PBS launches online video channel

Current and classic series will be available

PBS has significantly dialed up its online video strategy with the launch of a video-only channel that will aggregate thousands of full-length episodes from the network's top series, along with complete seasons of current shows and full back-catalogs of classic series.

Among the shows available on the portal -- PBS.org/videoare "American Masters," "Antiques Road Show," "Masterpiece Theater Nature" and "Nova." Classic series, such as the programs featuring cooking legend Julia Child, will also eventually be available in their entirety on the site.

Plus, PBS plans to create programming packages for the site featuring compilations of episodes from shows that touch upon a common theme, starting with this week's environment-centric package, launched to coincide with Earth Day. That collection includes snippets from "Frontline," "Nova" and "Nature," along with the classic "Jean Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures."

PBS also plans to roll out original Web series at some point, according to Jason Seiken, PBS senior vp interactive. But initially the portal's focus will be on showcasing the depths of PBS' library in one easy-to-use Web outlet -- one that offers better navigation and search. While some PBS series had been previously available on line, before this launch they were scattered. "You couldn't go to any one place and find a uniform video offering," he said. "It just wasn't that user friendly."

Seiken added that the new video portal should benefit the 150-plus local participating PBS stations. Those stations will be given the opportunity to integrate the portal on their own Web sites--with their own branding and local programming. Plus, some local shows will have the chance to bubble up on the new national video portal and potentially reach a broader audience.

Initially, the full-length online episodes of PBS shows will carry the same advertisers, and same "brought to you by" approach as the series do on TV. But Eventually the online episodes will carry more traditional pre-roll ads and banners. However, Seiken promises that PBS isn't about to become overtly commercial by testing running more ads online.

"Our goals are to better serve our audience, better serve stations and generate additional revenue," he said. "Without that, it is very difficult to have a robust video offering. But there won't be a pre-roll on every video. It will be restrained. It will be in keeping with the PBS mission."