Passport viewers enjoy many more streaming options with the infusion of APT shows

A partnership between American Public Television and PBS will significantly expand the catalog of programs available to stream on PBS Passport and the PBS Video app.

As of September 1, a collection of some of APT’s most popular syndicated series and specials became available on PBS digital platforms, giving the station’s donors the ability to broadcast programs they previously could not find. than on linear broadcasting schedules.

With lifestyle series such as The American test kitchen and Rick Steves’ Europe awaits you, the enhanced collection of 400 series and specials programs is the first part of a phased release plan. APT strives to deliver nearly 3,000 programs from its content catalog to the Passport line over the next 18 months.

“When people see a show on TV, they expect to air it, but so far they haven’t been able to,” said Andy Trimlett, director of digital and live fundraising. at PBS SoCal and KCET in Los Angeles. “We’re really excited to make this an option.”

Stations pay the APT to allow programs to air. For many titles, the license includes on-demand viewing rights by their Passport members.

Viewers increasingly want to watch programs on their own schedules, said APT President Cynthia Fenneman. “The well-known phrase of ‘anytime, anywhere’ is what people really appreciate,” she said. “And most people realize that the pandemic has really sped up streaming content and people watching TV. “

The spring 2020 coronavirus lockdowns disrupted TV viewing habits, causing streaming usage to increase. PBS and stations’ continued efforts to add more content to Passport have taken on new urgency, according to executives who worked on the streaming partnership.

A PBS Audience Insight report presented at the PBS Annual Meeting in May underscored the imperative to act quickly. It predicts that the proportion of all viewers watching non-linear TV during prime time will exceed live TV audiences in fall 2022.

Although viewers and donors of public television have been slower to embrace digital streaming, it is increasingly recognized that the sustainability of public television depends on it attracting and retaining members who watch content. on Passport.

“My personal feeling is that we are heading to a place where more viewers are going to watch us online on a preferred streaming platform,” said Jennifer Hinders, senior director of digital video strategy and operations at PBS. “This inflection point could happen in 2022; it might be a little later. I think it would be very difficult to determine an exact throw because the needle and the rulers change so quickly. “

“It’s clear that we have big problems as a system if we don’t dramatically expand our streaming,” said Jeff Regen, vice president of marketing and membership development services at WETA in Washington, DC.

Cooking contest

Cooking shows are among the most popular APT series now available on Passport, including Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street television, Simply Ming and Pati’s Mexican table. These series strengthen and diversify Passport’s lineup from the foodie shows found on streaming platforms like Netflix, Regen said.

“It’s a huge expansion of some important genres where we, as a PBS system, can better compete with the new content that’s coming in – and that includes cooking,” Regen said. “We can now say that we have the best collection of on-demand cooking shows. Regen is co-founder of the Passport Station User Group, which works with PBS and other stakeholders to build streaming audiences and revenue for PBS’s streaming platforms.

APT’s collection also includes travel shows, such as Real railroad adventures and Best of the Alps from Rick Steves; historical programs; documentaries; and the Australian family drama and comedy series Chevron wrappeds.

“The content has enough diversity in terms of the general themes and types of programming that are presented that… in new audiences,” said Hinders.

Strong passport demand

PBS has long recognized the need to offer more programs on Passport, but encountered two obstacles in providing a more comprehensive library: limited resources to strategize, review and promote APT content; and the need to determine how to use PBS’s digital products to deliver content to the system, according to Hinders.

The dramatic effect of the pandemic on television viewing habits was one of the triggers that led to the APT partnership. “The pandemic put the spotlight on streaming platforms because more people were at home, they wanted to watch more content and they had time to watch more content,” said Hinders. “It accelerated digital trends by three to five years. “

Member stations had lobbied PBS to add more content as Passport became a popular benefit for members and a growth engine in fundraising. At the start of the pandemic, the station’s donors flocked to the streaming platform like never before.

“Our passport numbers went crazy during COVID,” Trimlett said. “We saw daily, weekly and monthly averages that we had never seen before with Passport. People were stuck at home and they wanted something to watch.

APT and PBS began negotiating a deal to add the new content in January. During the discussions, the APT consulted with the executives of 65 stations for feedback on the programs they wanted to add to Passport, Fenneman said.

While APT secured the Passport rights for its programs, PBS worked with APT to enable its technology to handle mass downloading of content and targeted distribution to stations and their viewers. Under the agreement, stations that acquire programs from the APT can add them to their Passport programming.

“We don’t buy collections of content from APT and then give it to local stations,” said Hinders. “What we’ve done is just help provide a technical solution and a marketing and promotion vehicle for that content. And the end user, ultimately, may or may not know the distinction between the origin of their content. They just know it’s on a PBS platform and they appreciate it.

APT bills each station based on the rate it pays for its APT interchange service, Fenneman said. With the revenues, APT creates three new positions to manage and promote content and cover costs such as legal fees.

Streaming licenses for some APT Syndication and Premium Service titles include streaming rights, according to spokesperson Olivia Wong.

About 152 public television licensees have access to Passport rights to APT Exchange programs, Wong said. A smaller number of licensees have streaming rights to APT Syndication and Premium Service titles.

Some station executives believe that the addition of APT’s programs will attract so many new viewers that the service will eventually become self-financing. “I’m sure it will be a big draw for people to become members of our station,” said Ashley Rammelsberg, Head of Multimedia Services at New Mexico PBS. “This is content that our viewers have wanted to start streaming for quite some time.”

Spread the word

Now that the first batch of programming has been released for Passport viewing, stations are rolling out marketing and promotions to their members and viewers. APT and PBS have both provided marketing tools for promotion in newsletters, via social media and on digital platforms.

Rammelsberg worked with APT and the Passport Station User Group to create a best practice guide for launching and promoting the content. The guide recommends using Curate, a PBS content curator and scheduling tool, to personalize messaging on station websites as well as to publicize new programming in emails, newsletters and newsletters. viewer guides.

“If our viewers don’t know if this content exists, they won’t know how to watch it,” Rammelsberg said. “The idea is to let the viewer know that this content is now available.”

APT has quarterly versions of programs to be added to Passport through early 2023. Each of the seven versions will coincide with the pledge campaigns that will run throughout the year. If Passport is to continue to attract new members, the content must be continually updated with new programs, Hinders observed.

“The whole Passport model is that this is an advantage of digital video,” she said. “For this to be successful, you really have to keep adding big drops of content. Everything must be fresh – constantly.

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