‘If we’re just TV, that isn’t going to cut it’
The lust for online video isn’t universal in pubTV, but you can feel the heat
With the pubTV system and PBS lagging behind commercial media in offering online on-demand video, some stations are eager to get in the game, designing videocentric websites and waiting for PBS to announce a video player — originally slated to roll out last year — that will allow stations to present national video content on their sites.
PBS is “sprinting” to complete a turnkey backend and customizable player to offer to stations within months, web chief Jason Seiken told Current [story at right].
The network’s survey of stations, with data from 66, or less than half, of all licensees as of last week shows that two-thirds are now featuring video of some sort on their websites, says spokesperson Kevin Dando.
An informal survey by Current finds the stations’ sites dispensing five varieties of video:
- Station-produced content, most adapted from broadcasts but some produced for the Web, such as KCET’s series Sustaining L.A., which follows the activities of four artist groups advocating for environmental responsibility in the city.
- Content co-produced by stations and community groups, such as videos of Cincinnati Opera studio performances on the website of Cincinnati’s WCET, or the station’s footage of an Urban League awards ceremony.
- Content made by independent producers selectively solicited by the station, such as WNET’s Reel 13 online short-film contest, which accepts films uploaded to the site and asks viewers to pick a winner that will air Saturday night.
- User-generated content, wide open to public contributions, such as hundreds of martial arts, community theater and other clips uploaded by web users to the “vlogger café” on uVu, the web-video collection of Miami’s WPBT.
- National productions viewed with the Frontline player and NewsHour module, PBS show promos, and one-offs such as Tavis Smiley’s candidate debates for PBS shows.
Most of the stations’ video online is produced or co-produced by their own staffs or freelancers.
That may be good news for them, even in the YouTube era. PBS’s Seiken points to the finding of last July’s Pew Internet and American Life survey that 62 percent of online video users prefer professionally produced content, 19 percent prefer amateur material and 11 percent like both equally well.
PubTV is well-positioned to find viewers with online video, Seiken says. About one-third of PBS.org visitors watch online video during a week.
CETconnect.org — an all-video site launched nearly two years ago by Cincinnati’s pubTV station — is creating more local fare in one week than it used to make in a year, says President Susan Howarth. Most of the 1,300 videos, though made by professionals, would never reach broadcast because of their production values or technical quality, she says. But they’re great for the Web. Not everything you put online has to be Emmy award-winning material, Howarth says.
Some stations are creating one-stop portals to make video accessible. Iowa Public Television features video on its homepage and lets users search by program, collection (such as elections or the state fair), or tags (such as “Obama,” “ethanol” or “health”). Pittsburgh’s WQED, like CETconnect.org, offers a video-on-demand page that puts video into categories, such as “black history” or “music and performance.”
Version 1.0 of CETconnect.org features extensive menus of on-demand selections, but Howarth says video won’t be so in-your-face in the forthcoming redesign, now that users expect to find video as a central feature of the site.
Stations that want to try online video without devoting technical resources to it can use free video-sharing formats such as YouTube and easily embed screens in station sites. In Fresno, Calif., Valley Public Television, which otherwise features only PBS promo clips on its site, uses YouTube to feature local productions.
Still, not every station exec is on fire for online. Ozarks Public Television in Springfield, Mo., is waiting for its licensee, Missouri State University, to come up with a new-media strategy this spring so the broadcaster can take advantage of the university’s infrastructure, says Station Manager Arlen Diamond.
He isn’t concerned about the fact that the station currently has no video on its site. “We’re behind, yes,” he says, but he believes the station is doing the right thing for its core older audience.“We’ll catch up to the tech-savvy group,” he says.
What role should pubTV play in the user-generated universe? WPBT’s Neal Hecker, v.p. of program services, is excited that uVu — pubTV’s most extensive experiment in user-generated content — is attracting a younger, more diverse audience than the Miami station’s viewership.
The portal—used by about 7,500 visitors a month—does include some content made or selected by WPBT, including footage of lectures and performances.
The original utopian view of uVu, says Hecker, was to get as many people as possible to contribute, but the public has uploaded only 400 of uVu’s videos.
Hecker says “community-generated content” best describes the web library of more than 1,500 videos. uVu partners with and trains individuals and organizations to create video, which helps to ensure that the site is not entirely overrun by wacky pet clips.
KCET’s two-year-old Web Stories project—billed as “cultural journalism and the Southland”—is fueled by a similar “community-generated” ethos. A slick online-magazine concept, the site includes a multimedia feature (video, audio and print stories on L.A. poets, for example) and a feed of community event listings.
KCET is currently working on a second installment of “Departures,” its neighborhood storytelling project. The first, which won various awards and was featured in the New York Times, chronicled life in the Boyle Heights Latino neighborhood with audio, video, photography and various interactive features, including a panoramic “walk” through the neighborhood.
The Boyle Heights project was staff-produced, but the “Departures” installment on the Watts neighborhood will be produced by kids at Locke High School, guided by KCET. Jackie Kain, v.p. for new media, says the station hopes to do more of this community production—it’s labor-intensive, but worth it, she says.
Some station leaders don’t see user-generated content — UGC for short — as a good fit with the pubTV audience. In New Mexico, where many families still dial up the Internet, Albuquerque’s KNME will focus on creating its own content, says Chad Davis, director of content. “I’m not sure in this market that we are right away going to get a tsunami of UGC,” he says.
StoryShare, pubTV’s first systemwide attempt to collect user-generated content, gathered more than 2,800 audio and video stories about World War II. However, only stations — not users — could upload the video content. PBS is working on ways to include user-generated video content in StoryShare, but the feature won’t be available for the tool’s next outing with the series Carrier in late April.
National clips on local sites
Stations generally lack the rights or technology to put video of national programs on their site, but many feature a PBS module listing shows, where users can click through to video on PBS.org. More than 30 stations are using the nearly two-year-old Frontline player, customized with the station’s brand.
Some station leaders express frustration with delays in PBS’s promised online-video system. If the PBS player comes soon and it’s easy to use and integrate, says Diamond of Ozarks Public Television, his station will be interested. But if the university makes faster progress, OPT will use its own solution, he says.
CET didn’t wait for PBS to come up with an online plan, says Howarth. She’s disappointed that stations haven’t taken advantage of the progress others have made. “I’m so glad we moved ahead,” she says. “I’m a bit impatient about all of this.”
With plans afoot for the player to integrate local and national content, some station execs are concerned about how much control they’ll have over the player’s content. “That’s going to be the biggest question,” says KCET’s Kain. “We’ll see if something really robust is going to be as flexible as we need it to be, and it could indeed be.” Most importantly, she says, “I want to control our content — I don’t want anybody else controlling our content.”
For stations not yet in the video game, or those with few resources or the technical know-how to design their own player, a PBS player could help save money with streaming deals and let them store content on someone else’s server.
“This will get a lot of people several steps further than they are right now,” says KNME’s Davis. “If it inspires them to do more, hallelujah,” he says. “If this is all they do, I still think this is a good leap forward for any station that’s not currently doing video online.”
Because pubTV is entering the online marketplace later than many commercial programmers, says Kain, it should aim to jump ahead of them. A PBS player, she says, should be at least as good as the “exquisite” ABC player, she says, which is now a year old.
With or without a PBS player, Howarth thinks doing online video is easier than many stations think. “Some people don’t quite get it—what we’ve been able to do,” she says. “It doesn’t really cost that much more to do this.” The content is cheaply produced, some of it comes from other sources, and CET has been successful in getting grants and other community dollars to fund CETconnect.org.
KNME, with a full-time staff of 60, has five people now working on online efforts, up from just one person a year ago. Building an online presence is essential, says Davis, “so that we’re there when the next generation of PBS users — not viewers anymore — want to watch video. However, they want to get it, and we want to be able to get it to them. If we’re just television, that just isn’t going to cut it in another five to 10 years.”
Web page posted May 14, 2008
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC