Monday, July 16, 2018
News Roundup

A home for Elmo and Doc Martin - a Sunday Conversation with WEDU President and CEO Susan Howarth

In October, WEDU became one of the first PBS stations in the nation to offer six channels of programming with the addition of new channels PBS KIDS and Create TV. • At the same time, it became a new home for PBS favorites like Doc Martin and Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages and other show previously broadcast on WUSF-TV. That station went off the air Oct. 15 after the University of South Florida sold its broadcast license back to the Federal Communications Commission.

WEDU’s two new channels both provide 24-hour programming. PBS KIDS will air programs like Sesame Street and Arthur while giving parents and teachers access to more than 130,000 free online resources including educational videos, games and lesson plans that tie into programs.

CreateTV lineup includes specials on cooking, travel, home improvement, gardening, arts and crafts such as Cook’s Country, Garden Smart and This Old House.

The new channels required a $300,000 investment in new equipment. WEDU is also paying an extra $100,000 per year to air its new programming.

WEDU president and CEO Susan Howarth recently talked with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Christopher O’Donnell about shepherding WEDU through its biggest transition since the introduction of digital broadcasting.

Why did you decide to take on WUSF’s programming and how did viewers react to the switch?

I thought it made sense. WUSF has such a wonderful radio service that I thought they could concentrate on radio and we could focus on TV and it would end up being really good for the community. We started doing an analysis of the programs to figure out which ones they had been airing that we hadn’t been airing and we did a viewer survey to figure out which ones people really wanted to see and valued the most.

We knew that there would be a lot of questions from the community and from donors, supporters and viewers but there were well more than we expected.

We came in here on Monday morning (Oct. 16) and had set up our pledge phone bank in the lobby. It was overwhelming from the first minute and, for the entire week, it was just crazy busy.

The good news about that is people really wanted their public television. You could tell how important it was to them.

What programs were viewers most worried about losing?

A lot of people missed their exercise programs. They wanted to know where to find their Sit and Be Fit and Classical Stretch. The most requested programs were the British comedy dramas, the Doc Martin, the Mid Somer Murders. They were so relieved when they found out we were actually carrying them.

How will the new channels and programming affect viewership and future pledge drives?

We don’t subscribe to Nielsen (the company that produces TV ratings). That was a decision we made years ago because it was so darn expensive. We look at pledge results and membership campaigns. If that is going well, we tend to think the viewership is up.

We’re in a membership campaign right now. We’re ahead of our goal and it’s going a lot better than a lot of other stations around the country. While I can’t tell you specifically it’s because of the new programs, I have to think it is and people are responding well to the fact that we did step up as an organization in order to provide them with everything they would expect from a public television station.

You now broadcast a 24-hour kids channel. Who is watching Sesame Street at 2 a.m.?

There was a lot of research done nationally before PBS decided to launch that channel. At 2 a.m., it’s mothers with their sick kids but surprisingly in prime time there is a big audience for kids’ programing. It was surprising how many families or kids watched in non-traditional times.

PBS KIDS is available also as an online stream as well. Kids can watch on a tablet in the back of the car. It’s pretty cool.

How does WEDU and public broadcasting remain relevant in an era of "cutting the cord" and on-demand viewership?

It’s a little tricky. Our audience is either quite old or quite young. It’s 65 plus, those are the people who watch the most and value us the most and we have young children watching the kids’ programs.

You have to maintain those services for those audiences. You have to maintain the legacy technology. It’s quite expensive to have a tower out in Riverview and a transmitter and to pay that electricity bill.

We need to do that and to move into the on-demand.

PBS has provided all of their programs on-demand for at least short windows. We’re putting our local programs online. We assume they will be more attractive to a younger audience. But it is a challenge because there’s only so many resources.

What is the future direction for WEDU?

One of the things we said we want to do is to continue to increase and concentrate on local productions.

With technology changing, you don’t need WEDU technically to watch Downton Abbey. You could stream it online so what is the purpose for a local public television broadcaster?

My belief is the purpose is added value. With Ken Burns’ Vietnam War, we did local interviews and oral histories with local Vietnam veterans. We put them on air; we put them online and we’re sending them to the Library of Congress for their collection. And we did teacher training about how to use (the show) in the classroom.

When I came here, we didn’t have anyone on our education staff. Now we have 1.5 people now and it enables us to go out and do workshops and teacher training helping parents and teachers utilize all the resources that are free.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity

Comments
Seminole’s Brittany Lincicome falls in playoff at LPGA Marathon Classic

Seminole’s Brittany Lincicome falls in playoff at LPGA Marathon Classic

Times wiresSYLVANIA, Ohio — Brittany Lincicome could have been forgiven for looking ahead. But that didn't appear to be a problem.The Seminole resident took Thidapa Suwannapura into a playoff, falling on the first hole Sunday in the LPGA Marath...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Twins game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Twins game

There are times when Rays OF Carlos Gomez looks lackadaisical, but he made an urgent dash in from rightfield to near the mound when the benches first cleared and was ready for any action. Reminiscent of Jonny Gomes in '08.The loss is still what matte...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays journal: Twins grand slam ends heated game

Rays journal: Twins grand slam ends heated game

MINNEAPOLIS — That the Brian Dozier walkoff grand slam in the 10th inning that beat the Rays 11-7 was only part of the drama probably tells you all you need to know about Sunday's 4½-hour plus roller coaster ride, which included two benche...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays lose hot-tempered game to Twins 11-7 on walkoff grand slam

Rays lose hot-tempered game to Twins 11-7 on walkoff grand slam

MINNEAPOLIS – The Rays didn't have quite enough fight in them Sunday.Brian Dozier hit a walkoff grand slam in the 10th inning to give the Twins an 11-7 win in a back-and-forth and hot-tempered game that sent the Rays into the All-Star break at ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Wilson Ramos injury is a giant pain for Rays

Wilson Ramos injury is a giant pain for Rays

MINNEAPOLIS — The immediate reaction around the Rays to the extent of catcher Wilson Ramos' hamstring injury is disappointment, everyone knowing how much he was looking forward to playing in Tuesday's All-Star Game in Washington.But they are li...
Updated: 7 hours ago
At Croatia Club of Tampa Bay, a World Cup disappointment — but celebration nonetheless

At Croatia Club of Tampa Bay, a World Cup disappointment — but celebration nonetheless

CLEARWATER — In front of what looks like a small church auditorium just off U.S. 19, boys in oversized T-shirts kicked a soccer ball between parked cars on fenced-in grass. About 70 anxious adults walked through the doors of the Croatia Club of Tampa...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Team featuring USF hoops alumni advances in national tourney

Team featuring USF hoops alumni advances in national tourney

For the second year in a row, a team consisting of several former USF men's basketball players is among the final 16 competing for a $2 million purse.Led in part by Bulls alumnus Dominique Jones' 24 points, sixth-seeded Team DRC topped No. 3 Memphis ...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Italy seeks more EU pledges on migrants

ROME — Another day’s worth of food and beverages was sent Sunday to a pair of military ships off Sicily as Italy waited for more European nations to pledge to take a share of the hundreds of migrants on board before allowing the asylum-seekers to ste...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Hudson man dies in Hernando County motorcycle accident

Hudson man dies in Hernando County motorcycle accident

HUDSONmotorcyclist killed on u.S. 19 wasn’t wearing a helmetA Hudson man died in a motorcycle accident Sunday morning on U.S. 19 in Hernando County.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 51-year-old Timothy Guillotte was driving his 2007 Honda Silv...
Updated: 10 hours ago
A 71-year-old Florida man tied a gun to a weather balloon to fake his own murder, police say

A 71-year-old Florida man tied a gun to a weather balloon to fake his own murder, police say

The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department’s first homicide investigation of 2018 opened in late January - rather early in the year, considering that Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is basically a live-in golf course of 50,000 people, where the annual mur...
Updated: 11 hours ago