Citing Traffic Success, PBS Adds Pre-Roll, Considers UK Offering

PBS iPad Circus

U.S. viewers watched more than 145 million videos across all of PBS’s web and mobile platforms, making the non-profit broadcaster the 15th most popular online property for video for the month of June, according to comScore (NSDQ: SCOR). After expanding its video offerings with a major web redesign last year, PBS is branching out in two important ways: it will be adding pre-roll “sponsorships” to its video streams and is going to launch a digital channel in the UK.

PBS, along with fellow not-for-profit media networks NPR and the BBC, has found that digital has widened its audience, not cannibalized it. Now that the online audience has been established, the broadcaster now feels it can aim a lot higher in driving revenues, said Jason Seiken, SVP for PBS Interactive and Product Development, in an interview with paidContent.

“Just to put our progress into perspective, about 3 years ago, we had roughly 2 million streams a month,” Seiken said. “And now, we’ve reached 145 million a month. With that as a foundation, we’re looking for revenue to offset our costs, and video is expensive. So that’s where the focus is now.

Although Seiken wouldn’t get into specific dollar amounts, net income from online is up 110 percent, he said. Much of the growth has been driven by video, he added.

He expects both the audience and revenue growth to continue to grow, since much of the concentration of its web video have been on kids’ programming. There were two reasons for starting off with kids’ digital programming. One, the costs tend to be lower, since the productions tend to be simple. Secondly, unlike commercial kids ventures from Disney (NYSE: DIS) or MTV Networks’ Nickelodeon, education is part of PBS’ mandate. As such, education and kids programming is at its core.

“Kids online tools are generally popular and we have a strong brand affinity with parents that allows us a certain leeway with experimentation,” Seiken said. Adult viewers tend not to have the same tolerance for abruptly reordering its content.

One other difference between kids content and grown-up fare, like news shows and documentaries, is that children have more interest in longer-form webisodes, while older viewers mainly want clips and highlights.

In making its move across the pond for its UK digital channel, the NYT reported that the cable/satellite offering would program both new and past PBS shows. PBS officials declined to discuss specific shows, or the details of where the channel would be available, saying that plans were not final.

While Seiken didn’t talk about the network’s global aspirations, the next order of business involves stitching its 360 local stations across its web and mobile video offerings.

In the meantime, PBS is not rushing to create an Android video app, though last month, it did launch a game on the Google-powered mobile operating system. “We’re looking for Android’s Honeycomb OS to have higher penetration, plus it needs to sort out some problems revolving around DRM and video,” he said.

Unlike the iPad, which doesn’t allow Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) Flash software for video playback, Android users can just watch PBS through the broadcaster’s website. “There’s no need to offer something that’s no different than what Android users can already access,” Seiken said.

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