World multicast channel: an incubator for diversity?

By Dru Sefton

WGBH and WNET are “re-imaging and re-engineering” the PBS World documentary-oriented multicast channel, which has been picked up by only about 40 of the 170-plus public TV licensees.

Stations gave a better response to Create, a how-to channel by the two big producers and American Public Television. Create is aired on 105 licensees’ multicast channels.

Prompted by high-level pubcasters’ deliberations in private roundtables organized in recent months by the Aspen Institute, the channel’s packagers hope to transform it into an “online destination for diverse content.”

They’ll do so without PBS, one of the original five producing partners, which ended its affiliation with the channel July 1.

Joaquin Alvarado, who joined CPB in June as its senior v.p. for diversity and innovation, told station execs at last month’s NETA/Affinity Group Coalition powwows in New York City that he hopes to see “World 2.0,” become a “transmedia platform” where “innovation starts to happen.”

Ranking pubcasters apparently have expressed high hopes for the channel. A memo to the CPB Board summarizing the May 18-20 Aspen roundtable in Annapolis, Md. — second in an ongoing series of pubcasting brainstorming discussions — reported that participants recommended World 2.0 be “an incubator” for content producers to expand public media’s audience “to include more ethnically and culturally diverse audiences as well as audiences of a younger demographic.”

The roundtable included the CPB Board’s Digital Media Committee and other CPB Board members, and execs from NPR, PBS and CPB, pubcasting stations and major producing organizations.

The channel first launched in 2006 in New York as Thirteen World and Boston as WGBH World before going national on Aug. 15, 2007. Initially offered by a partnership of PBS, WGBH, WNET, NETA and APT, the channel runs time-shifted documentary, public affairs and news programming, such as NewsHour, American Experience and Tavis Smiley. With little cash for programming, it relies mostly on repeats from the main PBS service. The only original show created for the channel is ITVS’s Global Voices.

Whoever is currently working on changing World 2.0 isn’t ready to say more about plans. A CPB rep confirmed Alvarado’s participation in the project but added that it is too early in the process for comment. A WNET spokesperson referred Current to WGBH, which also declined comment. NETA and APT spokespersons also deferred to WGBH. An ITVS rep declined comment.

PBS spokesperson Lea Sloan told Current that PBS “is no longer playing a role in World.”

“Rather than to add any costs to the channel’s operation, we handed this back to WGBH and WNET effective July 1,” she said.

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