NewTeeVee Live: PBS Is Not Just Your Grandma’s Network

PBS isn’t just about Antique Roadshow anymore, PBS Interactive SVP Jason Seiken told the audience at our NewTeeVee Live conference today. But he’s the first to admit that PBS isn’t really the hippest brand around. The average age of PBS television viewers is “pushing 60,” he estimated. Consider that countless Elmo-addicted toddlers actually bring that age way down, and you start to understand that PBS has a bit of an age issue.

That’s a problem that the network wants to solve with an online video platform it launched this spring, and Seiken was happy to report that these efforts are starting to pay off. Forty-eight percent of PBS Video visitors are under 35, he said, and the youngsters seem to dig PBS programming as well. Viewers tune into a stream for 26 minutes on average, which is far longer than many commercial platforms. PBS is clocking 12 million uniques a month for its video site, and video views are growing 80 percent month to month.

One of the more interesting aspects of the site is that it’s also a content repository for PBS’ 357 local member stations. These stations can take shows like Frontline or NOVA and combine them on their own sites with small-town news and other local programming. PBS wants to make this relationship a two-way street next year with the launch of the site’s next version, which will automatically syndicate locally produced content and present it to a national audience.

So what’s the secret of the site’s success? Failure, actually. Seiken said that performance reviews at PBS Interactive now track the times an employee failed at their job, with the goal being not to punish, but to reward failed experiments. “Our engineers actually really love this,” said Seiken.

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