PBS picks vendor, will put web ‘back end’ in gear by fall

Originally published in Current, May 27, 2008
By Jeremy Egner

PBS will partner with thePlatform for Media Inc., a Seattle-based subsidiary of cable giant Comcast, to create a cohesive online public TV video distribution network that intermingles local and national content and multiplies overall the number of videos that pubTV offers on its websites.

This comprehensive online video ecosystem (COVE), as the planners call it, will roll out in September, Jason Seiken, PBS senior v.p. for interactive, announced May 13 at the PBS Showcase Conference in Palm Desert, Calif.

Public TV’s present online video players and tools, such as the Frontline/NewsHour public affairs player (earlier article), will be rolled into this network, Seiken said.

The project will allow public TV to “considerably increase online video on both PBS.org and local PBS stations’ websites,” Seiken said in a statement.

ThePlatform, a video management and publishing company that launched in 2000, will manage the broadband video back end for PBS’s main portal and its sites for kids, parents and teachers. With video continuing to reside on PBS and local servers, the setup will enable PBS to distribute video to station sites, help stations publish local content on their own sites and let stations share videos with other stations’ sites. 

PBS has begun a 12-station pilot phase, Seiken told Current in an e-mail. Stations with questions about online video initiatives should contact Kristin Calhoun at PBS Interactive (kcalhounSYMBOLpbs.org).

The video distribution system is part of a multi-pronged plan to enhance and increase exposure for the system’s sites and offerings, which Seiken outlined at Showcase.

PBS will enable further localization of PBS.org and PBSkids.org offerings. Search results on the sites eventually will point to local as well as national content. PBS will provide Google Analytics data for stations’ sites to help them track usage and optimize their site content to be found readily by search engines. A new deal with YouTube allows stations to post clips up to 10 minutes in length without charge — longer than normal. For video posted on pubTV’s own sites, a new PBS pact with Limelight Networks, a content delivery network service provider, gives stations discounted bulk rates for video streaming, Seiken said. Streaming costs for a small- to medium-sized station could run as much as 80 percent below average industry rates, he says.

ThePlatform will also offer stations training on how to incorporate its video management technology into their online operations, says Marty Roberts, v.p. for marketing.

All video delivered by the network will be in Adobe Flash format and in standard screen sizes. Videos will be 512x288 pixels in the 16:9 aspect ratio or 480x360 pixels in 4:3, with a bitrate of 350 kbps using the On2 VP6 codec. These are the same specs used by the Frontline/NewsHour player; PBS will soon publish a white paper on best practices for Flash encoding, Seiken says.

ThePlatform’s administration system will allow stations to upload their content and use metadata tagging, mapped to the PBCore standard, to attach rights restrictions, which follow the videos wherever they go, he says.

The process will go something like this: A station producer will go into the online administration tool and follow pop-up menus to upload, tag, apply any necessary restrictions and publish the video, Roberts says.

At the viewers’ end of the distribution chain, video players interacting with the system — the player created by PBS and others by stations — will automatically search for new content. PBS and the video management company are still working out how the sponsorships will work, Roberts says.

ThePlatform already handles video for the online versions of PBS Kids Sprout and many other media companies, including BBC, CNBC, Gannett, HIT Entertainment and Verizon. Comcast purchased the company in 2006, but it remains independently operated, according to a spokesman.

Reported with assistance from Katy June-Friesen.

Web page posted May 27, 2008
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC


PBS strands, local brands: With online video players, stations retake presenting role, May 2006.

Frontline plans technical upgrades for online video, May 2006.

Tryouts could yield a PBS video player, May 2007.

Video player: key tool for shared local-national video future, May 2008.


PBS news release on selection of thePlatform as player vendor.

thePlatform for Media Inc., Seattle. The company lists a slew of technology partners.

Limelight Networks, content delivery network, home office, Tempe, Ariz.

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