PBS America joins Freesat for Halloween
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Saturday, 19 December 2015
Further to the "what is PBS" discussion..based on my past experience and trying to wade through what is a complex and confusing Wikipedia article on PBS, here's the potted summary.
PBS is a not for profit distributor of television programmes, to local member stations run on a not for profit basis as PSB's (The local members usually operate without traditional commercial advertising, although commercial companies who support PBS or the local member usually get a credit with a voiceover and logo. State and local government money is available to some).
Not all local PSB's are affiliated to PBS, and PBS (unlike the BBC) is not involved in radio (a separate entity, NPR, does that). But PBS is the largest and nationwide supporter of PSBs with content and network branding.
As a distributor, PBS also operates a technical capability (traditionally professional satellite distribution) for distribution of content, especially live news and public affairs. Local members can pick and choose what PBS content they show (alongside local content) and pay a fee for each programme shown, although there is some content that the local member must show and pay for in more or less the dictated timeslot. PBS has some side-businesses to help raise funds, and performs certain technical public services funded by US Federal money (e.g. emergency broadcasting in case of major weather events). I expect that PBS America on Freesat, with commercial advertising, is another of PBS's money making ventures (and amen to that).
Some of the bigger member stations, in the larger cities, are well funded and can fund and create programmes for distribution by PBS, in effect selling these through PBS to other members and handing over some rights. A couple of the bigger ones that are seen in UK TV credits are WGBH Boston and WNET New York, historically on BBC co-productions but as often as not these days ITV co-productions, usually high end drama. Notably one of the early TV chefs, Julia Child, was popularised by WGBH
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MilesT: The model for PBS (and NPR) seems a bit Rube Goldberg to us (and possibly to a lot of people in the States as well), but I suppose it makes some sort of sense when you look at its history. Considering its relatively limited budget, the fact that its income comes from so many sources and is so changable, and is always being attacked by someone, it does very well. I was interested to find out that NPR is that most trusted news source in the US, and PBS's online traffic was more than CBS, NBC or ABC.
Its not just Julia Childs and Sesame Street which have been supported by PBS. Ken Burns has a stellar record, and his Civil War series was a landmark. And we in the UK should be grateful. It was PBS which made Python popular in the States (although the tape conversion costs came from the cash generated by footage used on an NBC show), and 1970's-80's Dr Who. And even 'Are You Being Served?'
PBS shows a huge amount of British shows (mostly BBC), and uses the format for Antiques Roadshow, for example (there is an episode of Frasier where they appear on the show). And the cash which the big PBS stations, like WGBH and WNET, have stumped up for coproductions with the BBC has really helped with drama, documentaries and natural history. In fact, someone has argued that there should be a term for these coproductions - 'Trollywood' http://blog.commarts.wisc…ood/
Its one of the real oddities of watching/listening to PBS/NPR that you do have these 'sponsors' messages (this program is supported by The Such and Such Foundation and GM, for new solutions for transport..' ) and the NPR station I listen to encourges people to donate their old car. PBS shows do have little extras at the start of many shows reminding people that they are watching a programme because people support the station with donations. Brianist has already suggested something similar for the BBC, reminding people that their licence fee makes programmes possible.
Before people think that the PBS model might work in the UK, its worth remembering that although the US taxpayer per head pays very little, many people, via donations, etc, might pay much more. And the BBC can make stuff like drama that even a rich PBS station might have problems with.
There was an article back in 2011 which is worth reading by all the people who live in areas served by 'light transmitters', who complain about the licence fee - The NPR-Elitist-Funding Battle: Mostly, Not About NPR or Elites | TIME.com . The Bottom line is...just that. Like those coastal elites, I live in an urban area with fast broadband - so I have lots of choice, apart from the BBC. But if your in a 'light area', unless your willing to stump up for Sky, you've pretty much had it in a post privatised BBC world. Who else is going to want to broadcast to you?
I remember one night when I was staying in a hotel in Florida. It was just like the Springsteen song , '57 channels and nothing on'. I happened to find the PBS channel, and spent a decent evening watch stuff like Campion. PBS is one of those things which makes life a bit more civilised, and I hope it comes to Freeview at some point.
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Tuesday, 1 March 2016
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