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World and Go! streams flow into PBS plans

Originally published in Current, April 3, 2006
By Jeremy Egner

As stations figure out how to best focus their digital multicasting efforts — should we start statewide channels? assemble our own kids’ channels? pick up packaged channels such as Create? — PBS is moving forward with its own digital program services targeting older kids and news and information doc devotees.

The channels, PBS Kids Go! and World, are slated to launch in October and January 2007, respectively. They were first announced last fall along with Viva, a Spanish-language channel being developed by WNET in New York.

Details of the PBS offerings will go to stations in coming weeks as PBS presents its budget proposal to the system (story, below). As with the PBS HD channel relaunched last year, the new services will be available to stations a la carte.

The network’s proposed fiscal 2007 revenue budget relies on a projected $1.7 million in licensing fees for Go!, covering nine months of service, and $900,000 for World for roughly six months of service, says Jason Daisey, PBS v.p. for finance and planning.

Licensing fees will be based at least in part upon market size, but PBS execs, citing the ongoing budget process, declined to discuss further financial specifics about fee structure, annual operating costs or any other funding-related issues.

However, the look of the new channels is starting to take shape.

The youngster multicast will take the successful formula behind the Kids Go! block — afternoon viewing by 6- to 8-year-olds has increased 17 percent since the block’s October 2004 launch — and expand it into a 24/7 program stream. The channel will feature seven hours of original programming a day, mixing fixtures from the main PBS schedule, such as Arthur, with new programs exclusive to the channel. Go! will also feature its own blocks designed for Spanish-speakers and elementary school teachers, among other audience subsets.

“Having a destination for this age group is a really critical component to keeping our preschoolers,” says Lesli Rotenberg, PBS senior v.p. of brand management. “We need to have a kind of ‘cool,’ aspirational destination for kids to grow into if we want to keep them.”

World will be a national version of the nonfiction encore channel that already airs on digital multicast channels of Boston’s WGBH, WNET and Washington’s WETA. San Francisco’s KQED also offers its own version of World. PBS hopes to go national with World in January 2007, said programming co-chief John Wilson. PBS hopes to build on the stations’ work, he says, “and put together and deliver it as a packaged service so stations won’t have to duplicate the efforts.”

The service will include docs and programs such as Charlie Rose, Frontline and Nova and will serve as the home for Public Square, a package of local and national public affairs programming. Public Square was often trumpeted by former PBS President Pat Mitchell and was outlined in last year’s Digital Future Initiative report (earlier story).

The PBS streams will be joined by WNET’s Viva, also slated to debut this fall. The channel will mix Spanish-language versions of PBS programs with additional shows targeting Hispanic audiences, said Carmen DiRienzo, the programming v.p. leading the New York station’s efforts to develop Viva.

“You know, it’s funny: When the system initially thought about multicasting, it seemed like there would be a shortage of programming,” said Rod Bates, president of Nebraska ETV. “But now it seems like the opposite has happened — there’s all kinds of stuff out there!”

Nebraska is one of the 76 licensees already carrying American Public Television’s how-to channel, Create, and is currently seeking to collaborate with state agencies to build a “Nebraska Channel” much like Twin Cities Public Television’s Minnesota Channel, Bates says. Adding more channels such as Go! or World aren’t on NET’s to-do list, he says, though the network will monitor their development.

“I don’t feel like we’re sitting here in dire straits from a lack of programming — we have more than we need right now,” Bates says. “There are lots of pieces of the puzzle: How much will it cost? Is it worth replacing what we’re already doing?”

Asked specifically about the kids’ channel, James Morgese, president of Rocky Mountain PBS in Denver, says Go! isn’t part of his station’s multicasting plans. The station plans to offer a Spanish channel and then a Colorado Channel, he says.

Morgese, who sat in on conference calls the Go! team conducted with station leaders earlier this year, expects state networks to embrace the service but predicts that community licensees, which don’t get additional funds from state legislatures, will be “a mixed bag.”

“Will that be enough to fund this thing? I don’t know,” he says. “I think a critical mass will be elusive.”

Rotenberg declined to say how many stations would need to sign on to make Go! economically viable. But based on the calls with station reps, “we’re confident we’re going to have really high penetration,” she says.

“We’ll sequence these services in a way that lets stations plan and see them coming but won’t swamp them with costs and too many options all at once,” Wilson says. “Our first rollout will be Kids Go! and we’ll see if there’s anything to learn from that in terms of how it’s received or what the demand is, and then we’ll position the World offering.”

Go! offers some exclusives

Though some stations don’t plan to pick up the new digital channels, others are eager to carry them, especially the more fully developed kids’ offering.

WGBH, which already programs its own kids channel, is going to add Kids Go! to its lineup “and we’re delighted to be taking it,” says Marita Rivero, v.p. and g.m. for radio and TV.

“In general, we’re very supportive of PBS Kids Go!,” says Peter Morrill, g.m. of Idaho PTV.

PBS shifted its children’s programming strategy in 2004 when it joined major kidvid producers and Comcast Cable to what has become the cable-delivered PBS Kids Sprout channel for younger kids, ages 2-5. It discontinued the PBS Kids multicast channel, which had served both age groups, and aimed the new multicast channel at the older cohort.

The change “was a real loss for us,” Morrill says. “Part of our multicast strategy was built around having a PBS kids service in place. . . . So when Go! is offered, and assuming it’s within our price range,” he says, “we very much plan to include it in our lineup.”

The channel will be “100 percent complementary” with Sprout or other preschool channels that stations might develop on their own, Rotenberg says. As with the Go! block, the channel is designed to fill a perceived market void in educational media for 6- to 8-years olds.

“What you have is a lot of pure entertainment but no educational choices” from competitors such as Disney and Nickelodeon, Rotenberg says.

The service will include [three] programs with its October launch that aren't carried in the PBS Kids Go! block on analog stations:

WGBH’s science-focused reality show Fetch!, which debuts May 29 as part of the Go! block, will also be included on the channel. The primarily live-action series, with an animated dog as its host, was partly funded by the National Science Foundation.

Slated for debut in 2007: Animalia, a CGI-animated fantasy show based on Graeme Base’s 1993 children’s alphabet book [and produced by Porchlight Entertainment, Los Angeles, and Burberry Productions in Australia]. PBS plans to debut one or two new Go! programs each year.

Aside from Fetch!, the new launch shows will be available only to stations that pay for Go!, and they’ll be able to air the shows on their analog channel as well as on Go!, Rotenberg says.

Other program features will include PBS Kids Vayan!, a Spanish-language block with English subtitles, as well as a “school block” for teachers and one that will feature Arthur and other shows designed especially for co-viewing by parents and kids.

Stations will be able to preview many of the new features at the PBS Showcase Conference to be held May 17-20 in Orlando, Fla., Rotenberg says.

Another important component will be an interactive PBS Kids Go! club administered through pbskids.org/go, Rotenberg says. “Stations can brand it however they like — they can weave it into existing clubs or start a new one,” she says.

“Stations told us that it was important that everything be co-brandable,” Rotenberg says. “They didn’t want to just pass through a national service. They wanted original content and break time to be able to sell local underwriting.”

The new channel will duplicate less than 25 percent of the National Program Service, Rotenberg says, which was an important factor considering the duplication limits built into the APTS-cable carriage agreement.

PBS is reserving time on Kids Go! for national underwriting credits that will be sold under the same guidelines as the regular program service. No underwriters have signed on yet, says Rotenberg, “but we’ve targeted some who we think will be interested.”

New national underwriting isn’t built into World’s current funding model though that may change, Wilson says. Repeats of national programs will carry their original messages “at least at the outset,” he says. Stations will be free to sell their own local breaks.

The channel would package repeats of national news and information shows and offer stations a logical place to rerun local public affairs programming or air statehouse legislature coverage, Wilson says. World will duplicate no more than 50 percent of primary broadcast content per month in deference to caps built into the cable agreement.

PBS envisions Public Square (still officially a working title) as a hosted weeknight block, two to three hours long, that features national public affairs coverage and can incorporate stations’ coverage of local issues and local perspectives on national stories. The broadcast would be supplemented by a substantial Web-based component that includes streaming video, surveys, podcasts and audience-driven components such as online forums and video blogs.

KCET in Los Angeles and KQED are the point stations for developing national Public Square programs. Now in development is Global Watch, an international affairs show that is a collaboration between the stations and Link TV, the San Francisco-based broadcaster that specializes in in-depth, globally focused news programs. The Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation, early supporters of the Digital Future Initiative, are financing the Global Watch pilot

“We still need to come up with a really clear statement about what World is going to be, how it’s going to work, how it’s going to be effective . . . and finish the budgeting work and take a more detailed plan to the system,” Wilson says. “We’re going to work on that in the coming weeks.”

Correction of print edition: Wishbone episodes will be reruns, not new. Other material added after publication is in brackets.

Web page posted April 10, 2006
Current
The newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.
Copyright 2006

National multicast channels to be offered to public TV stations

PBS HD
High-definition channel launched March 2004
[Earlier story]

Create
Packaged by WNET, WGBH and American Public Television, the distributor

PBS Kids Go!
To be launched October 2006

World
To be launched January 2007, packaged by WGBH and WNET, distributed by PBS

Viva
(working title) channel for Hispanic Americans planned by WNET to begin operation late 2006 [separate story]

EARLIER ARTICLES

Washington's WETA proposes a public affairs channel that might have become a national multicast offering, but cable isn't interested and DTV isn't ready, 1999.

Current looks toward multicasting possibilities from 2002.

Knight Foundation again assists PBS planning for a public affairs channel, 2005. So far, Public Square remains a just a part of the World channel.

RELATED ARTICLES

WNET says it's preparing to announce a full-time, mostly Spanish channel for public TV, working title "Viva."

OUTSIDE LINKS

American Public Television announces launch of national Create channel, January 2006.

KidsWorld Sports comes from Breakthrough Films & Television, a Toronto company whose Dudley the Dragon once appeared on some pubTV stations in the States.

The work of animating 40 episodes of Animalia will be split between Photon VFX in Australia and Absolute Digital Pictures in Glasgow, Scotland, an Australian official announced.

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