Knell: familiar with dynamics

NPR’s next president already knows how a strong production house can continue to work with pubcasting stations — and also expand its reach with non-broadcast distribution partners. For nearly 12 years Gary Knell has managed one of PBS’s prize program providers, Sesame Workshop, which made cable deals and vastly enlarged its audience on the Web while keeping the first play of its primo content on PBS. Knell, like his NPR predecessor, Vivian Schiller, as well as recent PBS leaders, wants to play the major original productions in as many venues as possible, though with the member stations continuing to hold an exclusive broadcast window. “It’s radio-first distribution,” Knell told Current, “Then it should be made available more broadly, tweeted and smeeted,” he said, coining a word for additional varieties of social media. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re all over all that stuff.”

Under David Britt, Knell’s predecessor as president of the Manhattan-based production institution, the Workshop negotiated an end to PBS’s exclusive rights to its flagship program, Sesame Street, and in 1999 released older episodes to a cable venture — Noggin, a cable net co-owned with Viacom’s Nickelodeon.