The stars of Downton Abbey aren’t the only luminaries whom journalists will chat with during PBS’s portion of the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour today and Wednesday. Other big names at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., include rapper and songwriter Nas, director Spike Lee, Oscar winner Geena Davis, actor Nathan Lane and television legend Dick Cavett. The twice-yearly tour is a chance for broadcasters to woo more than 200 reporters with news of their upcoming schedules, deploying sizzle reels, high-profile appearances, question-and-answer sessions and, of course, food and drinks. PBS President Paula Kerger will greet journalists during her executive session at 10 a.m. Pacific time. Later today, the press conference for Season 5 of Downton Abbey, PBS’s blockbuster series on Masterpiece, will feature Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) and Tom Branson (Allen Leech), as well as Executive Producer Gareth Neame and Masterpiece’s Rebecca Eaton.
New digital offerings from NPR and PBS aim to give public media additional platforms for building online audiences while gaining insights into how listeners and viewers interact with digital content. These digital initiatives — PBS’s Membership Video on Demand service and NPR’s long-awaited NPR One app — were demonstrated and discussed during the Public Media Development & Marketing Conference in Denver July 9-12. The frequent name-changes for NPR’s mobile app during its development — it has been variously referred to as “Project Carbon,” “Infinite Player” and “MPX” — prompted laughter among PMDMC attendees when recounted by Zach Brand, NPR’s v.p. of digital media. But the roulette wheel has stopped, and the name NPR One is now locked in. The app, which will be released in a soft launch later this month, uses an algorithm and user feedback to create an audio stream fusing NPR content with newscasts and segments provided by stations.
In an experiment signaling public TV’s resolve to address concerns about the long-term effects of transactional pledging on its donor base, PBS plans to test whether fundraising around regularly scheduled signature series can convert more viewers into loyal members and donors. Though traditional fundraising programs generate more cash for stations, many development professionals believe that pledging around core programs could yield better-quality donors who are committed to public TV’s mission. Stations such as Maryland Public Television and PBS SoCal in Orange County, Calif., have successfully pledged series from PBS’s National Program Service, as well as popular British dramas and comedies acquired from other distributors. Their results prompted PBS to take a deeper dive into the approach. “As we transition from a goal of gross dollars into a broader philosophy of the long-term value of donors, this seemed like a great time to look seriously at best practices with emphasis on sustaining donations,” said Joe Campbell, v.p. of fundraising programming.
PBS and New York's WNET joined major commercial networks Wednesday in hailing a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the business model of Internet TV service Aereo in violation of the 1967 Copyright Act. In a 6-3 decision, the high court held that Aereo’s business model of charging subscribers for access to an individual antenna and DVR service for over-the-air broadcasts violates the 1967 Copyright Act. The majority found Aereo's operations more akin to those of a cable company, regardless of the technology it employs, binding the company to the same rules governing broadcast transmissions. Those rules require cable companies to pay networks for the content they transmit. The majority comprised Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The filmmakers behind a new documentary briefly discussed their “deeply troubling” experience with public TV in an appearance on public radio’s On Point Wednesday. Tia Lessin and Carl Deal directed Citizen Koch, now hitting theaters after vying for grant funding and a broadcast commitment from PBS’s Independent Lens. The film examines the influence of wealthy conservatives such as David and Charles Koch on Republican politics. A May 2013 article by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer suggested that ITVS, Independent Lens’s producer, backed away from the film due to pressure from New York’s WNET, where David Koch sat on the board. Appearing on On Point, Lessin and Deal said ITVS asked them to remove content related to the Kochs from their film and to change the name.
Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes has weighed in on PBS's decision to delay airing the Masterpiece megahit for months after each season premieres in Britain. And as his countryfolk might say, he is cheesed off. “I want to have simultaneous transmission in America and Britain,” he tells the Telegraph of London. “The difficulty that we have is that people are discussing the series as it happens online before America’s seen it and on the internet we’re all in the same company. It’s madness.”
Then he adds: “It’s what I’d like, but who cares what I think?”
Scheduling Downton is a tricky subject for PBS. The blockbuster costume drama has always premiered in January on PBS, two months after the British airing.
• I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! Granted, that's probably not among the verses in The Liberal Media Made Me Do It!, a new collection of poems based on public broadcasting stories and shows. But the book does contain pubmedia-centric contributions from more than 50 poets who were inspired by Radiolab, Performance Today, A Prairie Home Companion and other fare. “For me, the greatest delight in receiving these pieces has been to recognize the stories I have heard on the radio, with the added dimension of another’s perception added in,” writes editor Robbi Nester. “This brings home the truth that each of us could start with the same raw material and yet produce finished products that resemble one another only in incidental ways.”