At the PBS Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, President and CEO of PBS, Paula Kerger, detailed the difficulties of bringing the network’s shows to streaming and the gratitude the company feels towards government funding that helps keep its stations afloat.
PBS has long broadcast its content through local channels on cable TV, but it has evolved in an era of streaming. Most of its content has moved to streaming. A decent chunk is available through its free streaming app. Members signing up for the PBS Passport for $5 a month get more content. Prime members can subscribe to PBS Masterpiece and PBS Documentaries through Amazon Channels.
The network wants to “balance the economics of our stations and producing patterns,” most of whom generate revenue from VHS and DVD sales. PBS moved some content to Netflix and Amazon, which allows the company to pay out royalties to their content producers. Kerger said PBS has been “very aggressive” in building its free app for smart TVs and other devices.
“We try to organize all this windowing in a way that is not in conflict but that it supports each other,” said Kerger, according to Variety.
PBS released a slew of new content coming to its streaming app and stations this year, including Leonardo da Vinci, a documentary that peels back the layers of the artist’s life and work. It will debut on November 18 and 19 from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET.
Nova, a science show that premiered 50 years ago, will also launch on the app this year. The series debuted in 1974 when there were few options for science-savvy programs and became a long-standing hit with audiences. The docuseries explored groundbreaking scientific advances and the curious nature of humans. A new slate of specials covering emerging technologies like AI will head to PBS this year.
PBS has also signed a multiyear commitment to explore the depths of the ocean and fresh-water sources, focusing on climate change issues. The series Hope in the Water, Nature: Patrick and The Whale, Dynamic Planet, Independent Lens: One With The Whale, Changing Planet, Sea Change, and Weathered will all debut on the streamer this year. The content aims to drive awareness of oceanic science as scientists face unprecedented concerns due to a changing climate.
Several dulcet documentaries are coming to PBS, focusing on the history of music and famous performances. Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution is a three-part series dusting off iconic music from the 1970s. The series looks at disco’s rise and fall in popularity, and the legacy is left behind through interviews with musicians, promoters, and innovators of the era. Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution premieres on June 18.
Broadway fans can find the Emmy-winning Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch on PBS’ Broadway’s Best lineup on May 9 at 9:00 p.m. ET. The show stars Tony Award winner Leslie Odom, Jr. (Hamilton).
And finally, PBS Kids will encourage children to get involved in their communities with a second season of City Island. Music video series City Island Sings and Together We Can, created with Sesame Workshop, are headed to the streamer this year. PBS is also working with TIME Studios to create a live-action short series that encourages “civic engagement through media literacy.”
Kerger spoke to the difficulties of operating a publicly funded network in tough economic times. PBS relies on donations from audiences and government funding to remain operational. Most of the government funding supports PBS stations, a generosity not lost on the network.
“There are many calls on federal funds,” said Kerger, according to Variety. “And I believe that it is up to us to demonstrate the importance of the work we do, the content that we provide, the presence that we have in communities.”
With the funding, Kerger said PBS will continue to be “ok.”