Rhode Island PBS acquires ‘Future of XYZ’ as part of evolving digital strategy

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Host Lisa Gralnek interviews horticulturalist Renee Giroux on a December episode of "Future of XYZ."

A series that started as a pandemic passion project is now on its way to viewers across New England and beyond thanks to a collaboration between Rhode Island PBS and independent producer Lisa Gralnek, host and creator of the series Future of XYZ. 

Each episode is about 25 minutes long and features a conversation between Gralnek and an expert about the future of an industry or subject area — everything from architecture to fertility to tennis. Starting Jan. 19, Rhode Island PBS will release episodes of the series on its website and YouTube channel and take over distribution of its podcast. New episodes will come out biweekly on Thursdays.

Gralnek, the founder of consulting firm LVG & Co., started the series from her home in November 2020, when she says she was yearning for the types of conversations she would have at conferences and networking events. It was unclear when those gatherings would resume because of ongoing pandemic restrictions. 

She’s not a journalist by training but said the series’ conversations in many ways mirror those she has as a consultant. 

“The first step of any project I’ve ever taken on, either as a consultant or in my corporate career, is doing stakeholder interviews to understand the broad perspective of what’s working and what’s not working,” Gralnek said. “That’s where [the series] naturally comes from. It’s like my own innate curiosity mixed with what I do for a living.”

Lisa Gralnek, host of "Future of XYZ"
Gralnek (Photo: Rhode Island PBS)

Gralnek was introduced to Rhode Island PBS President David Piccerelli by a mutual connection in 2021. Though Gralnek is based in New York City, her parents live near Providence, R.I., and she vacations in New England. Gralnek and Piccerelli talked periodically as the station revamped its digital content strategy. They landed on their current arrangement at the end of 2022. 

“What appealed to me most about it is just the wide range of subjects that she chooses to focus on as far as her subject matter goes,” Piccerelli said. “And this is just the perfect platform, I think, to investigate what opinions people have about what’s going forward with their field of expertise.”

Jan Boyd, CCO at Rhode Island PBS, said she was drawn to the originality of the series and thinks it will have local, regional and national appeal. To make that happen, the station plans to promote the show on YouTube and podcast platforms — places where it’s not bound by geoblocking and other PBS stations. 

“We’ve been having some design thinking conversations internally with our producers and creative folks around the questions of what we offer that’s different,” Boyd said. “Lisa’s energy and the guests she brings definitely make these the sort of conversations you can’t find in other places.”

Growing a YouTube audience

Boyd said the collaboration on Future of XYZ will be similar to an arrangement Rhode Island PBS has with The Boston Globe on the podcast Rhode Island Report, which is billed as a collaboration with episodes appearing on both organizations’ websites. The station also produces the digital series Art Inc., which is available online and as interstitial content on TV. Boyd said the station is not planning to broadcast Future of XYZ. But she’s open to considering it as the partnership progresses. 

Gralnek will retain the existing Future of XYZ website and social media accounts, but Rhode Island PBS will take over podcast hosting. The plan for YouTube is still being worked out, but Gralnek said it’s likely that episodes will be on both the LVG & Co. channel and the Rhode Island PBS channel. The series also has new branding that includes the Rhode Island PBS logo. 

She produced 90 episodes of the series on her own before partnering with Rhode Island PBS. The show’s format will not substantively change in the short term. However, Gralnek is collaborating with the station’s content team on generating episode ideas and sourcing guests. Upcoming episodes will explore the future of democracy with a journalist who ran for state office in Virginia, and the future of humanitarian aid with an executive from Doctors Without Borders.

Boyd said the wide range of topics will allow for promotional opportunities that are story-focused, rather than series-focused. 

“The way we’re thinking about it is that it’s not about the platform, it’s about the content. And so how many different places can we put it?” Boyd said. “YouTube is one of our first areas of focus, and we have a really interesting range of content there. I think this series will really help us expand our audience on YouTube.”

Piccerelli and Boyd declined to comment on the details of the agreement with Gralnek and how much, if anything, Rhode Island PBS paid to acquire Future of XYZ. Gralnek described the arrangement as a licensing deal and said the station is the “exclusive distributor of Future of XYZ.

As conversations about the future of podcasting and digital content continue, Gralnek said this model could prove useful for other PBS stations looking to expand their digital footprints and attract national audiences online.

“I think Rhode Island PBS, from my perspective, is thinking outside the box, and we came to this decision together,” Gralnek said. “The collaboration wasn’t cookie cutter.”

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