New PBS Website, iPad App Not Just For Kids Anymore

PBS has introduced a free new app for Apple’s iPad, along with a revamped website, that are meant to appeal to its grown-up viewers. The changes are part of a wider plan to bring more content from PBS’ 354 local stations to wider national audience. The release of its new digital offerings are also timed to get the most marketing mileage out of a current promotion for the network’s upcoming six-part documentary Circus.

The first episode of Circus is immediately available on the iPad for streaming, in advance of the broadcast premiere on November 3rd. New apps for the iPhone and iPod touch will be released early next month.

Kids are still included: While much of the new focus is on adults, PBS is also introducing a subscription-based teaching tool for home and classroom called PBS Kids Play, a suite of interactive whiteboard games, and nearly 1,000 free, educational games as well. The new child-aimed apps join the six existing ones for the iPhone and iPad.

Local grows up: The launches are seen as the next step after the not-for-profit broadcaster’s digital plans that have been hatched over the past 18 months. These include the introduction of the PBS local-national video player (, which contains more than 4,700 hours of full-length video from the national network and its local stations, Paula Kerger, PBS’ president and CEO, told paidContent earlier this month.

The earlier part of the digital plans tended to focus on PBS Kids since the programming on that end is both popular and continuously experimental. Now that the broadcaster feels comfortable creating a range of digital products and programs, it’s ready to offer grown-ups — the word “adult” isn’t heard too often at PBS — some more attention.

Website grows up too: The new features aren’t solely app-based either. In addition to the wider mix of video content from the local level that will now have a greater chance of reaching a national audience, PBS is automatically localized so visitors can view video, TV schedule information and content that is specific to their community. A media bar across the top and bottom of every page, which is refreshed daily with upcoming programs and special promotional features, making it easier for users to find content.

Online sponsor revs up 80 percent: The timing of the new grown-up aimed apps and website features comes as PBS’s website is ready to receive a lot more attention from sponsors. The broadcaster keeps the kids’ content far away from sponsorship messages, since its public funding in that area is strictly educational, not for marketing purposes.

But with the adult audience, the same restrictions don’t apply. Online sponsorship revenue is up 80 percent over the past year, though the broadcaster didn’t specify dollar figures. While much of the reason for that can be seen in the return of online branding dollars, the credit also goes former AOL (NYSE: AOL) exec and founding editor Jason Seiken, who arrived at PBS as SVP-interactive nearly four years ago. “We have a lot of things sponsors want from an online audience,” Seiken told paidContent in an interview. “The site is not cluttered with ads and we have seen the amount of traffic increase significantly. And PBS commands a very attractive audience to begin with.”

The parents-related inventory has tended to sell out well in advance, Seiken said. Last month PBS was the most popular kids site for video, with 3.3 million hours of video viewed, according to comScore (NSDQ: SCOR). That’s more than twice as much video as the 2nd place site, Seiken noted.

Brand Fans strategy: On the non-kids side, the broadcaster launched its video platform last year. Although not a representative from a “commercial” media outlet, Seiken can still talk about “engagement metrics” with as much fervor as his cable and ad-supported counterparts. Users watch an average of 22 minutes per video. Plus, the average age of the user is 35, so it’s a different and significantly younger audience than on TV — another selling point for sponsors. Now, with the launch of the iPad and iPhone apps, PBS will have the third piece of the strategy in place – video for kids and their parents, video on the web, and video via mobile.

“I call our approach the ‘Brand Fans’ strategy,” Seiken said. “The idea is to use new platforms to engage an audience that loves the brand, maybe grew up with the brand, but doesn’t regularly tune in to PBS on television. We know from research that this is a huge group, since year after year surveys come back with PBS ranked as one of the most respected and trusted brands. We’re focused on engaging this cohort online and on mobile, in the process both serving the American public and creating new revenue opportunities for stations and PBS.”