the single-gifters on more items than they do the current members.

Number Items in 11 Item Battery

Single Gift Multi-Gift Member
50% Level Or More 2 1 6
40%-49% Level 2 2 2
39% Level or Below 5 7 2

If these reasons were articles of faith, a so-called catechism of beliefs, one might suggest that the lapsers are not true believers. Only three items from the battery got any kind of endorsement (meaning the reason is considered very important for supporting Public TV) from the lapsers:

  • Public TV programs are thought provoking
  • there are no commercial interruptions
  • Public TV provides programs that can't be found on other stations

In one sense, these are more correctly labeled statements of fact than belief. None of the other items get a strong endorsement.

There are four items that are key discriminators between members and lapsers.

  • Members say that supporting Public TV is their duty because they use it (very important for 59% of the members and only 32% for all lapsers).
  • Public TV is good for the community even if you don't view it (53% for members and 37% for lapsers).
  • Members value good drama and good music programming more greatly than do lapsers.
  • Ironically, single gift lapsers are more likely to cite children's programming as one of the reasons for supporting Public TV (35% for members and 41% for lapsers). This probably is due to age and the related likelihood of having children in the household.

Two items lacked a strong saliency with all these respondents, and this is something managers should remember when people complain about Public TV programming. Neither group felt that fair and balanced programming was an especially strong reason for supporting Public TV (28% members and 27% for lapsers), and neither was that "programs should reflect my personal values" (37% versus 31%). This is a surprise to us because in the qualitative phase of the study, these values were cited as important reasons for joining or lapsing. Perhaps people feel programming should be fair and balanced but it is not a strong enough reason for supporting Public TV. This is something that bears further analysis.

In considering our four local markets, there was little difference between markets on the items. That is, the profiles of respondents' beliefs were quite similar.

As we proceed with our other analyses, we must stress once again that, members believe more deeply in the reasons for supporting Public TV than do lapsers. In fact, as will be seen shortly, the longer a person is lapsed, the more the articles of faith erode. This is a predictable and linear relationship which means programming and psychological orientations are linked. Programming does indeed cause membership, while lack of viewing the programming erodes it.

Reasons for Lapsing

From our depth interviews, we extracted 14 items that people often gave as reasons for lapsing and asked the respondents to evaluate those reasons.

Percent of Members and Lapsed Who Strongly Considered
The Reason or Statement a Reason to Stop Supporting Public TV

Was there any other reason you considered stopping or reducing your support for PTV? Lapsed 1 Gift Lapsed 2+ Gifts Current Member
I don't have enough extra money after paying the bills to support PTV 28 21 12
I am not giving as much these days because I am worried about the economy 19 15 10
I don't watch PTV as much as I used to because I don't have as much free time 17 12 4
My children don't watch it anymore 11 7 4
I never intended to support PTV with a yearly donation 11 6 3
I don't watch PTV as much as I used to because my favorite programs are on cable 10 5 3
I am waiting for a pledge program I really like; then I'll make my pledge 9 6 4
Other non-profit organizations like educational institutions or public service groups, such United Way, are more important than PTV 8 6 2
I take turns supporting different public TV station or public radio stations 8 7 4
I don't trust PTV as much as I used to 7 5 3
The mail they are sending me is confusing. I never know when it is time to renew my membership 7 8 6
They moved my favorite program to a time that is inconvenient. 6 6 2
I can no longer find programs I like 6 4 3
PTV has too many corporate sponsors 6 4 3
Note: Items were rotated randomly when read to respondents to reduce response order bias.

Of the 14 items, only two - both dealing with the state of the economy and not having enough extra money to renew � had any strong saliency for any of the groups. The only other compelling reasons with a modest endorsement are "my children are no longer viewing Public TV" and "I never intended to support Public TV with a yearly donation".

However, we provided an opportunity for people to suggest other reasons for lapsing. About four percent volunteered that fundraising and pledge provided a reason for lapsing. From our studies using an item like this, we feel if that item had been in the questionnaire it would have been endorsed by about eight to ten percent of the respondents, if not more.

Of the people who mentioned this item, about 29% were current members, 42% were 2+ gift lapsers and the rest were single-gifters. So, if you offered as a reason for lapsing "too much fundraising," you were more likely to be lapsed. And one generation, the Silents, were the largest group, with 43% of those expressing this opinion.

To sum up, lapsing, according to some people, is a matter of "the straw that breaks the camel's back." It is often an accumulation of petty irritations that build up until a tipping point is reached and the person does not send back the renewal notice. However, this seems to be truer for the multi-gift lapsers than for single gift lapsers. The single-gifters do not have the same beliefs and viewing profile as the multi-year givers and members. Given their education and charity profile, to be discussed shortly, single-gift lapsers certainly have the brains and money to support Public TV. The question is, why don't they and what can be done to turn them around?

Giving to Other Organizations

Lest the fact be overlooked, giving to many organizations is rare in human society. Most people give either to no organizations at all (one in five in this sample) or only to one or two organizations (which usually includes one's church and/or adult children or relatives). Giving is rare. No doubt that is one very salient reason for the existence of pledge drives and premiums.

The next table presents some interesting observations. As a generalization, each of our three groups gives to about the same number of organizations. Why is that?

The questionnaire battery asked about giving specifically to 11 different organizations and was, therefore, not an easily fudge-able "guesstimate" of number of organizations given to. (Read the table by comparing percents across the columns.) We just counted up how many organizations they gave to.

Yearly Giving by Number of Organizations
(In Sample Percentages)

Number of
Lapsed 1 Gift Lapsed 2 + Gifts Current Members
None 23% 22% 19%
One or Two 39% 42% 38%
Three or Four 23% 25% 24%
5 Plus 15% 11% 19%

Demographically speaking, women — who in most families do the check book and decide who gets what - give to slightly more organizations than men. The very young and the very old give to fewer organizations. Education is a factor in giving to many organizations: people with professional or graduate degrees give the most, and those with only a high school degree give the least.

In the next table we look specifically at the types of charities people give to. In summary:

  • Giving to one's church (temple or mosque) tops the list. Proportionally, current members donate more to their church than do the lapsers.
  • There is little difference between the three groups in giving to public service groups like the United Way, cultural causes, environmental causes, and political parties.
  • Lapsers give slightly less to educational organizations and health organizations than members.
  • For what it is worth, single-gift lapsers give more to animal organizations than do the other two groups.
  • Members differ significantly by giving more to Public Radio

Organizations Supported Yearly by Member Status
(In Percentages)

What other causes do you support? Lapsed 1 Gift Lapsed 2+ Gifts Current Member
Church or religious organization 48 47 53
Public service groups…United Way 31 32 31
Public radio 19 26 30
Educational organizations 24 27 28
Health or medical organizations 26 25 28
Cultural causes like the arts, zoos 22 24 25
Environmental cause 20 22 23
Animal organizations 20 16 18
Political parties 14 15 15
Note: Items were rotated randomly when read to respondents to reduce response order bias.

And finally, do people give in clusters? If one gives to one association will they also give to another similar charity? Which associations have an affinity with each other?

Using multivariate statistical analysis we found the above list of associations clustered into three groups.

  • Group One was the largest with people giving to education, health, United Way and one's church
  • Group Two was public service organizations including public radio
  • Group Three was the smallest, with giving to only environmental and animal organizations

What are the implications of these clusters? People in each group will tend to give to other associations or organizations in that cluster. People tend not to give to organizations in the other clusters. Here the generations and age play a factor. The older members tended to follow the pattern of Group One. Younger members (and some lapsers) gave to public service organizations in Group Two. Lapsers were most likely to give to Group Three. So in acquiring mailing lists for acquisition it is worthwhile to note which lists will fall into each of the above clusters.

The markets differed in their giving profiles, which we discuss next.

Giving in Local Markets

Markets differ dramatically in their donative behavior. People living in the DC and Wisconsin give dramatically more than people living in Sacramento and Denver.

Mean Number of Supported Organizations

WETA 2.76
WISC 2.54
KRMA 2.12
KVIE 1.98

The Washington DMA has a very high concentration of well educated residents that do well financially. Wisconsin, with fewer college graduates, has a tradition of helping and sharing. The far west markets differ in their "giving culture". Denver has large numbers of well educated residents whose donative patterns do not resemble their peers in DC or Wisconsin. Sacramento has large numbers of Hispanics, a state government bureaucracy and poorer range of households that could impact the number of organizations being supported.

College graduates in Sacramento and Denver give to fewer organizations than do their peer groups in the DC and Wisconsin. Why, is the question? Is the economy that much worse in these markets? Or, more likely, are there weaker donative traditions in these markets?

Confusion Reigns: Renewal Fog

Memory and confusion are the villains in this part of the report. In our survey, almost one half of those interviewed who said they were members were not, according to the stations' files. That's a lot of people to be confused about their membership status. So is it the fog of memory or is it something else at work?

Who are these people who get confused about their membership status? Some things stand out about these confused members.

  • Once again, there is a great difference between people who give only one gift and those who give multi-gifts when it comes to confusion.
  • Almost one-half of the memory-challenged respondents were those who had given only a single gift.
  • Single gift-confused lapsers are more likely to have come on the file through pledge (75%). Multi-gift lapsers are more likely to use the mail to renew.
  • Most of the multi-gift lapsers (who say they are still members) have lapsed and rejoined before. So we can expect some of them to rejoin.
  • Current members are more apt to be retired. They too have lapsed and rejoined in the past.

However, we know from other analyses in this study that single gift lapsers are distinctly different in their tastes, especially in what they view in comparison with current members, and the confused single-gifters are even more so.

  • Confused single-gifters are younger (40s and 50s).
  • They are less interested in drama programming, but want good music.
  • They cite economic worries at higher levels than either the current members or confused multi-gift members.

We looked at the two discriminating statements for supporting Public TV (it's my duty and Public TV is a community good). Current members endorsed both statements at the 65% level (it would be even higher if we had combined the "very important" and "important" categories).

Both the confused single-gifters and confused multi-gifters only reached a 45% endorsement level for these statements. So, even through they say they are members, these confused and lapsed members think differently than current members! Their attitudes are more like those of lapsers than of a die hard member.

Recall all three groups gave to about same number of organizations. These confused lapsers probably do have the resources to renew and many support other organizations. So why did they lapse? Undoubtedly, some lapsers just have different circadian rhythms when it comes to renewal cycles. But we have seen that the attitudes and program preferences of these confused lapsers more closely resemble other lapsers (who know they are lapsed) than current members.

What conclusions are we to draw from this brief sortie into the fog of memory? We grant that some people could be truly confused as to the state of their membership. But we also suspect some people are fibbing or having serious senior moments.

Table Is Limited to People Who Think
They Are Members and Are Not
Single Gift 2+ Gifts
Lapsed Less 2 Years 49% 64%
Lapsed 3 to 5 Years 31 26
Lapsed 6+ Years 20 10

Most of us would give the benefit of the doubt to those who are lapsed less than 24 months. These recent lapsers can be recovered, and other studies suggest than more than half of them will rejoin shortly. The other two groups �- lapsed 3-5 years and 6+ years -- are harder to predict. Clearly multi-gift members should be easier to persuade than single gift members. Remember these people are still living in the community and still watching the station and agreed to be interviewed.

Is Perception Reality?

Judging from this survey of 3,500 people in four different markets, about one-half of the people thought they were members when they were not! This suggests a serious problem exists in communicating to members just what it is that is expected from them.

How does the station tell these viewer/members that they are lapsed? Obviously the mail is not doing it. There have to be better ways of reaching these people through targeted on-air campaigns. Once the awareness of being lapsed is accomplished then, the renewal efforts can begin in earnest.

To sum up, the key factor in this part of the analysis is that these single gifters still think they are members and a part of that is due to the fact that they came on the file through pledge. Pledge drives create their own fog for these members. Pledge drive pitches should focus on educating these people about what is membership and what are a member's obligations. Serendipitously, these well crafted explanations of lapsing will also remind the multi-gift lapser that it is time to give again.

The Commitment Continuum

The research shows that people are consistent in their behavior and their beliefs. If you truly like Public TV, view its programs and support it through membership, you should also endorse statements such as: "Its my duty to support it because I use it".

The next graph demonstrates this nicely. Members endorse the statement at higher levels than non-members. And if one is lapsed, the endorsement levels erode as the years go by. Remember: these lapsers are still in the community and many are still viewing.

impact of generation and time lapsed

It is the interaction of generation and viewing that is impressive here. Clearly, one should craft messages and even programs to reach these lapsers. "Duties" and "obligations" resonate more strongly with the older generations. Perhaps newer messages are needed for the Boomers and the Jonesers. A crucial group to reach is the lapsers who are still viewing who have become irritated with the station. They require some kind of campaign that asks "is it something we have done"? This would allow the station to begin a dialogue with them.


It is well to recall that many of a station's viewers and members have a very long history of viewing the station. Some civics have been viewing for four or five decades. They have watched a lot of programs and heard a lot of pitches and seen a ton of direct mail. So membership and lapsing does not occur in a vacuum.

What causes membership?

This study isolated a number of factors. First, the viewers like and watch the programming. The programming attracts a certain kind of viewer: one who is well educated, successful with high self esteem. (For example, while only 16% of the G.I. Generation has a college degree, 80% of those we interviewed had some college or a degree!)

Second, the core values espoused by the programming reinforce the viewers' lust for lifelong learning (programming that "informs educates, and prepares one for civil discourse.") The music and drama programming sets Public TV apart from just about everything that is on commercial broadcasting. This programming is valued by an intensely loyal core audience that cherishes Public TV.

Third, we have seen that viewing behavior is reinforced and augmented by a set of attitudes and beliefs about Public TV. When these cognitive articles of faith erode, lapsing is not far behind. We also have seen that younger pledgers do not endorse those articles of faith as strongly as do older folks. These younger people are more apt not to believe "it is my duty to support Public TV if I use it," and less likely to endorse the notion that "Public TV is a community good I should support even if I don't use it." Also, these younger folks do not view much of the PBS/NPS strand of prime time programming.

Fourth, we have seen that there is an immense fog of confusion surrounding both the mechanics of membership and the reciprocal duties and expectations of viewing and membership both by the station and the viewer/members. All of this is repairable with decent informational campaigns.

Fifth, generational differences concerning membership and lapsing are going to become even more critical as the G.I. generation leaves the scene. The youngest person in that generation is now 70 years old. Further, we need to know more about what is alienating the Silent generation members who are lapsing. We suspect there are two causes: too much fundraising and the growing lack of variety in the prime time schedule.

Sixth, managers and programmers and development folks have to learn how to better schedule pledge drives. Recall that the viewers have had decades of viewing experience with the station. Pledge, just like too much mail with too much hysterical copy, is a two-edged sword. Both can attract money, but this study suggests that they also cause monetary loss through lapsing. At this time do not know the extent of the losses caused by "bad" pledge drives and mail, but a clue is provided by the lapsing of Silent generation long time members.

Seventh, what can be done to stem the audience erosion that is occurring in prime time, since we know prime time viewing is highly correlated with membership renewal rates? We have seen here that lapsing is linked to declining prime time viewing. People who watch on the weekend are different. When they pledge, they will behave differently on the file. Perhaps no other membership segment needs more cultivation and education than the younger generations.

Last, given the right messages and intelligent campaigns to educate and reinforce the articles of faith, the membership base can be stabilized and hopefully grown by appeals that resonate with both Boomers and remaining segments of the Civic generation.

Organization of the Appendices

  1. First is a table of viewing program titles by lapsers and members that was excerpted in the paper.
  2. Individual Markets: What's A Series Worth? Assesses how much members give to each NPS series through their membership.
  3. Public Television Giving Behaviors. Are people consistent in how they give to the station? Mail renewers yes, pledgers no.
  4. Core Members and Lapsing. What causes faithful core members to lapse? Is it something we have done?
  5. People's Contact with a station's viewer services department and their evaluation of those experiences on lapsing.
  6. Civic Participation Items. Using the usual Roper battery we discuss by market and membership status people's civic participation.
  7. How the study was conducted.

1. Viewing For All Series and Titles

Percent Who Report Viewing Series or Programs "Often"

Frequency of Viewing "Often" Lapsed
1 Gift
2+ Gifts
Moyers Now 9 11 13
Nova 21 22 25
FrontLine 11 11 13
Antiques Roadshow 24 26 32
Great Performances 18 21 35
Washington Week in Review 11 18 22
American Experience 11 13 21
Nature 20 22 29
NewsHour 18 25 32
Wall Street Week 8 10 12
Cooking Programs 15 13 19
Britcoms 25 26 38
Travel Programs 19 19 29
Home and Garden Programs 23 19 23
Masterpiece Theater 15 21 34
Children's Programs 14 8 7

2. Individual Markets: What's a Series Worth?

Here, we want to introduce a measure of the appeal of the regular schedule programs/series. We knew how much each member gave to each station, and we knew his/her favorite programs. So if Mrs. Smith gave the station $50.00 and she had five favorite programs, each program was given $10.00 in "income". The income for each series below reflects the fiscal reward (and its popularity) with the members. Naturally, the amounts vary in part because of market size.

Annual Membership Income Per Series

Antiques Road $391,197 $556,548 $406,958 $373,505
NewsHour $409,154 $376,479 $642,193 $221,094
Great Perfs $307,574 $526,317 $483,744 $215,703
Nature $410,718 $539,169 $300,783 $210,854
Masterpiece $243,463 $372,184 $578,794 $182,299
Nova $273,696 $481,123 $283,256 $186,320
American Exp $134,104 $225,575 $203,706 $138,489
Wash Week $176,695 $176,695 $260,810 $108,660
Kids Shows $110,417 $300,672 $212,872 $94,531

What you see above is the appeal/worth of the schedule to the current membership. Without a doubt, series such as Great Performances, NewsHour, Antiques Roadshow and Masterpiece Theater are highly valued by the older members.

And the converse is also true, no doubt. Many of these series are not attractive to lapsers, especially single-gifters who are younger and seek other program formats. So the issue becomes: what series or programs are crucial in bridging these various "taste cultures"? The answer lies in two series: Antiques Roadshow and Nova. Each series has unique appeal to each generation. Antiques Roadshow, because of its format and content, is more accessible to many different taste cultures (and generations). The spin off, Find! is a classic attempt at brand extension. Put another way, Find! attempts not to build cume as much as viewing frequency, which, in turn, is supposed to build loyalty which in turn leads to membership.

Nova, on the other hand, is the most male series in the schedule, and it's also young in its appeal. As a series, it is crucial that it have broad appeal and still deal with complex issues. The vulnerability, here, is that the series may occasionally lose its way by dwelling on arcane topics of limited appeal. But its importance in building inter-generational appeal cannot be understated.

Let us repeat our little exercise regarding income/worth for a series. In all four markets, good music programs were endorsed by a majority of the members. This is how much money those members who liked good music give to each station in an average year.

Value of Good Music Shows To Stations

Station Avg Gift Total $$
KRMA $65.55 $1,851,976
KVIE $93.74 $2,977,064
WETA $71.14 $2,678,510
WISC $79.36 $1,455,022

We could do this exercise with other variables in the survey, but for our purposes here, we just wanted to demonstrate that when people endorse certain kinds of programming or values, it does result in income, directly or indirectly.

3. Public Television Giving Behaviors

We ran into a problem right away when we asked each respondent whether he or she was a current member. Fifty percent of those who answered in the affirmative were, according to station records, lapsed. This is a serious problem, and we will deal with it in a separate section of this paper dubbed "renewal fog". Obviously, one needs to be careful with self-reported membership data.

The traditional model in Public TV is to recruit members to the file, and, when it is time to renew them, the station sends a mail renewal form. We asked the respondents how they typically renewed or gave.

Percent of How Respondents Prefer to Give
By Membership Status �Self Reported

Lapsed 1 Gift Lapsed 2 + Gifts Current Members
Mail 28 45 62
Pledge 25 17 16
Both/Varies 37 27 18
Other 10 11 4

According to the self-reported data, mail is the preferred method for current members to renew. The multi-gift people resemble the current members somewhat in their preference for mail, although lapsers tend to prefer alternative methods of giving (pledge, mail and other). This suggests the mail renewal mode is not effective with some members.

Is mail successful with the majority of the current members? Yes. By definition, if you are mail responsive, you have responded to mail solicitations and tend to renew inside the membership window to maintain your membership. But others drop through the cracks, just as much because the mail is not effective as because they wish to lapse.

Next, we looked at station records of how the members and lapsers normally renewed. Of the current members who said they preferred the mail, 75% of them did, in fact, use the mail. Of members who said pledge was the preferred giving mode, only 42% gave predominately by pledge with another 40% renewing by mail. So the mail renewers were the most consistent. In a sense lapsers were apt to be confused about how they gave, but most appeared to prefer pledge or alternative renewal methods.

4. Core Members And Lapsing

We sought out the people who renew like clockwork and looked at their renewal cycles. There is some evidence that renewal cycles vary by type of "member". This data is taken from the stations' membership files.

Average Length of Renewal Cycle
(Sample Percents)

Average Lapsed
2 + Gifts
Less 12 Months 14 22 18
12-15 Months 32 47 39
More 16 Months 54 31 42

We defined "Core" as someone who always renewed inside the window (either 12 or 15 months). Someone who renewed outside this window was designated as fringe or non-Core. We wanted to find out who these people were. In the process we found, early on, that about 40% of the Core members eventually lapsed and some rejoined. How were the Core lapsers different or the same as the 60% who were Core loyalists?

Here are the findings for the Core/non-Core groups

  1. Core members are older mostly Civics and Silents (about 60%) and Boomers are about 20%.
  2. About 40% of these Core members have lapsed and rejoined.
  3. There is no difference in giving patterns between the groups.
  4. There were no differences due to education.

Who are those Core members who lapsed? Recall that about 40% of the Core current members will lapse. Some will rejoin; they are out of synch with the renewal cycle and eventually they will get back in synch.

  1. Most of the Core lapsers (people who generally renewed within the time window and had given 2+ gifts) are Silents and Boomers!
  2. Most of these Core lapsers have lapsed less than 24 months (about 60%), so one would hope they may return in due course.
  3. Using our marker variables, the longer a Core lapser lapses, the less important such programs as drama and music become. The civic duty and community good items erode dramatically.
  4. These lapsers are still viewing but they have fewer and fewer favorite genres that they watch on the station.

Clearly, any time a multi-year member lapses for over 20 months, one should initiate a strategic remedial effort to renew that member. The longer one waits, the more the key beliefs and attitudes will erode.

Of particular concern in this unique analysis of a small subsection of the file is that Silents are dropping off the file. They had been giving within the renewal window and have now lapsed. These people tend to have something that is irritating them, and some kind of campaign of the "Is it something we've done?" variety may be in order. And last, a goodly number of these people still think they are members.

5. Contact with the station

It has always been of interest to know how many people contact the station either by calling or writing. Here we asked the sample of members and lapsed members if they had ever contacted the local Public TV station.

Approximately 18% of the respondents reported ever contacting the station. For KRMA it was 14%, 19% in Sacramento, 18% in Washington and 19% in Wisconsin. Among current members 20% have contacted the station while 17% of the lapsers report doing the same.

Percent of Respondents Who Report
Contacting The Station

KRMA 14% 14%
KVIE 21% 18%
WETA 24% 14%
WISC 20% 19%

So lapsers are slightly less apt to report contacting the station. However, 2+ gift lapsers are more apt to report contacting the station (18%) versus only 13% for single gift lapsers.

Next they were asked how they evaluated the station's response. "Very satisfied" was (46%); "somewhat satisfied" (25%) and "not at all satisfied" (24%). (Among the stations the percent reporting being completely satisfied was 42% for Denver, 48% for Sacramento, 41% for Washington and 60% for Wisconsin.)

Now with a data like this we a have a "is the glass half-empty or half-full" dilemma. Clearly less than a majority of the respondents were completely satisfied with the station's response. So what do you dwell upon? We chose to focus on those who where "totally not satisfied". Specifically what impact, if any, does having a negative experience have on the on possibility of lapsing?

Recall now in the forthcoming discussion that we are dealing with a small portion of the file. Of the total sample, the "somewhat satisfied" and "not at all satisfied" are both at four percentage points each. Put another way, of all the people we talked with only eight percent of the total sample reported not being completely satisfied with the station's response.

Is there any evidence that having a bad experience with the station could contribute to a person lapsing? The answer we think is "perhaps". And, of course, we have to infer that answer since we did not directly ask if having had that bad experience contributed to their lapsing.

The real question is: of those people who were "not at all satisfied", how many are still members? The answer is about 60%. For the markets the percent who are still members is 56% in Denver, 62% in Sacramento, 63% in Washington and 57% in Wisconsin. So about half of the people who had a negative experience with viewer/member services are still members, the rest are lapsed.

Can we infer that this might be "the straw that broke the camel's back", not getting a satisfactory reply? Is it enough to push someone past the tipping point? No doubt for some people it was.

Given our interest in generations, we wanted to know who was more likely to call a station? The answer was the Silents called the most (49%) versus 32% for the Boomers. And that holds for all four markets (see the following two tables). But who was the least satisfied of the generations? The Boomers were the least satisfied in all markets except Wisconsin where the Jonesers were least satisfied. And, of course, the reason for this is probably pledge � or more likely � problems with the premiums. The assumption is that the younger generations are more likely to pledge.

Only 42% of the people who both pledged and reported being "not at all satisfied". That means 58% of the "not at all being satisfied" came on the file by other means generally. So there is some evidence that pledge/premium dissatisfaction might exist, but the evidence is not compelling.

In summary, most people do not contact their station (only about one in five). Of those people who do, less than half are completely satisfied with the station's response. About a quarter are really not satisfied. But of those who report that feeling, 60% are still members. So it might be safe to conjecture that some of those lapsed people were tipped by an unpleasant experience. If we assumed that only one percent of the sample lapsed because of a problem caused by viewer/member services that would amount to about 8,000 people or about $400,000 a year.

6. Civic Participation Items

We have used this same battery of items in a number of studies and have had pretty much the same results for years. People who watch Public TV, and especially those who are members, are literally the civic backbone of their communities. The direction of causality is important here. Public Television does not cause civic participation, but it does attract those rich in social capital as viewers and members. It is, of course, the programming that attracts this audience. We found little variation on the items between lapsers and current members. The exception was newspaper subscription. People who took a paper were more likely to be members rather than lapsers.

There are two drivers of civic participation. First is education. The more formal education a person has the more participatory he or she becomes. It is all a Gordian knot �- intelligence, formal schooling, high self esteem, and unstinting curiosity about the world � results in a love of things called Public Broadcasting (remember many of these people listen and support Public Radio).

The second factor is age. The very young (those under40) and the very old (people over 70) differ from others on the factors of attendance and participation at such things as attending a public meeting or social club meeting. On other matters such as writing letters to the editor and voting there were no differences to speak of. The exception is that members are more likely to take a newspaper.

There is little variations between markets, however as we saw earlier with giving to charities, the western markets are slightly less participatory.

Mean Number Civic Activities Engaged In
Denver 3.9
Sacramento 3.8
Washington 4.0
Wisconsin 4.1

Voted in last election

Attended Public Meeting

Attended Club Function

Wrote a letter to the editor

Contacted a Public official

Voluneered for a Charity

Subscribe tot he Paper

7. Lapsed Member Survey Overview

Survey Sponsor & Management

The survey was conducted as part of a larger study of lapsed members funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. TRAC Media managed the data collection and conducted the analysis. Surveys were completed by National Opinion Research Services.


Persons who contributed to Public Television stations KRMA, KVIE, WETA or WPT at least once during the years 1991-2001; and for whom the stations provided a working telephone number.

Interviewing Schedule

July 24 � August 24, 2003. Interviews were conducted during evening hours and on weekends to maximize respondent availability.


Telephone survey, using a combination of computer-assisted telephone interviewing techniques and paper & pencil/keypunching.

Sample Design

Respondents were selected proportionate to their representation in the 4-station file according to: station, last year on file, and number of gifts given. Quotas were set based on overall representation; the sampling frame included only those with telephone numbers on file. Because we sampled randomly to achieve a proportionate representation, sample weighting was not required.

Respondent Selection

Interviewers first asked to speak to the person whose name appeared on the member list. If no one by that name lived in the household, interviewers next asked if the household matched the last name of the person on the list. If not, the interview was terminated. If yes, the interview was conducted with a person in the household who watched public television. Six percent of interviews (n = 225) were conducted with an alternate respondent.

Sample Size & Error Margin

3,504 interviews were completed. A sample of this size has a margin of error of + 1.7 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. This means that we can be 95% certain that the responses in the survey represent the universe, give or take 1.7 percentage points. Margins of error for subgroups (e.g., station, last year on file, number of gifts given) are larger.

Survey Instrument

The survey instrument was developed by TRAC Media and approved by the CPB. A copy of the questionnaire and the response rates by sampling cells is available from TRAC or from the TRAC Media Web site.

1 Geoffrey E. Meredith and Charles D. Schewe, PhD with Janice Karlovich, Defining Markets, Defining Moments, New York: Hungry Minds,2001. And Susan Mitchell, The Official Guide to Generations, 4th Edition, Ithaca: New Strategist Publications, 2002.

2 The absolute size of each generation will impact the number of possible number of members. Currently the G.I. Generation has shrunk to 29M, Silents are 30M, and the Boomers are 75.8M. We split the Boomers into almost equal halves of about 38M each. If age/generation were not a factor in membership, then there should be no difference in the height of each bar in the graph above.