Thursday, October 18, 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
Some of these Florida amendments aren’t worth your time

Some of these Florida amendments aren’t worth your time

For such a sacred document, we seem to give little thought to scribbling on, erasing and haphazardly expanding the Florida Constitution.Since a revised version was established in 1968, Florida voters have been asked to consider more than 175 differen...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Mexico Beach was gone. But we found a way to get there.

Mexico Beach was gone. But we found a way to get there.

Reporting in a hurricane is dangerous, complicated and important. When it came to Hurricane Michael, we had to find a way to tell the stories.
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: We found Mexico Beach in the dark of night; how did Andrew Gillum handle the hurricane this time?; listen to our new podcast, ‘Life of the Party.’

The Daystarter: We found Mexico Beach in the dark of night; how did Andrew Gillum handle the hurricane this time?; listen to our new podcast, ‘Life of the Party.’

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• The morning will start off cool in the mid-70s. Then it gets warmer as record-setting temps heat up into the 90s, according to the National Weather Service. Expect partly cloudy skies...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida Gators midseason review: Is a NY6 bowl game in reach?

Florida Gators midseason review: Is a NY6 bowl game in reach?

After Florida's historic Week 2 loss to Kentucky, expectations plummeted for Dan Mullen's first season as the Gators' coach.A month later, No. 11 UF (6-1) is tied for first in the SEC East and a serious contender to make a run at a New Year's Six bow...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Commissioner sounds alarm on meager Hillsborough developer fees, unchanged since 1987

Commissioner sounds alarm on meager Hillsborough developer fees, unchanged since 1987

TAMPA — If a developer wants to tear up more than 100 acres in Manatee County, it costs $20,000 to submit an application.In Pasco County, the fee is $7,000 and it’s $17,500 in Broward County.But Hillsborough County would only charge the developer $1,...
Updated: 11 hours ago
In Clearwater handicap parking space case, prosecutors want to include shooter’s prior confrontation

In Clearwater handicap parking space case, prosecutors want to include shooter’s prior confrontation

In the case of the fatal shooting of Markeis McGlockton, prosecutors this week formally expressed their intent to use as evidence a prior encounter between Michael Drejka and a man who parked in the same handicap parking space.A motion filed in court...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Finding a hotel in a hurricane: Some questions to ask

Finding a hotel in a hurricane: Some questions to ask

What is the storm category rating? Concrete block with steel-rebar-reinforced columns is acceptable. Stay away from brick-, wood- or metal-framed structures. They could collapse or be compromised by wind and water.
Updated: 12 hours ago
Attorney Mark Stopa’s foreclosure cases are halted but clients’ checks are being cashed

Attorney Mark Stopa’s foreclosure cases are halted but clients’ checks are being cashed

TAMPA — A bankruptcy judge has ordered a temporary halt to all state and appellate court proceedings in which suspended foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa and his former law firm are counsel of record.The emergency order, effective until Nov. 6,...
Published: 10/18/18
Bar review: Daily News Cafe & Restaurant delivers

Bar review: Daily News Cafe & Restaurant delivers

It’s always a treat to pick up a menu and find more than a few unfamiliar beer names. Hofbräu and Weihenstephaner? Classic options, sure, but how about Laško? Had that one lately/ever? Chateau Ste. Michelle and Estancia make regular...
Published: 10/18/18
Local craft beer of the week: Caged Pelican Baltic Porter

Local craft beer of the week: Caged Pelican Baltic Porter

If you’re going to do a local collaboration, go all the way. The Pesky Pelican Brewpub, a St. Petersburg nanobrewery and restaurant, has teamed up with brewer Eric Richardson of downtown St. Pete’s Cage Brewing for Caged Pelican, a stro...
Published: 10/18/18