KCET-TV’s ratings plunge 50% in first week after PBS exit

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The early figures are in — and KCET-TV’s departure from PBS is looking like a ratings disaster for the Los Angeles-based public broadcasting outlet.

For the first four nights this week, KCET averaged a 0.3 household rating, according to the Nielsen Co. That’s a whopping 50% decline compared with the 0.6 rating recorded the same period last year, when KCET featured the familiar lineup of PBS programs. An average of 22,000 viewers tuned in to KCET during prime time this week; last year at this time, it was 41,000.


The picture is even worse when ratings for the entire broadcasting day are considered. KCET is delivering a 0.1 household rating, compared with a 0.3 rating last year. KCET is now averaging just 10,000 viewers throughout the day.

KCET left PBS effective Jan. 1 after months of disputes over dues and other issues. Ironically, one of the reasons for the split cited by KCET President and Chief Executive Al Jerome was the rating erosion seen by PBS programming. Because KCET is an independent public broadcaster and does not sell commercial time the way an ad-supported network does, ratings are less critical than membership support. However, low viewing totals suggest a lack of interest that could ultimately affect membership and pledging efforts.

The station has replaced signature PBS shows such as ‘Nova’ and ‘Antiques Roadshow’ with repeats of British series such as ‘Prime Suspect,’ as well as documentaries and news programs imported from Japan, Canada and elsewhere.

Station officials provided their own comparison — including figures from Saturday, the first PBS-free day, and Sunday — that showed ratings had declined only 23% compared with last year.

But spokeswoman Cathy Williams wrote in an e-mail: ‘We think it is much too early to evaluate the ratings, particularly since we’re coming off a holiday weekend.’

— Scott Collins (Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT)