TRAC's Primer On Viewing and Membership

Who Views and Why

  • There are practically no new adult viewers for Public TV. Everybody has sooner or later sampled the station's programming and decided to view or not to view.
  • Most viewers have been watching for decades. That's a lot of pledge drives.
  • There are four basic types of viewers: National Program Service (NPS) Prime Time Loyalists, Weekenders, The Children's audience and Butterflies (who are occasional viewers that float in for a program or series).
  • NPS Loyalists view Sunday through Friday in prime time and enjoy programming that is complex, compelling and contributes to their quest for life-long learning.
  • Weekenders view little NPS programming, preferring to view weekend programming such as how-tos, travel and acquisitions.
  • Most viewers want a safe haven for children and their programming.
  • There are two overlapping sets of core values that shape the public service broadcasting:
    • In addition to broadcasting, the station is engaged in activities that foster a civil society for the enrichment of all, not just viewers.
    • Programming that communicates core values that reinforce the viewers' self-worth, and enhance their esthetic and social lives.

Why People Become Members

  • Programming causes membership.
  • Members like (love) the programming, viewing many different genres.
  • They value Public TV for its uninterrupted programming.
  • They value its quality music and drama programs.
  • Viewers trust the station to broadcast programming that will not offend them and reinforce core values of intelligent and quality programming.
  • Given the intellectual density of the programming, is it little wonder that two-thirds of the members have a college degree or more?
  • Core members have a set of beliefs about Public TV that are almost like the articles of faith one associates with religious organizations.
  • Core/Mail members endorse two key values or beliefs:
    • "If I use Public TV I should support it."
    • "Public TV is a community good, even if I do not view it that much".
  • Ideally, they understand that the local station and PBS are two different entities and believe that the station deserves their support.
  • Core audiences renew by mail (mostly) inside the 12-18 month window.
  • The size of the core membership is often too small to sustain a station.
  • Pledge drives attract no new homes. Homes viewing the pledge drive have been watching in the previous four weeks.
  • If members acquired through pledge are not cultivated and educated as to the core values and beliefs about PUBLIC TV, they will lapse.

Why People Lapse

  • Lapsing is a normal state of affairs. Almost every member has lapsed at one time or another. (Multi-year members who stay lapsed are the problem!)
  • Excluding religious organizations, giving to charity is rare, only one person in three gives, so folks need a compelling reason to renew. "You gave $75 last year, it's time to renew" isn't a reason.
  • There is a commitment continuum for viewers and members. Lapsing moves from the situational (refuses to open the mail) to the psychological when someone is no longer committed to sustaining the station because their beliefs about Public TV and its programming have eroded.
  • Multi-year members lapse because they are viewing Public TV less (since there is not enough genre diversity in the schedule) and/or are irritated by too much fundraising which is causing an alarming number of 55-70 year olds to lapse.
  • Renewal fog refers to the fact that one-half of people we talked with said they were members when they were lapsed. So, many people listening to pledge pitches or getting your mail do nothing because they think they ARE members
  • Single gift members (often pledgers) have less interest in NPS programming, and are less committed to Public TV's core values than multi-year members. Many view only on weekends
  • Many lapsed members are still viewing the station. So you can still talk with them by using on-air announcements. Ask them: "is it something we have done"?

Applying Things

  • Accept human nature. Things wear out. Programs and pitches get old and need to be changed if you want people to pay attention.
  • "Show them that you know them"™. People have and want a relationship with the station. Encourage email and web site interaction to build para-social bonds.
  • "Connect the dots". Lapsers and members are confused as to their obligations to the station and the station's obligation to them. We suggest you develop on-air viewer and member education campaigns.
  • Learn generational marketing and how to talk to each generation. Age is a key membership variable and targeted language improves renewal and acquisition.
  • Collect your members' age so you CAN utilize targeted messaging.
  • One out five members has called the station for some reason. Less than one-half were satisfied with the station's response. Viewer services staff should be trained to deal with people properly.
  • Learn how to schedule and daypart pledge drives to reduce the irritation to your core/mail members. (i.e., no Suzie in Nova's slot.)
  • Only YOU can stop audience erosion by good scheduling, dayparting, and acquisition use. The more members who view the NPS, the higher your renewal rates will be.