PBS Digital Is Looking For A Few Good Partnerships

I suppose if you’ve spent 45 years or so being subtle, calling advertisers "underwriters" and all that, that when the shackles come off, it’s katy bar the door — or the millennial equivalent of “time to get moving”.

Which is what PBS Digital Studios did at its first NewFronts presentation in New York, when Matthew Graham, the unit’s senior director, told a crowd of advertisers: “We’re really looking forward to new partners to help us grow” and invited them to stick around after the presentation and start pitching collaborations.

It would seem PBS Digital is in a pretty good spot already. In a little more than a year in business, it has 1million subscribers, and 75 million total views to its fleet of YouTube sites. It says 43% of its monthly views come from mobile devices. It is unabashedly aiming for kids and millennials, not the baby boomers who are happily watching the history of the Beatles on PBS the channel.  



It produces 100 videos a month, most of it with a smart, intelligent edge, and time spent by users has increased 200% over the last year. Its content is also distributed through Xbox360, Roku and Apple TV.

If you’ve been around PBS in its television version, you know how rare it is to get business-first commercial head-count data like the stuff the digital branch was disclosing. PBS Digital brags in its literature that Mashable called it the “Best Branded YouTube channel.”

Is this PBS? Paula Kerger, the president, says yes. “While our online content may look very different, it shares the same sensibility,” she said.           

Yes and no. It does have a show called “It’s Okay To Be Smart,” but it’s quick and fun; one episode investigated “the science of kissing.” Then there's a series called “Game/Show,” which according to the literature, “looks at the relationship between videogames and modern life. We aim to talk about all the things you think about, but don't have anyone to discuss it with.”

Now, that sounds like PBS (despite ending a sentence with a preposition), except that two-thirds of the audience is between the age of 13 and 34.  Still, eggheads abide.  A clip PBS Digital showed asked the question: “What does the word ‘gamer’ really mean?”

It sure seems like a different PBS when you find “Everything But The News,” a trippy series starring Steve Goldbloom, in the guise of a “NewsHour” tech reporter riffing on tech topics, but also lampooning the standard-issue TV news visual and reporting cliches.

"Everything" is break-out funny stuff, not PBSish, which has a notorious lack of a sense of humor. Goldbloom, who had been a "NewsHour" staffer, says when he proposed the idea, "I never thought they'd go for it," he told me.

They did, and PBS opened their reel at NewFronts showing a clip of Goldbloom getting bounced around in a disastrous stand-up from a mosh pit.

PBS Digital, by the way, offers, at least eight different ways for advertisers to get involved with ”Everything But The News “ and all the other shows, including “custom content/integrations,” described as a “high-touch opportunity” that “requires close collaboration” so “sponsor objectives are met.”

In other words. Call them. Sales execs are standing by. Not volunteers either.

PBS Digital announced it would debut “Frankenstein MD,”a reimagining of the classic from Bernie Su, the writer and producer of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” fthis fall and is now launching “Food Buzz” with Chris Hasuelt; “Bongo Bongo,” an etymology series (the title is a linguistics term for imaginary languages); and “Pancake Mountain, for kids and parents, hosted by a goat puppet and an goofed up “entertainment expert,” Rufus Leaking.

“It’s weird but the Internet likes weird,” Graham said. And PBS Digital now likes that. 
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