PBS Making Digital Push With New Website, iPad Application

Move is part of public broadcaster's intention to make itself a multimedia provider.

PBS is beta-launching Monday a new website at PBS.org, which will offer local content from member stations alongside national content and offer auto-localization features.

The public broadcaster also is launching PBS for iPad, its first application for the Apple tablet computer targeting adults, and plans the introduction of an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch next month.

The digital push comes as PBS has focused on making itself into a multimedia provider during the past 18 months, which has led to big online and digital growth that has brought younger audiences to its brand.

PBS now has 20 million unique online users. For all video across PBS.org last month, comScore VideoMetrix counted 89 million streams. Executives said the average adult viewing time per video is a high 22 minutes.

Plus, a majority of PBS.org users are 35 or younger, making the average age of online users significantly younger than the TV audience, which is about 60 on average, according to company executives.

With that new and expanded digital audience in mind, PBS today will premiere the first episode of its multipart series "Circus" on its iPad app, ahead of its broadcast premiere Nov. 3.

It previously launched a PBS local-national video player, which now features more than 4,700 hours of full-length video from PBS and local stations on the new site. Its PBS Kids already has six iPad and iPhone apps.

"During the last two years, PBS has reinvented its approach to serving the American public by becoming a multiplatform innovator, introducing industry firsts such as the integration of interactive educational games into linear video and the use of augmented reality to teach science to preschoolers," said Jason Seiken, senior vp interactive, product development and innovation.

The relaunched site also includes improved navigation and search functionality. Additionally, it features topic pages that allow users to explore national and local content by area of interest, such as arts & entertainment, culture & society, health, history and news & public affairs.

Meanwhile, PBS for iPad offers calendar and scheduling functions in addition to highlights and full-length videos, including of such signature shows as Frontline, Nova and Masterpiece.

PBS said about 25 programs will be available at launch, with full-length shows from the past several weeks.

The iPad app also features short-form original productions including Secret Life of Scientists and FutureStates.

Seiken cited two innovations that PBS thought would make its iPad app particularly user-friendly: First, its navigation buttons are not found across the top or bottom of the screen but on the left side near where the thumbs naturally fall. Second, the app keeps track of which videos a user has watched and what percentage of them have been watched. As a result, users can look up that information and resume a video where they previously stopped it.

Live streams of shows on the iPad are not planned, though Seiken said there is "potential down the road if it was election day, for example." He added, "We will pick our moment for that."

Seiken said PBS hopes the site and apps not only can grow traffic but also help it with monetization as the growth in video usage has meant higher costs for the network.

Web-sponsorship revenue also is up during the past year as marketers "like our uncluttered environment," he said. Although he didn't say how much in sponsorship revenue PBS makes, he expressed hope it can grow.

New sponsorship opportunities on the iPad app could see media companies, consumer-product and other firms take advantage of the platform, Seiken said.

Plus, consumers will continue to be able to donate money to their local PBS station at the redesigned site.