PBS began offering downloads of signature shows such as Nova and Antiques Roadshow via iTunes earlier this month, adding Apple’s dominant video bazaar to its online outlets. In July, PBS made seven series available through Open Media Network and Google Video. The shows are also available at Amazon Unbox.
The addition of iTunes was one of several moves by pubcasters courting the broadband, on-demand audience that is Topic A at system conferences and powwows.
In radio, WBEZ’s popular This American Life, long available for download via Audible for $3.95 a show, announced earlier this month that it would offer free podcasts of each episode for a week after broadcast. Downloads of older episodes would cost less than before—95 cents via Audible or iTunes. Streaming audio, not readily saved by computers, is still free for all episodes.
Open Media Network, an online public media service dreamed up by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Mike Homer, went live in late September after a 17-month beta. The portal includes more than 98,000 mostly free pieces of audio and video content, including offerings from approximately 15 pubcasters, says Dennis Haarsager, OMN advisor and head of KWSU and Northwest Public Radio in Pullman, Wash.
The portal, at omn.org, is among the video services that now offer a handful of PBS shows: Antiques Roadshow, Nova, Now, Scientific American Frontiers, and kids shows Arthur, Fetch! and Cyberchase. Downloads cost $1.99, except for Nova, which is set at $7.99 to align more closely with DVD prices, says PBS spokesman Kevin Dando.
The arrangement with Apple’s audio-video site “is perhaps the most significant given the huge popularity of iTunes,” says Ron LaRussa, director of WGBH Interactive.
Consumers have downloaded more than 35 million videos from iTunes since the online store began offering video in October 2005. Apple won’t reveal earnings on the service nor how much it shares with program producers; David Bernstein, v.p. and g.m. for WGBH Enterprises, says the station will get “the majority of sales” of the programs it produces.
Assuming the test goes well, WGBH will “probably” offer additional series in the future, Bernstein says, which has been the trend among the more than 40 networks who’ve dipped their toes in the iTunes pool to date.
Early returns have been encouraging. Episodes of Antiques Roadshow, Arthur, Nova and Scientific American Frontiers have ranked among the most popular in their respective categories, and the latter was the most popular nonfiction show available by season as of last week.
As with pubcaster DVDs, the downloadable shows include their underwriter credits. Producer reps hope the similarities end there.
“We make a substantial amount from DVD sales and are very concerned about cannibalization,” WGBH’s Bernstein says. “That’s why this is a test.”
System programmers are less concerned about iTunes’ impact on the traditional TV audience. Home video sales haven’t hurt audience numbers, notes Ron Pisaneschi, Idaho PTV broadcasting director and president of the Public Television Programmers’ Association.
posted Oct. 27, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Current Publishing Committee