Viewers will flip through shows stacked in online video jukebox
PBS has begun showing off versions of public TV’s forthcoming online video player — a wide, dark screen that encourages browsing. Still images representing PBS and local stations’ programs form a horizontal parade as in Apple’s iTunes interface, on a black background reminiscent of the NBC/Fox video site, Hulu.com.
Attendees at the PBS Development Conference in San Antonio last month and the Iowa DTV Symposium last week got a look at the user interface of the pubTV network’s new Comprehensive Online Video Ecosystem, or COVE, which may begin pilot testing at 14 pilot stations in nonoverlap markets as soon as this month.
PBS will stock the system with 50 to 60 hours of national content at launch and plans to add more.
Like iTunes’ “cover flow” interface — and the old 25-cent jukeboxes in diners — COVE lets its users flip through viewing options horizontally. They’re arrayed across the screen in a series of “stacks and streams,” said Max Duke, PBS Interactive’s video manager, station products and services, who described COVE at the DTV meeting in Des Moines.
A “stream” of four images representing programs parade across the screen. The middle option expands into a “stack” of related programs that the user can leaf through—or move on to the next set of options. Viewers can click through the American Experience stack to choose the programs they want.
On the page for each program there’s a large player window above a row of thumbnails representing chapters. Users can roll their cursors over the thumbnails for chapter descriptions and can click to watch them.
Method Inc., which created the interface for Microsoft’s Zune.net and the Time Warner Cable and Comcast on-demand sites, did the visual design. The underlying COVE technology was designed with PBS by thePlatform, based in Seattle.
The player also features:
- a search engine that can find material by theme or program title;
- “most watched” and “most popular” video links at the bottom of the screen;
- buttons for sharing and e-mailing videos, for buying copies of programs on DVD or via iTunes, and for donating to pubTV.
The same infrastructure with different graphics underlies PBS Kids Go, the broadband web service launched this fall for kids ages 6-8. Without paid promotion, the site already has visitors playing up to 1 million videos a week, Duke said. It features 250 videos, including 46 in Spanish, from 14 series, he said.
Weaving in local content
With COVE, stations can serve up locally produced video along with national shows, and they can share local content with other stations if they choose. If a station chooses to use its own website design and player, it can still tap the national video offerings through COVE. Stations that use the national website interface can insert their own branding and information across the top of the screen and in several other areas. For instance, the “related content” area could house links to curriculum material for educators.
Among the 14 pilot-test stations are some that are replacing another video player and others that are keeping their present player, customizing a PBS player or building a new one that links to COVE through API feeds.
The network plans to upgrade two aspects of its PBS.org “localization” feature. First, the PBS site will display more local content than it does now, including about half of the titles on “most watched” lists. Also, PBS.org will try to use server data to identify where visitors come from, without requiring them to enter a zip code anymore; if the system doesn’t get it right, visitors can designate their local stations themselves.
PBS plans to localize the “most watched” and “most popular” lists, too: Half of the listed titles will be local ones from the users’ designated regions, said Kristin Calhoun, director of station products and services at PBS.
Users also will be able to share playlists, interact in a community of other pubTV users, and create mashups, Duke said.
Underwriting or genuine ads?
Because the FCC has no control over what noncommercial broadcasters do on the Web, public TV will get to choose whether it accepts outright advertising or applies its underwriting standards to the blurbs it sells.
PBS and national producers are now discussing whether online program sponsorship messages should diverge from on-air practices, says Angela Lunter, director of online sponsorship at PBS.
For local sites, however, stations can decide what length or types of sponsorship messages are appropriate.
The national interface provides a space for a sponsor credit (as well as pledge messages) adjacent to the bottom right corner of the video player. Stations will have the option of offering local sponsorship for all health and wellness programming, for instance, or for certain search keywords, for instance, says Jay Boeding, corporate relations and marketing representative at Iowa Public Television. Stations could also sell keywords — a hospital could buy anything on the site related to the word “cancer.” The Iowa network and WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., plan to test local sponsorship models using COVE.
A number of policy questions remain, says Boeding. Could a station sell a different sponsorship for out-of-state viewing? And with local and national content offered in the same video player, how will each avoid stepping on the toes of the other?
PubTV won’t rely solely on PBS.org and station sites for all of its online distribution, Duke said. PBS is already experimenting with distribution through iTunes, YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, Joost, Amazon and, since Oct. 7, on Microsoft’s Xbox Live web service. The site serves Microsoft’s huge constituency of Xbox 360 videogame machines. Joining 8,500 hours of other programming on the Xbox site are seven PBS titles, including three science series and three Ken Burns series.
Web page posted Oct. 16, 2008
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC