PBS board committee endorses tentative guidelines for new kids’ service

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CRYSTAL CITY, Va. — New guidelines under consideration at PBS would give stations three months to decide whether to air the network’s new multicast channel of kids’ programming when it launches later this year.

The PBS Board’s Station Services Committee approved the proposed policy Tuesday during a meeting at network headquarters. A working group of committee members developed the guidelines in consultation with stations. PBS will use them as a starting point for discussions with stations and other stakeholders. It plans to present a policy to its full board for adoption in June.

Under the proposal, stations that carry the multicast channel, announced in February, must sign three-year contracts. PBS will also distribute the channel on mobile and over-the-top platforms through its PBS Kids app, along with localized station co-branding.

Also under the proposed guidelines:

  • In an overlap market, the primary station will have the first opportunity to carry the service. If it declines, the option will be extended to the secondary station.
  • Any station that already programs its own kids’ channel can continue to offer it. But stations are prohibited from starting new services using PBS Kids content.
  • Stations can insert up to an hour of local programming, in the form of two back-to-back half-hour programs, into the multicast weekdays from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Stations can get waivers from PBS if they want to include more than an hour of local programming.
  • Local content can’t be inserted into the live stream.

PBS is working on language to help stations raise foundation and corporate support for adding the multicast channel, which could require buying new equipment. That language will be ready by late summer, said Betsy Gerdeman, PBS senior v.p., development services.

Passport entices first-time donors

Committee members also got an update on Passport, the on-demand video membership premium that PBS rolled out in December.

More than 192,000 station members have activated their Passport accounts since the service launched in December, Gerdeman told the committee. In addition, 28,000 contributors have signed up using the Passport donation form. The majority of these Passport users — 75 percent — are new members. Half contributed through station websites and half through PBS.org.

Eighty-one PBS stations are now offering Passport to members, representing 59 percent of eligible stations. Of those, 64 have reported annualized income to PBS that totals more than $2.9 million in gifts.

PBS also found that half of donations came from people who learned about Passport from localized ads on PBS’s website. Most stations have told current members about Passport but have otherwise done little to promote the service as a premium. So the signups coming from PBS’s website are “basically, from the station’s perspective, passive revenue,” Gerdeman said.

When PBS launched Passport, it told stations it wouldn’t promote the service on its home page other than through the localized ads, said Ira Rubenstein, PBS’s s.v.p. and g.m., digital and marketing. But PBS may now revisit that issue with its station advisory councils, he said.

“Given the success that we’re seeing already from the home page, we feel pretty confident that stations will agree that if we do a little bit more, we might be able to drive even more success,” Rubenstein said.

Correction: This post has been revised to correct erroneous information about station members and new members who have signed up for Passport since December. 

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