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Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

PBS & Natural History Programming: A Ratings Snapshot for the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

Wildlife programming is an area of strategic focus and growth for PBS:

  • Natural History appeals strongly to PBS’s core audience.
  • And the genre is bringing in new and younger viewers.

Ratings Revealed:

  • Is the PBS audience for Natural History as big as many claim?
  • How old are the viewers?
  • Who originates the programs?
  • How many are in the pipeline?
  • Are audiences for Wildlife drifting away to SVOD services like Netflix and Amazon?

In this week’s snapshot:

  • Ratings by program + trends for Nature, the PBS strand presented by WNET.
  • A deeper dive into this year’s hit, SPY IN THE WILD.
  • PBS National’s pipeline.
  • Case Studies:
    • BIG PACIFIC, from NHNZ and co-pro partners, including MINUTE-BY-MINUTE ratings.
    • WILD ALASKA LIVE: The Story of a Live Stunt
  • Plus Minute-by-Minute ratings.

Jackson Hole

  • I’m sharing my PBS WILDLIFE AUDIENCE SNAPSHOT to honor the  Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.
  • I was kindly invited by JH to produce a panel on SVOD and Wildlife programs.
  • Instead, I’m happily headed to Stockholm to be introduced to our first grandson, born on Tuesday, Sept 19.
  • Many thanks to the PBS Programming and Research teams and James Burke at WNET Nature for providing viewing data and insights.

Find Valuable Strategic Data!   Networks don’t readily share ratings data with their producers. And yet having the costly data is very important for developing strategy, and then for the pitching and renegotiating process. With veteran expert researcher John Morse, we provide producers with precious U.S. ratings data for your program, for comparable productions, and for your targeted networks. Contact me here for more information.





  • The current Nature pipeline is for 13-18 programs / year.


  • The 3-Season rating trend is positive at 1.91 HH (2014-15), 1.92 HH (2015-16), and 1.94 HH (2016-17, including SPY IN THE WILD)
    • Expressed in total viewers per minute, that’s 2.888 million P2+, 2.873 MM P2+, and 2.913 MM P2+, respectively.
  • For 2016-17, including SPY IN THE WILD:
    • The Nature season averaged a 1.94 HH rating and delivered 2.913 MM P2+ per minute
    • Invested viewing households watched 38 minutes per episode (6 minute qualifier)
    • Median Age: 65

Highest-rated Recent Titles

Spy in the Wild: LOVE –  2.6
Natural Born Hustlers: Staying Alive –  2.3
The Story of Cats: Into the Americas –  2.3
Spy in the Wild: INTELLIGENCE  –  2.3
Super Hummingbirds –   2.2
Yosemite  –   2.1

(Nielsen: million HH%)

8-Year Trend: Retaining Loyalty

Source: PBS Research: AA% Live + 7.
2016-17 includes “SPY”. 1.86 HH Rating without.

  • The 8-year trend shows that Nature is retaining the loyalty of American viewers at a time when most series on most channels are challenged by fragmented audiences.


  • The average PBS longform program in the Nature genre enjoys 4 million total views (or starts) across traditional TV and digital platforms.
  • Earlier this year, Episode 1 of SPY IN THE WILD (“Love”) logged 9 million total exposures.


  • Nature’s SPY IN THE WILD is PBS’s highest-rated miniseries in the past four seasons.
  • The Series:
    • Promoted as “the most innovative production Nature has ever presented.”
    • A 5-part series that “employs more than 30 animatronic spy cameras disguised as animals to secretly record behavior in the wild.”
    • “These “spycams” reveal animals as having emotions and behavior similar to humans: specifically, a capacity to love, grieve, deceive, and invent.”
    • It was produced by John Downer Productions for the BBC Natural History Unit.
    • Read more here and watch the video.
  • Viewing
    • SPY IN THE WILD averaged a 2.15 HH rating and delivered 3.3 million viewers per minute
    • Viewing households watched 39 minutes per episode (6 minute qualifier)
    • Median Age: 65
    • Across its 5-week run, SPY IN THE WILD was sampled by 15.4 million unique TV viewers
    • Nature’s SPY IN THE WILD is PBS’s highest-rated miniseries in the past four seasons
  • Ratings By Episode
    • 101 – 2.58 HH, Median Age 66, 40 min. TSV
    • 102 – 2.33 HH, Median Age 64, 39 min. TSV
    • 103 – 2.27 HH, Median Age 65, 38 min. TSV
    • 104 – 2.00 HH, Median Age 63, 39 min. TSV
    • 105 – 1.57 HH, Median Age 65, 38 min. TSV (which was a look at the making of the series)
  • UK: Huge Audience



  • PBS National also acquires, produces or coproduces, and presents Wildlife programs.
  • The current pipeline is for 13-18 programs / year.
  • Two thirds are from the BBC and one third from independent producers, including stations.


  • PBS prefers programs that connect people and the environment, and in a positive rather than alarmist way.
  • An example is BIG PACIFIC.


  • The BIG PACIFIC series was broadcast on PBS in summer 2017.
    • It was co-produced by NHNZ, PBS and China’s CCTV9 with ZDF Enterprises, ZDF, Discovery International, Channel 9 and Arte.
    • It a 4-parter, with a 5th episode about “the making of…”
    • Read more about the series here.
  • Overall:
    • BIG PACIFIC averaged a 1.74 HH rating and delivered 2.5 million viewers per minute.
    • Invested viewing households watched 39 minutes per episode (6 minute qualifier).
    • Median Age: 64
  • By Episode:
    • 101 – 1.83 HH, Median Age 66, 41 min. TSV
    • 102 – 1.83 HH, Median Age 64, 38 min. TSV
    • 103 – 1.82 HH, Median Age 65, 39 min. TSV
    • 104 – 1.71 HH, Median Age 64, 41 min. TSV
    • 105 – 1.50 HH, Median Age 63, 38 min. TSV


  • The Minute-by-Minute ratings for BIG PACIFIC show steady audience growth during each episode.
  • BIG PACIFIC 101 enjoyed an impressive level of loyalty: there was a steady upward trend as new viewers arrived and stayed until the credits.
  • The spike around Minutes 4-6 can be linked to an influx of new viewers.
  • More on Minute-by-Minute
    • Minute by Minute ratings are an invaluable tool for programmers and for the few producers with access to the data. They can micro-analyze the audiences’ engagement with a program over its duration.
    • The analysis is particularly useful for Live or quick-turnaround series, because it enables producers to make adjustments to format, talent, scripts, story line and more.

WILD ALASKA LIVE: The Story of a Live Stunt

  • WILD ALASKA LIVE is a PBS coproduction with BBC Earth.
  • The Audience
    • The show averaged a 1.44 HH rating and delivered 2.269 million viewers per minute.
    • Viewing households watched 35 minutes per episode (6 minute qualifier)
    • The viewing audience was consistent for episodes 1 and 2, but eased off for episode 3.
    • Median Age: 65

Ratings By Episode:

  • 101 – 1.51 HH, Median Age 65, 35 min. TSV
  • 102 – 1.52 HH, Median Age 64, 36 min. TSV
  • 103 – 1.28 HH, Median Age 66, 33 min. TSV

TV + Online + Social

  • All told, WILD ALASKA LIVE snagged 8.4 million unique TV viewers and generated 691K streams across Facebook, YouTube, and owned digital platforms.
  • WILD ALASKA LIVE 101 is PBS’s #2 telecast among Kids and Teens (2-17) for the 2016-17 season.

PBS’s Takeaway:
“For WILD ALASKA LIVE, nearly 19% of its audience was newer (hadn’t watched in the past month), and it drove Kids to view PBS nature content; increasing PBS’s Kid’s viewership by 30% (vs. PBS primetime average). (Ki ds 2-11)”


  • I have eagerly covered the rapid recent developments in the LIVE Natural History niche.
  • Technical advances and experience are helping producers and networks to create programs that deliver both broadcast and online programming, as well as compelling social media content.
  • And that combo is a Holy Grail right now.
  • Nat Geo Wild / Nat Geo Channel, BBC and PBS are leaders in the Wildlife LIVE genre.

  • Read my coverage from the Wildscreen conference of Nat Geo Wild’s SAFARI LIVE, which also led off the famous ”What’s The Buzz” session at the 2016 Science Producers’ Congress.
  • The 4-day “live event” Winterwatch is a popular BBC seasonal feature.
  • In another genre, A&E has enjoyed success with LIVE PD.

Source for PBS Data: TV – Nielsen Live+7  Total US average audience(rating/delivery) or reach estimates as indicated. 6 minute qualifier for reach, except in the case of total views (1 min. qualifier). Total views defined as (TV P2+ reach x frequency) + digital streams + VOD starts.  Digital streams – Google Analytics.  VOD – comScore on Demand essentials.  Date ranges vary.


  • If you think that you can detect a bias towards WNET and Nature, you’re right.
  • Back in the early ‘Eighties, I was a struggling wetback in New York.
  • A humiliating return flight to Melbourne was on the horizon when WNET gave me my first respectable job in the U.S., on THE AMERICAN CITY, an Annenberg-funded series hosted by Mayor John Lindsay. (Thanks David Rosen and Tim Gunn!)
  • Years later, after leaving CBS, WNET was my first consulting assignment, on a strategic plan for their Publishing & Home Video efforts.
  • In any case, I’m keen to promote public television in this era of sustained threats to its funding.


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