PBS proposes video-on-demand service in FY15 budget

By Dru Sefton

PBS’s fiscal year 2015 draft budget includes the launch of a Membership Video on Demand service that will generate revenue by drawing on the network’s expansive library of content.

MVOD members will get exclusive access to on-demand PBS videos, according to a budget document acquired by Current. “This is a critical product to help stations drive membership of the growing digital audience,” it said. The service will be integrated with PBS’s COVE video platform, and the public broadcaster anticipates hiring additional staff for the project.

The budget proposal, now awaiting comment from stations, also requests a 2.5 percent increase in assessments from stations. That would bring in a total of $187.4 million, up from $185.5 million in FY14.

PBS budgeted for revenues of $320 million, up from $287.2 million in FY2014. It also anticipated rising expenses, from $311.6 million in FY14 to $348.3 million in FY15.

The budget for content — bolstered in part by the increase in station dues — would grow from $220 million to $224.9 million. That includes content for the general audience, fundraising, children’s programs, digital services and PBS LearningMedia, the educational online resource.

PBS is also suggesting that it spend more money on marketing and communications, from 13 percent in the previous fiscal year to 20 percent of its total budget for content.

“In an increasingly fragmented landscape where our competitors have deep marketing budgets,” the budget document notes, “it is more difficult than ever to attract and build audiences for member stations.” The additional funds will help position stations as “relevant, distinctive and essential,” with the goal of inspiring audiences to “engage, view and contribute.”

For its fundraising efforts, PBS is turning its attention to creating multiple pledge programs based on icon shows. Previously, PBS developed one-off fundraising programs based on successful shows, such as pledge content built around Masterpiece hit Downton Abbey. That raised nearly $900,000 for pubTV stations in March. According to the budget, PBS is “in active development” with the executive producers of all of its ongoing series to create programs for pledge drives.

A new children’s show for FY16, Nature Cat, will be fueled by an increase in the kids’ programming budget, from $19.6 million in FY14 to $24.2 million in FY15.

The PBSd subsidiary, which handles digital sales for shows such as Downton, is expected to continue to produce additional revenues: $6.3 million more in FY15 than FY14, the budget predicts. PBSd helped PBS close its FY13 books with a surplus of $24.5 million.

The PBS Board will finalize the draft budget at its June meeting.

Questions, comments, tips? sefton@current.org

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