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Updates and statements from the Indie Caucus.


Is WNET Even Listening?

Tim Horsburgh

The Indie Caucus has welcomed the recent Listening Tour and public discussion of the role of independent film and the mission of public broadcasting. We must respond to Stephen Segaller’s comments in a recent Current podcast, which do not recognize our good-faith efforts at dialog.
The public discussion was triggered by WNET’s abrupt announcement in late December that it was dropping Independent Lens and POV from their prime-time slot on its flagship station. These two award-winning series have showcased the best, most diverse, point-of-view work each year — We were grateful that WNET listened to us when, in two days, a petition signed by 1700 filmmakers helped change WNET’s position, however we are deeply concerned by Segaller's comments during his recent podcast.
The listening tour is over and Segaller has clearly not been listening. He says, “We listened to what the filmmakers had to say, and it was rather predictable and certainly unanimous.”

What about the hundreds of other concerned PBS viewers, community groups and educators who turned out and spoke out at the listening tour events. Did Segaller hear them? Is WNET listening? The people who spoke during the listening tour represented diverse voices from a range of communities all across America.
Stephen feels indie filmmakers want merely to defend the past, and ignore the challenges of the present. Indie Caucus has been asking for WNET and PBS to commit to Independent Lens and POV in their present position with good forward thinking reason, backed with good data. Here are the key points we’ve addressed:

  • Independent Lens and POV have seen a 20% increase in national ratings over the last year. A huge increase and proof that Monday nights are working. Ratings in New York have steadily improved in the last year as well, though not as dramatically. More importantly, programmers know that consistency of time slot is critical to building audience. These two series have been moved 3 times in the last 4 years. Source: 2014-‘15 ratings from season premiere, through 2/8/15 compared to entire 2013-‘14 season.
  • WNET wants to see ratings increase after Antiques Road Show on Monday nights. Affinity research suggests that Independent Lens and POV perform better than the arts programing WNET want to replace them with. Source: Nielsen 9/23/14-3/30/14, weekly duplication.
  • As technical professionals, we are acutely aware of time-shifting, cord-cutting, and digital VOD; but we also know that 80% of PBS viewers watch their shows at the time they are aired. We know that the great majority of Americans primarily get their TV the old-fashioned way. Read: “6 Reasons Why Indies Still Care if They’re On TV”.
  • We also know that people who make less money and minorities are groups that generally depend the most on over-the-air TV — especially public TV. The top three ranked PBS series in Black and Hispanic households include Independent Lens and POV. Source: 2012-2013 season.

Indie Caucus has spent an enormous amount of time, energy and money in attending, at the request of PBS, WNET, POV, and ITVS, meetings to discuss how best for public TV to cultivate a productive relationship with indies while showcasing their work on the most well-established, award-winning platforms that exist on American TV — Independent Lens and POV. We remain hopeful that something constructive will come out of these meetings. We await PBS laying out a concrete plan and we remain engaged and willing to work on finding solutions.