PBS' 'Nova' Uses Kickstarter For New Show

Maybe big TV networks need a bit more help from viewers -- not just watching TV shows --- but as pseudo-owners/backers of TV programs.

Consider what PBS’ “Nova”, the longtime PBS series, is doing.

It is starting up a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for a special “Nova” two-hour show “Beyond the Elements.” The special, based on the Periodic Table of Elements, will illustrate how elements combine to form the tens of millions of unique substances used in the world.

To be sure, Kickstarter campaigns don’t offer equity or ownership in a project to its “backers.” Yet, those who back the projects get fairly close to the creative process, as well as typically getting rewards from project owners.

Big media companies believe the long term future of traditional TV networks is safe. No matter what new digital device or platform arrives, they’ll all need big well-produced TV content that people want to see.



The “Nova” campaign, called “Join Nova: Make Science For All,” is seeking at least $1 million -- and perhaps up to $2.25 million -- for the special, hosted by David Pogue, a PBS host and veteran science reporter.  

The campaign will run through March 3.

Other Kickstarter TV efforts: A former PBS kids show “Reading Rainbow” and a Netflix revival of “Mystery Science Theater."

Much of this riffs off the concern of John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks, who has warned about a rapidly growing number of TV shows. With scripted TV programs now at around 450 shows, all are increasing vying for media consumers attention.

His theory? Since not all can be supported, many will fail. 

Thus, the PBS move takes a new approach, and dovetails with its long-time relationship with its TV viewers. Like all PBS programming, “Nova” is made possible by support from local station members and its viewers, who value educational content.

Could a TV broadcast/cable network show could make the same leap?

Well, we know producing TV shows can amount to $2 million to $4 million for a single episode. A full season of 22 episodes can set back a traditional linear TV network almost $90 million.

Funding TV shows has always been a big development gamble -- and few can jump into this without a long-term strategy. Increasingly, TV networks are looking for digital streaming deals with Netflix or Amazon. CBS has done some of this by starting up new summer shows.

Future TV producers may believe deeper consumer involvement in a TV production could be possible. That would get them, as TV-minded marketers, what many are seeking: true viewer engagement.

Make a pledge -- and maybe get closer.

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