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Uninterrupted Viewing Means More Impact for PBS Sponsors

In the rapidly evolving broadcasting landscape, priorities for any broadcaster – network, cable, digital, syndication or public television – should be the caliber of the programming and viewer experience. The quality of the content and how this content maximizes the opportunity for the advertiser while not compromising the experience for the viewer, is always the primary concern.

So, it comes as no surprise that the one outlet that defines quality, PBS, understands the value of viewer experience and sponsor environment. Represented by The Sponsorship Group for Public Television (SGPTV), PBS accentuates the opportunity for any sponsor through a portfolio of quality and educational programming tailored to both an upscale audience and today’s families. And it does so with break-free, uninterrupted programming, a 60-second premium sponsor pod and program category exclusivity.

The Sponsorship Opportunity on PBS: Always uncluttered, and uninterrupted

NBC (via “Saturday Night Live”), Turner Entertainment and Nat Geo have recently announced that they are cutting back commercial loads to improve the viewer and advertiser experience. For PBS, this approach to programming and sponsorship is business as usual.

“Uninterrupted programming has always been a benefit for PBS sponsors,” notes Suzanne Zellner, Vice President of SGPTV, which has spearheaded campaigns for Viking Cruises and Liberty Mutual, and ABCMouse on the kids side, to name a few. “We understand the importance of an uninterrupted viewing experience, particularly when viewers can now choose uninterrupted streaming content or skip ads with their DVR. It’s interesting how other broadcasters are now following the path we created.”

PBS sponsorship is typically limited to a maximum of four sponsors, with category exclusivity — meaning no two sponsors of the same category will appear in the same show. While a competing broadcast network, in contrast, may fill the airwaves with as many as 33 spots in one hour, the sponsorship experience on PBS comprises a 60-second premium sponsor pod at the open and close of each national primetime show, which can consist of a combination of :30 or :15 spots. This uncluttered presentation, embedded into otherwise uninterrupted content, provides a better experience for the viewer, and more exposure for the sponsor.

“PBS viewers pay attention to sponsor spots at higher rates, nearly 2X that of cable, and 3X that of commercial broadcast,” says Zellner. “Ultimately, PBS’s approach translates to purchase preference. A Nielsen Consumer Insights study that we commissioned in 2015 shows that 34% of PBS viewers prefer to buy from a PBS sponsor, versus 18% for cable network viewers, and 12 % for commercial network viewers.”



As we begin this new television season, I had the opportunity to speak with Suzanne Zellner about the business we call broadcasting and why the SGPTV model of selling PBS sponsorships is of such great value.

Has the core philosophy of selling sponsorships on PBS changed?
“No, we have known all along that viewers don’t want to be bombarded with ads. They want to be spoken to in a respectful way. Viewers are very aware of the differences when they watch a show on PBS, as compared to commercial cable or broadcast. They feel PBS sponsors respect their intelligence and don’t talk down to them. The audience is appreciative, and this appreciation is transferred to sponsors.

We call this the “PBS Halo Effect,” the benefit the sponsor gets by associating themselves with programs on PBS. Viewers feel positively about the content and the environment, and they transfer those positive attributes to the sponsor.”


What are the key changes to the business over the years?
“PBS sponsor benefits have expanded into a robust package of media extensions that enable sponsors to have visibility and align with our content, and reach their prospective customers wherever they are. We have dramatic growth in our digital opportunities, social media, events, off-air promotions, educational outreach and more. Our sales team works very closely with each sponsor to understand their goals and objectives, to determine which program would be the best fit, and to tailor a custom opportunity. Once finalized, an implementation team ensures that the sponsorship goes flawlessly, and continues to identify ways to add value and enrich the relationship between our brands. That is one of the reasons why SGPTV has so many multi-year relationships with sponsors. It is all about building those relationships, maximizing opportunities and planning for the future.”

There seems to be two mindsets about our business at present. We have Group A, which supports the network model and understands the value of watching TV on TV. And then we have Group B, which is adamant that streaming content is the future of our business. Where do you stand?
“PBS content goes where our audience goes. If audiences are using multiple devices on multiple platforms to consume content, you can be sure they will find PBS content there. We have multi-platform sponsorships that enable the sponsor to interact with viewers in all different media. No matter how people want to consume our content, on a TV or via mobile devices or anything else, we bring the sponsors along. We have evolved with the landscape, and will continue to do so. It’s an exciting time to be in media!”

There is so much original content running this year…more than 400 original scripted series are expected to air just this year. Do you see that having a potentially negative impact on PBS?
“We have not found that to be an issue. The PBS brand is so strong. In terms of quality content, PBS can go toe to toe with any network! We have Masterpiece, which owns British drama. We think that this January’s “Victoria” on Masterpiece, which is already a big hit in the UK, will be the next big thing here, and new episodes of “Sherlock are” coming in 2017. We have NOVA, the best in science programming, with Black Holes, about the most powerful, and destructive forces in the universe. “Antiques Roadshow” is celebrating its 20th season this January. And PBS has some incredible new series that take you to other parts of the world in ways that you have never been, such as Rare with National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore in search for some of the most endangered, rarest creatures left on Earth, and Story of China, which explores the history of the world’s oldest continuous state, from the ancient past to the present day.

There’s so much variety in our content, from great drama to amazing science, history you didn’t know about to investigative journalism, innovative kids programming to native digital series – PBS truly has something for everyone.”

Why is a PBS sponsorship good for an advertiser’s business?
“A PBS sponsorship is good for business because PBS sponsors are perceived as industry leaders, innovators, and quality brands, as a result of their alignment with PBS’s quality content. Viewers prefer to buy from a PBS sponsor because of that association. All of these elements – the uninterrupted environment that enhances the viewer experience, the uncluttered programming environment that enables the sponsor messages to stand out, the sponsor spots that respect the viewer, and the alignment with the best-in-class content – make a positive impact on the bottom line.”

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