Public broadcasting well-suited for web

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Newspapers, television and radio are all finding ways to adapt to a new Internet reality or finding themselves left behind.

Public broadcasting is in a unique position to take advantage of the new reality, delivering on-demand, specialized programming to intensely engaged audiences too small to attract commercial broadcasters and their advertisers.

A group of PBS general managers seem to be on the right track in calling for public television to stop thinking in terms of "stations" and start thinking in terms of "video."

"If you're under 20 years old, you don't know what a station is," futurist David Houle told participants at the PBS annual meeting in Denver. "You just see endless options of video."

More and more, that video is being delivered by Internet.

Only three years ago, PBS.org users watched 2 million PBS videos online a month. By this March, PBS President Paula Kerger said, PBS web and mobile platforms received some 140 million streams, and the PBS Kids site received 34 percent more visits than a year ago.

Houle told attendees that TV broadcasters need to stop thinking in terms of packaging and transmitting programming to TV sets. "You're no longer in that business," he said, "You are now in the video business.

The potential audience is huge -- 5.4 million televisions were tuned in to the Season 2 finale of PBS's biggest hit, Downton Abbey, but there are a thousand times more cellphones in the world, 5.6 billion.

In response, some public broadcasters are producing programs for the web first, using the PBS brand to set the content apart from YouTube mayhem.

As states face budget challenges and private support ebbs and flows with the economy, web distribution of content can be public broadcasting's ace in the hole.

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