PBS Gets Its Hulu On, Begins Beta Testing Video Portal


imageOnline video has been the main focus of PBS’ online video strategy the past few years and now it finally has a classy showcase to match its high-minded programming. The public broadcaster is pulling up the curtain on the PBS Video Portal, which will have “thousands of hours” of national and local content. Ultimately, the portal will run feature-length films and documentaries, as well as live events and performances.

In the meantime, instead of watching Charlie Rose and or Antiques Roadshow on PBS’ tiny player, users can scan the very Hulu-looking wide screen for just about all of the broadcaster’s regular series. Aside from the resemblance, the PBS Video Portal also has a “share function.” Coincidentally, perhaps, the launch occurs on Earth Day. Since this is PBS, the portal will highlight a spate of environmental shows. Also, PBS.org will run the premiere episode of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s archeology-themed series Time (NYSE: TWX) Team America before its TV debut this summer.

The expanded video portal follows last September’s introduction of the PBS Kids Go Video Player. That player is still a priority. PBS has added interactive games and claims to be streaming more than one million video clips each week.



Having their media in Flash Video format is keeping me from viewing on my computers where there is no Flash Player available from Adobe.

PBS video has always been unrestricted and without commercial advertisements in the past, so why not simply make the videos available – in an open file format – and let the users use and distribute in a way that suits them? Use bit-torrent technology to lower your distribution costs and include information about how people can donate to PBS.

Extra points for licensing PBS content under a Creative Commons type copyright license.

Unfortunately, from what I can see of the new PBS portal, this is an effort to get more marketing information from their users, using Double Click web services and Flash programs. I feel it is a shame PBS is not embracing the open nature of the Internet.

Jamie Poitra

Hey Jonathan,

Definitely still some growing pains still on the scaling front. I hear you on the quality front and trying to find a good middle ground. You know your audience better than anyone else obviously so you know how your traffic breaks up in terms of connection bandwidth better than anyone else. For me Hulu's default quality is just about perfect. Their higher quality settings are too high for me and my modest DSL connection can't keep up. Anyway, its good to see PBS embracing online video more wholly. Especially from my perspective as a lover of public television who doesn't actually have a television.


Jon and Jamie, points well taken. We did have some scaling issues early this morning (so many people were watching we've already had to double capacity — thank goodness the videos all live in 'the cloud', so it's easy to expand).

In regards to the video quality, it's a constant struggle to find the point where quality is high enough for people with large bandwidth pipes, and making the experience pleasant for those with basic DSL, etc. We'll keep tweaking things and welcome the continued feedback from users.

-Jonathan Coffman, PBS Engage

Jamie Poitra

Yeah the video quality on the new site is a little disappointing. Still its a hell of a lot better than it was and you can at least watch full episodes of episodes where as before you were often left with short highlights of episodes instead.

Would appear that at the moment they are having some scaling issues. Videos sometimes don't start playing and instead my browser reports an error.


PBS is incredibly behind when it comes to online video if you ask me. The newest episode of Nova on Hulu is over a year old and the video on their new site, although an improvement, is still the size of a postage stamp. Not a great playback experience if you ask me.

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