After several months of asking questions and listening intently, PBS Kids VP Adriano Schmid is ready to start talking about what he wants to do differently.
Before joining PBS, Schmid led development of multilingual programming for Latin American and U.S. Hispanic markets for Warner Bros. Discovery. He’s now working to expand the accessibility of PBS Kids programs — through the languages that are spoken, accessibility applications like descriptive video, and new formats. His first big content initiative is still under wraps, but in a recent interview with Current, Schmid talked about his interest in launching new podcasts and short-form programs with new creators.
Throughout his 20-year television career, Schmid had been hugely impressed by PBS Kids and how its content mixes entertainment with education and positive messages for young viewers. Nine months into his new job, he’s delighted to be ensconced in the world of public TV and amazed by what he’s learned about the role of member stations and the collegiality among PBS Kids producers.
In this interview, Schmid spoke about the changing landscape for children’s media, the value of Sesame Workshop’s partnership with HBO and where he wants to take PBS Kids over the next five years. This has been edited for length and clarity.
Gregory Wakeman, Current: What attracted you to PBS Kids?
Adriano Schmid: I’ve always been a fan of the content created under the PBS Kids banner and aligned with its meaningful mission to make sure that kids aren’t just entertained, but also have a positive takeaway. The work I had been doing in the past was creating pipelines of different shows and giving each show a specific role in the life of a child. By entertaining them and by giving them a takeaway, kids would have something they wanted to share with their friends or caregivers. That was always part of my personal mission with content.
I’m a storyteller at heart. I love different animation styles, different storytelling styles — live-action, multimedia and all those things. This diversity in content is something I feel public media can achieve.
Current: What changes have you made in your first nine months with PBS Kids?
Schmid: We’ve premiered three new series, Rosie’s Rules, City Island and Work It Out Wombats! I had barely anything to do with them other than just championing them and the amazing teams who are responsible for them.
When I speak with different stations and outside partners, everyone wants to know if there will be changes or new directions. I wasn’t brought in to fix anything; I’m here to start a new chapter in the story that PBS Kids is telling, as we pursue our mission with kids.
I spent a lot of these nine months asking questions. A lot of things were very new to me. I’ve been delving into the relationship with our member stations, which is fascinating. They’re the boots on the ground. Every day they’re dealing with their communities, reaching out to teachers and parents. They’re responsible for bringing the content to kids at a local level. Coming from a more corporate world, having that possibility of communication with member stations amazes me.
We hope to have some new things to share about what I want to do that’s different very soon. I’m excited about that. The team, the stations and the partners are excited about that.
When it comes to different ways of reaching the audience, PBS Kids is always looking forward. We want to make sure that we are everywhere kids are, that we are embracing new voices, new creators, new formats. It’s an easy thing for me to continue to flow in that direction because I’m always listening to what’s new. At the same time, we are reinforcing and scaffolding all the projects and series that we have. It’s a balancing act with thinking about the new stuff that we want to create and build on in ways that will touch kids’ lives in a different way. Whether it is podcasts or experiments between game and video content. It’s amazing to work on both fronts.
Current: What has been the most surprising aspect of the job?
Schmid: One thing we do with our producer partners is organize summits and meetings where we talk about what we are looking for and areas of curriculum where we feel there’s a gap. PBS KIDS is expanding the formats we want to offer to our audience so they can interact, explore, learn and have fun, all guided by our mission to show children their world is full of possibilities. We work on podcasts, short-form content, specials, games, video and game experiences, multiplatform series of different lengths and episode orders. This flexibility allows us to engage with various creators, ideas and curricula.
The Producers Summit brings together folks from various disciplines — from creators and writers, to game developers and animators, to advisors and producers. They share their experiences with us on these various projects. Everyone is happy to share, learn and cheer each other on. Producers see these meetings as a way to find partners who may be complementary to their project or offer a new perspective. It’s a way to have everyone be on the same page and for our partners to network among themselves and help each other out.
At the last one we had, which happened in February, there was this sense of community among the different producers. That I had never seen. There was a sense that everyone was working towards the same goal. It’s not about the competition. It’s all about the amazing work that we are all doing together.
That was fantastic and surprising. I loved that.
Current: At Warner Bros Discovery, you created multilingual programming and content across television, e-books and webisodes. You have a similar mission at PBS Kids, including developing new approaches to content on emerging platforms. Where do you see the best opportunities to do that?
Schmid: A lot of this has already started. In the case of the multilingual approach, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the U.S. A lot of our shows, we’re able to broadcast them on the linear channel and then offer them in our app in dual language. A number of series are broadcast with Spanish available as secondary audio, including our newest release, Work It Out Wombats!, among other favorites like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Rosie’s Rules, Alma’s Way, Donkey Hodie, and Ready Jet Go! On our PBS Kids Video app, you can stream Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Rosie’s Rules, Alma’s Way, Cyberchase, Hero Elementary and Work It Out Wombats! in Spanish. Overall, this is a solid offering which we’re working to continuously expand. The same goes for our PBS Kids YouTube channel, where we also offer audio and closed captioning in Spanish for Work It Out Wombats!, Rosie’s Rules and Alma’s Way.
The newer shows, where we’re able to be more purposeful in their creation and budgeting, we’re able to offer them in English and Spanish. Our goal is to provide Spanish-language options wherever possible, including new content. In addition to the series I’ve already mentioned, our newly announced series Lyla in the Loop and Weather Hunters will be available in Spanish both on-air and on the PBS KIDS Video app.
In terms of the audio, closed captioning and descriptive audio, accessibility goes beyond just the languages. We feel that there’s room to grow. We hear notes of thanks from stations and viewers. Stuff like, “I’m happy to see someone like me and my family represented on screen.” There’s a lot of usage of those accessibility features. The more we’re able to offer those, the more they’re going to be used. It’s going to be a virtuous cycle.
In terms of different ways of working with the content, we like working with the creators and hearing what they are interested in and curious about. New creators who have never worked with us before or haven’t done children’s media necessarily, they may want to provide a new experience. We’re able to think outside the box with them to make sure that their ideas, and the format that they want to work on, is one that has the most potential.
Having said that, we’re also paying attention to all the other platforms. With Work It Out Wombats!, we had a lot of content exploring the computational thinking curriculum. But we also have music videos, a podcast and games. It’s an amazing way of testing out different ways of connecting with viewers. It’s something that we will continue to explore. Sometimes there will be a show that will start with shorts, or a show that starts with a podcast. Maybe it will be perfect as a podcast or maybe it will be a podcast and a game. Maybe it’ll be a new feature that we haven’t done yet, like ebooks.
Those are things that we’re always paying attention to. We have forward-looking minds at PBS Kids that embrace these possibilities and look for the right approach and the right way to do it.
Current: Is there a certain show that epitomizes what you want to achieve with PBS Kids?
Schmid: That’s really like picking a favorite child. If we were able to encapsulate the last three major releases that we have done — I love how diverse they are. I love that we showcase a biracial family in San Antonio, Texas, in Rosie’s Rules and explore social studies through the differences between a light bulb and a kite, as they discover how society works in City Island. With Wombats, we look at everyday issues and the principles behind computational thinking.
With City Island, as soon as I joined, I saw the potential, which I think is fully realized in the series. It plays with humor on different levels and attracts kids from different demographics, which is very hard to do. It introduces the curriculum in a way that is very appealing. Because episodes are three minutes long, it’s not encyclopedic about any piece of curriculum. We’re just there to spark curiosity about the way the world, society and your city works, even though it’s a fantastical representation.
Humor is key for me. Having an emotional impact and weight to the stories is something that I’m paying attention to. We love sitting down with creators. I want to really see something that feels like it belongs on PBS Kids. But at the same time, it may be something that we’ve never thought of before or seen anywhere. Something that is intentionally about the educational curriculum, has humor, relatable characters and representation.
Some projects present themselves as being educational, but then the curriculum has been slapped on. Here at PBS Kids, we’re really making sure that folks are thinking about curriculum from the start and being intentional about it. That’s the best way, when the storytelling and the curriculum goes side by side.
Current: City Island creator Aaron Augenblick previously worked on animation shows aimed at adults. Is there a hope that, thanks to his creative sensibilities, shows like City Island will still appeal to viewers aged 2 to 8 as they get older and move closer to becoming teenagers?
Schmid: We always need to be mindful of the 4- to 5-year-olds. That is the median age of our viewers. When they enter our platforms, watch our broadcasts and go into our games, we want to make sure they have an entry point and a takeaway.
Different creative sensibilities will bring different levels of humor and storytelling complexity, even in terms of the curriculum. Our creators have very different personalities. Their personal voices and imprints will make their creations unique.
Kids are smart. They know when a show is talking to them and there’s a voice behind it. They don’t want empty or superficial animated characters.
As kids grow older, all sorts of things happen. They encounter other things through different platforms. They socialize more. They’re able to get more recommendations. We want to make sure that, even if they leave some of our shows behind, they still feel connected. They can still come back. They can play a game or listen to a new podcast.
Leaving a door open for kids as they grow older is great. But our concern is not eyeballs for the sake of eyeballs. We want to make sure that they have some takeaway as far as the educational needs that we identify. That is something that goes beyond age. Depending on where you are and the family or school support you have, our content has huge importance for our audience, even if they’re a little bit older.
We know that some older kids are still watching us. It could be because they still are completely enamored with Wild Kratts. Or it could be that they still feel there’s something relatable in our math curriculum on Odd Squad.
Current: What do you see as the most important changes that have happened in children’s media over the last few years? What’s the most important issue for PBS to respond to at this time?
Schmid: You could even talk about the changes in the last few weeks! If you go back to the last few years, it’s how kids now drive the ways they consume content — even as early as preschool.
We previously thought kids in second grade would start saying, “I want to watch that.” The idea of passive viewers becoming active viewers is happening earlier and earlier. Accessibility to devices and nonlinear content are part of that.
We’ve been preparing for this when we built the website, PBSKids.org, the video app and the games app. We’ve been very precise about the ways we schedule the National Program Service. We created a multicast platform that’s 24/7. That was very intentional. Nothing was by accident.
We want to make sure that parents, educators and kids connect with our content, to make sure that they know we are on every one of these platforms. We really count on stations and parents and educators for that. We also need to have a voice on social media — not for the kids but for parents and educators, so they’re able to find out about all the fantastic work that we’re doing.
Parents, educators and families have needs. They were concerned about mental health and learning loss, those sorts of things. We have the content and tools to help them with that. We have platforms where folks can reach out to us. It’s just about making sure that we can continue to do the work and pay attention. We can do even more than that if the opportunity arises.
Current: What is your biggest challenge in making sure that parents and kids know where PBS Kids content is? How do you approach it?
Schmid: Content nowadays is so vast, for kids, adults — everyone. We’re all suffering from that barrage of streaming. Coming out from two years of lockdown, kids missed a lot of opportunities in the real world that go beyond what they connected to through their screens.
I want to make sure that we continue to park the learning across all the platforms and beyond. That’s the big challenge that we’re going to be always facing. We need to make sure that we don’t get lost in the search for the next trend. We don’t want to submit ourselves to the whims of the industry.
Our mission is clear. We are consistent in that, and the way we create our content speaks to that. We take such an intense and dedicated look at the curriculum with each one of our series because, if that series is a success, it will be available for years and years to come. It’ll help new kids take away something that is not dated. Creating content that is evergreen and relevant is our mission.
Current: PBS Kids is often described as the safe place where parents can let their kids watch TV unsupervised. How can you continue that brand?
Schmid: We wear that badge proudly. We are a safe place for kids. They will be entertained. They will have their curiosity satisfied and have a positive takeaway. The issue now is, they’re not a passive viewership in front of a linear channel. For some families it is — that’s why we’re still very much behind broadcast.
But there’s also our games app, where we have more than 200 fantastic games that are connected to our properties and curricula. That’s super fun and super educational. Those are available to kids, teachers and parents. They can just go to PBSkids.org and play any game. They know it’s going to be positive and have value that goes beyond a kid staying quiet for a half an hour. We are very intentional in doing that.
Current: There’s a difference between parents choosing what their children watch, and when children of a certain age begin exercising their own choices. What are your ideas for making PBS Kids the place where kids most want to spend their screen time?
Schmid: There’s a natural tendency for kids to want to try something different. They feel like, “Hey, I’m a big kid now.” Or, “I’m no longer a kid.” One reason why we welcome new shows and new universes is because those may be the ones that will spark a new curiosity. Sometimes kids are like, “Okay, I’m done with this. That was for when I was a younger kid. Let me try this, because this looks interesting.” As long as they are in the same environment — be it linear, on the website or streaming app — I’m sure that whatever they pick, the kid will be entertained and find value in it. The way we keep those kids engaged is by making sure we are everywhere on all these platforms.
There are some platforms — like social media — where a parent or kid gets a snippet of a show we’re launching. We’ll show something funny. Maybe we’ll put some stuff at the end of a YouTube clip, which directs people to the platforms where they’re going to find the actual episodes, games or the podcast. The marketing effort is to make sure the kids have the content, that they are attracted to it and end up knowing that it’s on one of our platforms.
Current: Does the decision to reduce the broadcast hours of PBS Kids on the daytime feed change your plans or priorities? Will you be commissioning fewer hours of programming for example, leaning into more short-form content, or trying to develop programs for older kids, for example?
Schmid: We were already seeing kids going to the 24/7 channel and streaming platforms. We were not concerned about those afternoon hours. Everything was decided amongst all of PBS — not just within PBS Kids. A lot of stations had already started scheduling general audience programs in the afternoons.
We still have plenty of shows and games on our platforms. The NPS in the morning is a fantastic way for us to showcase the best of our content.
We will continue to explore shorts. I feel that the shorts can populate our linear schedule. They can have a special place in our streaming platforms. Kids don’t really differentiate if a show is three minutes, five minutes or 11 minutes. They just love the characters and want more.
Current: Under a 2015 deal between Sesame Workshop and HBO, first-run episodes of Sesame Street have been streaming on HBO platforms since 2016. PBS Kids airs the episodes for free nine months later. What is the future of that partnership?
Schmid: What we bring to the table in that partnership is the access to all of the episodes. They come in the second window to our platforms and channel. But that has not in any way diminished their impact. The connection between Sesame Street and PBS runs very, very deep.
Our intention is to keep that partnership for the foreseeable future. As long as the folks at Sesame Street are around, we want to support that content. There’s a lot of synergy between Sesame Workshop and PBS.
Current: Your former employer Warner Brothers Discovery now owns HBO. Have your contacts at the Workshop briefed you about their plans for what’s next?
Schmid: It’s not a three-part deal. Sesame Workshop has their own deal with Warner Brothers Discovery. They’re going to evolve that relationship as they see fit.
We want to make sure that we can offer the content and we’re open to really going beyond the content. I’ll give an example: The games that we offer in our games app are exclusive to PBS Kids. We’re actually funding those because we know how important they are to the content we offer to kids.
I understand where you’re coming from. We’ll see how these things will evolve. But we trust our partners at Sesame Workshop.
Current: What is PBS’ position on a contract renewal?
Schmid: We will begin conversations at some point. There will be some coordination in terms of making sure that everyone’s interests are taken care of. Our position is accessibility of the content within our mission. That’s to reach every kid in the U.S., regardless of whether they have broadband or the latest device. That’s really where we’re coming from.
The steady stream of Sesame Street episodes has been really fantastic for us. We are very happy and the families and kids are happy with that content. It has expanded to bring other shows to PBS Kids. In February, we started distributing Not Too Late With Elmo on our feeder platform, the PBS Kids 24/7 channel. That’s something else that happened through the partnership and benefited us and our audience.
Current: What potential do you see for PBS to be involved in planning or content development from the Sesame Workshop teens and tweens initiative?
Schmid: We see that there’s a need for it. We agree on that — not just at PBS Kids, but at PBS as a whole. What we’re trying to do is define on our own what will be the best approach to continue to educate kids as they grow older and outside our immediate demographic. How can we still help them navigate those years, especially post-COVID?
There’s a sense that we need to define the best approach. Partners such as Sesame Workshop could be really important as we develop strategy.
As of now PBS Kids is still focused on the 2- to 8-year-old audience. It’s an audience that really needs us right now. We’re doubling down to make sure that is the audience that we’re serving as best as we can.
Current: What’s your plan for that? How will you work with stations?
Schmid: The ecosystem that is created by our stations is a fantastic tool. They’re really close to their own communities. They are best suited to direct their efforts to specific demographics. We do have some content that skews older than kids 2 to 8. Some of it has been initiated by local stations. We welcome that.
Of course stations have the ability to exchange content, too. We also have our PBS LearningMedia platform, which goes beyond the 2 to 8 audience. Definitely the stations are key to making a positive impact beyond our demographic.
Current: What is PBS doing to support and promote the Ready To Learn podcasts?
Schmid: We were happy to be part of a podcast accelerator that was done with our friends at PRX. That really helped us in terms of our initiative related to podcasts.
Historically, we’ve had quite a few podcasts related to our current series, like Pinkalicious & Peterrific and Molly of Denali. We recently had this fantastic premiere of the Arthur podcast, which has been doing so well.
The idea behind the accelerator is to find and train new creators so we can tackle new, original podcasts that wouldn’t necessarily be connected to a given series. We are working on some content and stuff that’s stemming from that. I’m hoping to be able to talk more about that soon.
Current: Last year the RTL podcast program was incorporated into CPB’s Learning Neighborhood project. How well is that working?
Schmid: The initiative between CPB and PRX was fantastic. We hope to repeat it in the future. More than that, I want to make sure that the audience has access to podcasts that have an educational method and are very entertaining. That will allow new creators to come up with ideas and execute them in ways that are faster and more efficient than if you were to tackle a multiplatform animated series.
Current: Do you foresee changes in the next Ready To Learn grant cycle? Will there be funding for more podcasts?
Schmid: It’s too early to know. The needs for the next grant cycle will be defined in the next couple of years — I’m hoping maybe within the next year. We will look at what is being included in the grant, identify how that aligns with what we are looking for and our priorities, and then we’ll propose something. I’m confident that there will be a lot more, in terms of the podcasts, shorts, and games.
Everything that we do has connected tissue with the Ready To Learn grant cycles. And, outside of that, what we have discussed with CPB about their priorities. There’s always a lot of room to innovate, experiment and focus on what we see as the needs for kids today, such as learning loss, mental health and civics. Those topics are our bread and butter. We always talk about them and we make sure that we find opportunities and identify creators who want to create in those fields and formats.
Current: Where do you want PBS Kids to be in five years?
Schmid: I want PBS Kids to be where we are now — everywhere that kids are. I want to make sure that we are supported, our creators are supported, and that kids can access our content in a lot of ways.
We will be growing in some areas, such as offering Spanish audio and Spanish closed captioning in a lot of our shows. In five years, I hope we have a much more robust offer on that front. It’s not just about the Spanish language. It goes beyond that to accessibility. That’s another goal we have.
We’re hoping, in five years, to be in a much more robust place than we are right now. In terms of the characters that everyone loves, we are committed to still having them in five years. We’re not about to drop any characters.
We’re also going to find and nurture new characters from new creators, which is exciting. I don’t know who they’re going to be and where they’re going to be coming from. And that’s super exciting.
This Q&A has been updated to correct a transcription error.