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Update on The Mecklenburgers Performance
In 2005, the County’s Public Service & Information Department (PS&I) staff concluded that traditional government TV programs televised on The Government Channel were not drawing an audience. In response, the PS&I staff developed a partnership with WTVI to produce an innovative television series on County services that people would watch. Using existing funding for public awareness, Mecklenburg County hired WTVI to produce seven 30-minute episodes of The Mecklenburgers.
First-year results were respectable. The show received four Telly Awards (awards for local, regional and national TV programming not aired on network television) and ratings comparable with other local programs on WTVI. PS&I staff concluded this warranted another season. The second season produced similar results (three Telly Awards and a steady audience consistent with WTVI’s other locally produced programs).
However, WTVI indicated its production capacity was not well suited to producing a weekly 30-minute program, and offered to air the program but not produce it. PS&I staff decided it would discontinue the show unless it could identify a way to produce the show at the same cost while increasing ratings. After considerable deliberation, PS&I staff was able to contract with a local TV production company to produce the show, and negotiated with WAXN to air the program. This arrangement resulted in 11 Telly Awards and a 125% increase in the average number of households (2,700 households) watching the show compared with the ratings on WTVI.
The 18 Telly Awards received over the past three years have cited the show’s writing, humor and use of music in educating and informing viewers. Topics have included recycling, HIV/AIDS, library services, substance abuse, recreation, adoption/foster services, debt service and capital investments, domestic violence, jails and detention officers, seniors and more. The show’s stories and characters are intentionally campy and sometimes silly to attract viewers who would not normally be interested in TV programs about County government. The show is most popular with women aged 25-44, while older males tend not to watch.
Despite improved performance, staff concluded the results achieved in this upcoming fourth season will determine the long-term viability of the show in raising public awareness about County services. As a result, two major goals have been established for this season. First, the show must generate an even larger viewing audience. This will be the first time the show has aired on the same station and time in consecutive years. This consistency is an important ingredient in building an audience. Staff is targeting another 50% increase in viewers (an average of 4,000 households per episode). Although this may appear to be a small number when compared with network shows or local TV news, it would be a significant achievement for a locally produced informational show. By comparison, the April 17 televised meeting of the Board of County Commissioners drew an audience of approximately 3,135 households that fell to a zero rating after an hour (Note: a zero rating does not mean no one was watching. It means the number of households watching was below approximately 1,045).
Staff also is seeking private underwriting sponsorships for The Mecklenburgers to reduce the County’s cost to produce the show. These two criteria of increased ratings and reduced costs will be used to assess the show’s return on investment to the County, and therefore whether the show is the best use of public funds to increase public awareness of the County’s responsibilities, services and results.
Among topics to be featured on The Mecklenburgers this fourth season include HIV/AIDS, homelessness, water quality and environmental protection, park and recreation services, literacy, poverty, jail crowding, public involvement, CMS, tax bills, and possibly revaluation.
            --Harry L. Jones, Sr., County Manager

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