As a continuing effort toward becoming a "a multi-platform media leader," today, PBS rolled out an extensive expansion of its website, featuring an improved back-end, significant increase in national-local integration, expanded video offerings; as well as new iPad and iPhone apps.

18 months ago, PBS launched an initiative to make the public broadcasting corporation's site a player in multimedia. They introduced their media player, made 4,700 hours of broadcast offerings available for free, created mobile apps for kids and rolled out a subscription-based teaching platform. The next several months may add significantly to the organization's new media juice.

National-Local Integration

First up is a "seamless integration" between national and local content. IP discovery will auto-load video and other information from your local station into the broader national offerings. Local stations use an API to mesh their offerings with national. A dozen stations are integrated today, with the rest joining within a couple of months. Prior to this, video from 120 local stations was available, but this is a geometric leap forward in integration across platforms.

Jason Seiken, Senior VP of Product Development and Innovation for PBS Interactive, spoke with ReadWriteWeb.

"No one else is national-local integration to this degree. You want to know what's happening around the nation but also what's on locally. Concerts, for instance, are inherently local."

Probably the coolest aspect of the rollout is in the kids' area. A new augmented reality feature allows kids to print out a page with illustrations, say on dinosaurs. The kid can then hold up their paper to their web cam and point, say to the illustration of a dinosaur egg. That egg will appear, superimposed on the cam footage of the subject. Turn the page, the egg rotates, as a voice explains how the egg would hatch - and it does. The kid can do this with a number of elements on each printable AR page. Seiken again.

"This is the revolution. (Interactive media) is changing how we acquire language and gain knowledge. Interactivity makes (the material) into more powerful learning vehicles. This is a transformative moment and a transformative opportunity for how we teach kids."
  • Media bar across the top and bottom of every page, refreshed daily with upcoming programs and promotional features
  • Expanded video section
  • Topic pages
  • Enhanced search feature
  • Easy access to all PBS websites, including pbskids.org, pbskidsgo.org, pbsparents.org and pbsteachers.org, as well as PBS stations around the country.

PBS Rolls Mobile

Although PBS is rich in mobile apps, those are mostly for kids. They are now rolling them out for grown ups as well.

The iPad app, available today, has thumb-navigation and bottom-edge preview panes. The user will have 25 full-length programs to watch at the outset. These include Antiques Roadshow, Nature, News Hour and others. More will be released in the coming weeks. Additionally, the app will tell you what you've watched and when; and will keep track of where you stopped watching a program so you can pick back up at exactly that point.

PBS's was the first broadcaster to debut a show via Facebook, Earth Days. Now they appear to be the first to debut one on the iPad. The first episode of Circus, a six-part show, will be available via iPad a week before it debuts on air.

It will be several weeks before the new iPhone and iPod Touch apps are available. Those will be focused on previews of programs and shorts, including the Secret Lives of Scientists and Future States. Several online shows have been developed that will available for mobile and that includes the iPhone and Touch. Schedules and calendaring features round the app out.

Android apps are on PBS's roadmap, Seiken said, but when they'll be available is uncertain.

The Power of Video

Seiken said he considered PBS a leading light in online video, and that the meshing of that video with the cross-platform strategy would serve both broadcast viewers and those online.

"As far as I know, no broadcast or cable company comes close to offering as much video as PBS does. Commercial networks and cable channels want you to sample online and watch on-air, because the on-air economics are so much better. We have a similar challenge, but a different solution. Our strategy is to use video to drive user engagement, especially with their local station. We know from research that there's a massive number of people who love the PBS brand but not all of them tune-in regularly because they're leading busy lives. Our strategy is to make it convenient for them to access and sample PBS video online and on mobile -- and to give them video that busts the myth that PBS is just for older people."

comScore rates PBS as the 20th most popular site for video. They show an average viewing time for long-form video of 22 minutes per stream. PBS.org shows an average age of online viewers is 35, vs. an average broadcast viewing age of 62. So, you know. So far, so good.