Moderator Al Tompkins, Poynter senior faculty broadcast and online, opens with information about digital viewing of video. Loading time for video is very important. Too slow, and people will abandon the effort. “Load ‘em or Lose ‘em” — is key.
Tompkins says documentary viewership is on the increase. He shows a clip from Frontline’s “The Secret State of North Korea” and asks Raney Aronson-Rath, deputy executive producer, Frontline, about the viewership.
Aronson-Rath says was a complete surprise to Frontline — 50 percent above the average viewership for a broadcast. Maybe it was the Dennis Rodman effect. There was conversation about North Korea in the news and when a topic of a Frontline documentary is already in the news, the program does better.
The program had a 1.2 rating in the overnights, same as “League of Denial” — the program on the NFL that had lots of marketing support from PBS.
Aronson-Rath says they know a lot about who watches Frontline. It tends to be people in their mid-50s, the youngest PBS audience in prime time. As for the online audience, 75 percent of those viewers are under the age of 49. Frontline is finding more women viewing its programs online. Frontline has a really tech-savvy audience, early adapters to DVR and Tivo, who watch weeks after original broadcasts air.
On Frontline’s website, people watch for about 7-8 minutes. They may go away and come back later. The tablet is extraordinary. People watch on tablets 15 minutes and up. They lean back and watch. (On the air, people tend to stay with the program longer, through the various quarters as measured by Nielsen.)
Tamara Gould, senior vice president of national productions and strategic partnerships, Independent Television Services, ITVS, which funds documentaries says ITVS is able to fund one percent of the applications for funding that it gets from documentary makers.
Kathy Im, director, media, culture and special initiatives, MacArthur Foundation, says filmmakers have to do more than just long-form storytelling. They have to find ways to disseminate the information they gather in various forms and on a variety of platforms. MacArthur supports filmmakers with experience or capacity to be accepted by a national broadcast and have impact. It also will look for coverage of a community that hasn’t been covered. Sometimes it only takes one key decision-maker who’s been embarrassed by the revelations in a documentary or can do something about it to act — then that program has impact.
We see a clip from last year’s documentary on Independent Lens, “The Invisible War” about sexual violence in the military, which reported that half a million women have been assaulted while in military service. Tamara Gould says this film changed the law, so military commanders can no longer overturn a military tribunal’s decision and also requires civilian review boards if tribunals decline to prosecute in cases of alleged rape.
Gould says the documentary had 2.1 million viewers, 34.1 media impressions, and 33 million social media followers. By commercial TV standards, that would not be a business success story. For ITVS, a funding organization that believes in in-depth and investigative journalism, the movie’s impact on society was the success.
Im of MacArthur says there is both a timeliness and a timelessness factor involved in documentaries it funds, because the work lives on as a historical record.
Aronson-Rath of Frontline says the documentary series is building new audiences by building new partnerships, sharing information and exclusives with other platforms to build attention in advance of a program’s airing.
The overall message of the session: documentaries are alive and well and the panelists believe there is a hunger for more in-depth reporting.
2 p.m. Audiences for News and Information that Serve Democracy (2)
Moderator Betsy Morgan, president, The Blaze asks Daniel Slotwiner, head of measurement solutions, Facebook, about the Facebook’s effort to quantify how people align their Facebook use with TV viewing. Facebook’s experiment has tracked about 40 TV shows to see if there is a connection between the Facebook chatter about TV shows with ratings. He says it is too soon to report any predictive results.
Morgan asks Beth Hoppe, chief programming executive and GM, general audience programming, PBS, about refreshing existing programs on PBS and whether she has used audience data, including social media traffic to do so. She says so far, social media chatter does not correlate with ratings but with engagement.
Hoppe wants to emphasize that “facts are expensive.” News and public affairs are the most important thing that PBS does. She says we need to label journalism as journalism as opinion as opinion. It is easy for users of content to miss the labels. We need to emphasize that a POV (point-of-view) film is different from the PBS News Hour.
Morgan tells Stephen Segaller, vice president of programming, WNET, that she sees a preponderance of references to Downton Abbey on WNET’s social media space and wants to know why it dominates. Segaller replies “success is seductive.” He says people are watching it in vast, unprecedented numbers and it is inevitable that WNET will go with the flow. He says he hopes the Downton audience will stick around for other productions He told the story of Downton including a promo for Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes promoting a J. D. Salinger program, and book sales of Catcher in the Rye spiking after the Salinger show.
Hoppe says it’s not imperative that we make everything entertaining on PBS, “But it doesn’t mean we won’t try.”
Morgan asks if the public broadcasters set goals for engagement on social media. Hoppe talked about PBS on social media. It has 1.6 million Facebook likes and 1.8 million Twitter followers, so it is paying attention to that area and looking for ways to engage with audiences.
Slotwiner of Facebook says Facebook is looking for ways to make content on Facebook more easily discoverable, including letting users know about trending topics.
Amy Mitchell of Pew asks how much conversation on Facebook is driven by news. Slotwiner didn’t have that information.
Segaller mentions that Google can predict flu outbreaks before the CDC because of online searches about flu symptoms. Is there a similar way to mine social media data to predict or estimate what kinds of gaps there are in the market for PBS to fill? Maybe we should merge Facebook and PBS, he quips.
Slotwiner says he’s done the kind of Google data crunching Segaller referenced and it’s harder than you think to come up with predictive analysis. There are too many variables at play.
At the request of Karen Dunlap, Morgan talks about Upworthy (whose representative had to leave the conference early) and its rapid growth in traffic. Morgan notes Upworthy’s popularity and explains it is curating stories, perhaps just 20 a day, that are the most viral, “must share.” From her viewpoint, the question is, if you get 100 million people a month to come to your site, what will you do with that?
Segaller says he hesitates to sound a skeptical note, but he wonders about popular sites that don’t produce original content. He says there’s potential danger in fewer and fewer people producing original content that other people are repeating.
3 p.m. Bringing What We’ve Heard Together
Moderator Karen Dunlap, in her last official program before becoming president emeritus, asks people to share observations from the day:
Rick Edmonds, Poynter media business analyst: I note the continuing and unresolved question about how researchers define “news” today. Are we defining it journalists do and if so, is that the way the audience defines it? Are we asking
Harvey Nagler, vice president, CBS News Radio: No one here has spoken negatively about any other platform — that we have to do this all together and coordinate in a positive manner. What ideas can we bring to the fore. The negative: We had only 24 hours together for this conversation.
Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president of newsgathering at Al Jazeera America: I was encouraged by the emphasis on documentary and in-depth. I appreciated the focus on customizing content for the platform on which it is delivered.
Ceril Shagrin, executive vice president of audience measurement Innovation and analytics for Univision Communications Inc.: I learned the value of documentaries today – I heard loud and clear what could be accomplished. My takeaway: there continues to be a great value in news. Next conference, let’s look at political news.
Jack Walshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting System: Researchers don’t make news but we do tell stores. I am struck by the challenge journalists dealing with what is new, interesting and important.
Keenan Pendergrass, director of station research for WFTV and WRDQ: Research can tell you what not to do. How do we define what works for our brand and the future of where we are going.
Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research for the Pew Research Center: We need to understand how to use data well. We didn’t address the tension between the individual journalist and the news organization as they each engage with audiences. How do those two pieces come together to a better end for journalism?
Stacey Lynn Schulman, senior vice president and chief research officer at TVB: There’s euphoria about data. I’m concerned about the ethical use issues around the use of data.
Raju Narisetti: I go to a lot of conferences and often know most of the people at them. This time, I knew only two people. It is the first time I’ve come to Poynter. Instead of gloom and doom conversations, this has been and optimistic conversation. There are amazingly smart people doing things around these issues. I’ve also noted the number of women here leading the way in this area.
J.J. Gould: If you look back four or five years at digital media, it would have been blogs. Now there is so much more native substantive digital journalism. I appreciated seeing the way it can play out on multimedia, but I see the potential for substantive news and analysis in the digital space.
Joe Thloloe (Press Council of South Africa): I leave here very hopeful. I believe that storytelling is alive and well. There is a possibility again that we in South Africa and Africa generally may be able to leapfrog some of the stages that US media have been through.
Beth Hoppe: I also leave here hopeful. Disruption equals opportunity. For us in public media, what needs work is how we pay for it.
Billy McDowell: I was most struck by the power of brands across all platforms. We do have to protect the legacy business, which is supporting all this journalism. I applaud the documentary producers. I would like to see us do more of that.
Beth Rockwood: I think there is an enormous amount that is working, the experimentation, the varied points of view. I think it is possible there will be a resurgence of news and information. I feel very optimistic. The business models will need work and we need to understand new ways to tell stories to engage viewers of all generations.
Stephen Segaller: The news business is changing dramatically and is still in pretty decent shape. The audience is using every conceivable device to consume content. One thing public TV has as a challenge is that for many hours a day, our audience is children.
Daniel Slotwiner: I have been struck by the parallels between your industry and others dealing with changing consumer patterns. There should be more we can do together on programming and distribution from a research perspective.
Patrick Cooper: We haven’t talked about managing across varied user experiences. I’m looking forward to more of that in the future.
Marie Kramer: New audiences are alive and well. You have your second screen experience, so while you While Nielsen is making great strides in measuring cross platform audiences, we have work to do in helping you monetize in the future.
Tamara Gould: It has been powerful and thought provoking as a documentary producer to be here with you. The possibilities for content partnerships are interesting. We need to talk about diversity in the newsroom and among the content producers. We need to help develop the talent and invest in building the people who can tell the stories.
Kathy Im: We are supporting many independent film makers and documentary producers and are looking for partnerships. We encourage you to look at what we are doing. If we can help with collaborations, we would be happy to do that.
Vivian Schiller: There’s a dramatic recognition that we need to change. There is a will and an optimism about change, and I can see it here. I think there is still a lot of fear, specifically around data. Yes, there are so many pitfalls, but we don’t even know a fraction of what we need to know before we know what the pitfalls are. We’re journalists, we have good moral and ethical compasses about what’s appropriate. Keep in mind that compass, and keep experimenting further and further.
Richard Zackon: I am encouraged that I leave here questioning if I really know exactly what news is — that I have more to learn. I am impressed by the spirit of collaboration and collegiality across the broad, diverse spectrum of media here.
Karen Dunlap has the last word: I am is struck by the energy in journalism. A few years ago, we did a conference called, “Who Will Pay for the News.” We’re still working on that.
I leave you with a challenge. I challenge you to keep coming back to Poynter and Poynter.org — to share your ideas and send your people. I challenge my Poynter colleagues to build on this session and these connections today.