Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The PBS Brand versus Cable Brands: Assessing the Brand Image of Public Television in a Multichannel Environment

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The PBS Brand versus Cable Brands: Assessing the Brand Image of Public Television in a Multichannel Environment

Article excerpt

With the increase in cable television penetration and ratings success, cable has developed into more than just a means of delivering over-the-air broadcast signals to subscribers. Cable television has become a collection of channels delivering a substantial amount of original programming to various audience segments. Some of these channels provide highly rated documentaries and children's programs and serve the same audiences that have been the province of public television stations. In fact, many of the same programs produced by public television stations became staples of cable channels like Discovery, Arts & Entertainment (A&E), and Nickelodeon. In a high-profile joint venture, the Children's Television Workshop (CIW) and Nickelodeon formed "Noggin," a commercial-flee children's cable network targeting preschoolers, one of public television's core audience segments (Snyder, 1999).

In addition, many commercial cable competitors are offering commercial-flee preschool programming blocks, further blurring their differences with public television. Some argued that the growth of these cable networks has caused identity confusion and diminished the purpose of public television (Corwin, 2000). Ledbetter (1997) went so far as to conclude that the creation of the multichannel environment has been the single greatest external threat to public television but, at the same time, may hold the key to solving PBS's chronic problems.

In response to the growing competition in today's multichannel environment, public television, namely PBS, has begun to harness the power of the PBS brand, rated in 1995 by the advertising agency Young and Rubicam second only to Disney as the most distinctive media brand in America (Schweitzer, 1997). Specifically, PBS has increased the strategic use of its "brand name" through more creative corporate sponsorships, merchandising/licensing agreements, and other back-end programming rights to generate additional revenues. For example, PBS now offers online shopping on its Website under the logo of SHOP PBS. While the revenue from the member program/service assessments increased a mere 9% from 1995 to 1999 for PBS, its income from the sales of educational products grew 156% and its royalties/ license fees-related revenues went up 188% during the same period (PBS 1999 Annual Report, 2000). PBS has also significantly raised its promotional budget to fortify its already trusted PBS brand (Schweitzer, 1997; McConnell, 1998).

According to a 1995 PBS survey, the PBS logo represents the words "informative," "educational," "enlightening," "respecting intelligence," "responsible," and "unique" (Rubel, 1995); however, with increasing competition from popular cable brands such as Nickelodeon, Discovery, and A&E, does public television still hold a franchise for informative, educational, and enlightening/intellectual programming? What is the value of the PBS brand today, as perceived by viewers, amidst a multichannel environment filled with programming choices? As economic factors are critical to understanding the functions and, thus, effect of local noncommercial media, public television needs to find the unique characteristics (i.e., a distinctive brand image) that would appeal to and serve today's audiences and generate opportunities for additional revenues in the midst of downward public funding and intensified competition from niche cable networks.

This paper assesses the brand image of public television stations and PBS in a multichannel media environment by comparing viewers' perceptions of public television, especially PBS, to competing cable networks and by exploring the perceived value of public television among its viewers. The authors also investigate the differences in brand images among various segments of public television audiences (e.g., public television members versus nonmembers) and the factors that might contribute to an audience's decision to become a public television member. …

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