TCA: PBS Still Testing Commercial Breaks During Programs

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PBS is still in the midst of testing commercial breaks during its programs and has not yet decided on the best way to break out messages, PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said at the Television Critics Association summer press tour  Saturday.

The public broadcaster made waves in the TV industry when it announced in late May that it would be adding commercials during shows starting this fall in an effort to bridge the gap in viewers from program to program. While PBS currently put all of its sponsor messages at the end of a program, letting the content run uninterrupted, it said in May it wanted to study other ways to break up the messages to keep viewers from fleeing at the end of a show.

"We decided that the way to try to figure that out is we would actually do some testing, so we're in the midst of that now," Kerger told the audience of television critics here Saturday. She said PBS has done dial testing at a Nielsen facility in Las Vegas and is in the process of getting opinions of its stakeholders on different commercial formats.

"We wouldn't make a change like this without properly vetting all that out," Kerger said. "I can't tell you where it will end up. We're going to look at it carefully and hopefully out of all this research we'll at least be better informed, even if we made no other change" than changing the way it runs messages within a singular break as it does now.

Kerger also addressed questions on the need of public broadcasting now that cable channels originally developed to showcase arts, history and science programming (like A&E, Bravo, Discovery and History) are increasing packing their schedules with ratings-driven reality series.

"There is a big opportunity for public broadcasting to expand our work," she acknowledged.

On such expansion is PBS' big fall programming push, the PBS Fall Arts Festival premiering Oct. 14, which Kerger announced here Saturday will include short films about seven American cities. Each of the short films was developed by PBS member stations, which were invited to produce documentary-style films about unique aspects of their local cultural scenes.

The short films, which run from seven to 15 minutes in length, will accompany seven of the planned nine Friday night broadcasts of PBS Fall Arts Festival. The seven local areas showcased are Minnesota, Seattle, Miami, the Blue Ridge Mountains, Chicago, Cleveland and San Francisco.

PBS also announced Saturday that Andrea Bocelli Live In Central Park will be the final episode of the PBS Arts Fall Festival on Dec. 2. The broadcast features the acclaimed tenor in a free concert with the New York Philharmonic to be taped on Sept. 15.