2013 PBS Technology Conference
Paula Kerger, President and CEO, PBS
Las Vegas, Nevada
Thank you for inviting me to my seventh annual TechCon.
When I first came to Tech Con seven years ago:
- Analog television was still on the air;
- The iPhone didn’t exist;
- Netflix had only 6 million subscribers and you got it by getting DVDs in the mail; and
- Facebook didn’t have a Newsfeed where you could see what your friends were doing and saying.
A lot has changed since 2006- in the world, and in public broadcasting.
All of you here today should be very proud of the role you play in leading public television into the digital age.
You are the technical backbone of the system, constantly doing more to serve your local viewers.
Over the last seven years, I think that all of you have seen your jobs evolve and change.
Traffic staff at stations across the country are taking on operations functions, while operations staff are taking on engineering functions.
At many stations, it is getting a lot harder to tell the difference between Broadcast, IT, and Interactive – because the jobs don’t divide on those lines any more.
And from the digital transition to transcoding videos for websites, eeking every last bit out of your statmux so your programmers can put more content on the air, or finding ways to do production more efficiently, you all have been the foot soldiers at the forefront of the innovation that has transformed our system.
Sometimes you might get caught up in the more technical aspects of your job.
But today I wanted to take the opportunity to remind you of the bigger picture – the ways that our entire industry is evolving to meet the demands of today’s audiences, and the crucial role that new technology is playing in how we fulfill our mission to the American people.
Over the last seven years, our system has undergone some profound changes, and we’re not done evolving yet.
We’ve had to confront a pretty big challenge: how to refresh our services, while still serving up the kind of content that the American people rely on us to provide.
We know that our mission, our core DNA, is to use the power of media to help educate, engage, and inspire citizens, and citizenship.
Staying focused on that core mission, moving forward we have to implement bold changes across all of our services and programs, to ensure that we are fulfilling our mission by:
- Educating the next generation of citizens;
- Engaging with new audiences on different platforms;
- And inspiring new community conversations.
First, let me talk about our work for our very youngest citizens.
When I joined PBS as CEO in 2006, our KIDS programming was stagnant.
In the 1970’s and ‘80’s when SESAME STREET and MISTER ROGERS were first on the air, there was no competition.
But over the years, our shows had lost their edge.
We realized we had to do something bold to reclaim our position in this sphere.
So we went back to our core values. We were created as an educational network- and we realized we had to put education at the forefront of our work for children.
Our first step was to tie our programs to core curriculum, to make sure that kids were actually learning applicable skills from watching our content.
But we also had to do something more.
One of the things I remember most about my niece and nephew when they were little was their incessant questions.
“Why don’t dinosaurs still exist?” “Why is the sky blue?”
When we looked at our children’s programming, we realized that more than anything else, we had to nurture this innate curiosity, to turn this kind of questioning and exploration into skills that would help our kids become active, engaged citizens.
Because as much as we want to teach kids basic skills like literacy and math, even more importantly, we want to set them up for a lifetime of exploration.
So we are creating new programming, focused on bringing back the joy of learning, while still teaching real, measurable skills based on core curriculum standards.
We are asking our producers for even more than just core curriculum competencies.
Shouldn't the characters we develop, and the stories we tell, prepare kids to confront the kinds of questions, problems, and challenges we know every child will come across at some point or another?
Here's why I think this matters. There's a growing body of research that suggests kids need to learn how to deal with these challenges at an early age. Some call this developing "grit" -- knowing how to handle adversity, how to be resilient and independent.
Years ago, Fred Rogers developed his whole philosophy for MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD around the idea that social-emotional skills are the foundation for success in school and in life.
Since then, a growing body of research has confirmed what Mister Rogers knew all along: social emotional skills are the most important predictor of success in school.
That’s why we created Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
Daniel teaches kids, and parents too, how to deal with feelings like anger, using catchy songs and fun stories.
This fall, we’re expanding this focus on problem solving and resilience to areas like math, and science.
In the fall we are launching a new KIDS show called Peg+Cat, which will focus on teaching problem solving skills, especially around math.
With all of these programs, we’re trying to give kids the courage to ask questions, to try things, to fail, to get up and try again.
Characters on the TV screen can teach kids a lot of things.
But computers, portable touch screens and console games offer even more ways to engage and motivate children.
We all know kids love playing games. That’s why you can’t get them to stop playing with all those shiny digital devices.
But did you know that games are great at teaching resiliency? The only way you learn a new skill is by trying something and failing. Games offer kids safe spaces where they’re encouraged to risk failure and learn from their mistakes.
We’re experimenting with all sorts of new ways to help teach kids these important skills, and inspire their imaginations.
In the last few months, we’ve experimented with virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D rendered experiences, gesture based navigation, and voice controlled play.
We’re also experimenting with open ended games, and games that give kids creative control to tweak the games themselves.
Not all of these ideas are going to be perfect learning tools.
But just as we are teaching kids, we will also learn from our experiments, and keep trying new concepts until we’ve fully harnessed the power of new media to inspire the next generation.
When I look at our KIDS work, I think it’s an excellent story of how new technology has helped us fulfill our mission, and how we’ve been able to revitalize some classic KIDS programs to meet the needs of today’s kids.
We are one of the top destinations for children’s programming online and over the air.
Last month, we had over 200 million video streams from our KIDS website, and we also had five of the top ten kids programs.
But we’re a whole lot more than a KIDS television channel.
If we are going to truly fulfill our mission, we can’t stop when a child enters kindergarten.
So we also have to turn a critical eye to our work for adults, to make sure that we were engaging people of all ages with our content.
When I first started at PBS, one of the main problems was we were not using the full potential of the web to fulfill our mission.
We were missing opportunities because we weren’t taking advantage of different economics of producing for the web, as well as the opportunity to produce content that doesn’t fit within a one hour broadcast window.
And, of course, we were missing out on audiences that were increasingly turning to the Internet for content.
But we knew that we had to stay true to our core DNA- to create and share content that is interesting, informative, and entertaining above all else.
Under the PBS Digital Studios Banner we’ve had some early successes.
Thanks in part to host Mike Rugnetta’s boundless enthusiasm about the subjects he introduces, IDEA CHANNEL has been a success for us at PBS.
Episode topics range from surrealist art to Bronies- men who like My Little Ponies, to virtual economies to Futurama and Adventure Time.
The most popular episode, with over 600,000 views, is on the topic of the internet comic Homestuck and its comparison to James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Since its launch last March, IDEA CHANNEL has had over 6 million views, there are 160,000 subscribers, and on average, episodes get at least 1500 comments.
And while it might look very different from our traditional broadcast programming- it shares the same core values.
It’s smart programming that engages people’s curiosity about the world around them.
And it encourages critical thinking and community building.
Then, of course, there’s the Mister Rogers remix video.
Within two days of release, that video went to number one most viewed and most shared on YouTube. People have posted more than 22,000 comments. They mostly fall into two categories: “I can't believe I cried man tears” and "I can't believe that's an official PBS production.”
Many of our other Digital Studios projects are more focused on exploring some of the world’s big questions.
In “It’s OK To Be Smart,” host Joe Hanson asks: “What are the mathematical odds of finding true love?”
In a recent episode, Off Book, our web only arts series, examined the potential impact of 3D printing on consumer culture, copyright and patent law, and even the very concept of scarcity in a capitalist society.
And rapper Coma Niddy has produced “Dark Matter Rap,” an explanation of Dark Matter in verse.
In total, our PBS IdeaChannel videos have been viewed 30 million times.
Many of our producers had also begun experimenting with content developed specifically for new platforms. FRONTLINE, NOVA and NEWSHOUR have embraced the online space, with great results.
And, of course, people continue to come to PBS.org to find their favorite Independent Lens film, or catch up on the last episode of Downton Abbey.
Actually, thanks in part to Downton Abbey, for the last two months, PBS.org was the most popular network TV website, according to comScore.
That means we beat ABC.com, NBC.com, CBS.com…you get the point. That’s some pretty stiff competition.
Our online views have grown from 2 million videos a month to 226 video million videos a month.
That’s 11,200% growth!!
We are also committed to build on our successful broadcast content.
As Beth Hoppe shared in her presentation earlier today, we’re going to build on the great success we’ve had by aligning programs of similar genres, so that audiences know where to find their favorite programming.
- Sunday nights will continue to be our home for drama;
- Monday nights will be home to programming exploring America’s Collectible Past and showcasing some of the best independent filmmaking on television;
- Tuesdays will highlight our history and investigative journalism offerings;
- And Wednesdays will continue to be the home of the “smartest night on television” with our Science and Natural History programming.
Using that schedule as our framework, we’ve already seen some great increases in our over-the-air audiences.
Overall, our primetime content has seen a 1% increase in ratings compared to last year.
Audience numbers for “Exploration Wednesdays,” featuring the best science and natural history programming, are up 15%, and numbers for Sunday are up 8%.
Moving forward, we are going to continue to evolve our broadcast content so that PBS remains a distinctive source of quality science, history, public affairs, drama, and news programming.
But I think that no matter what, the future of PBS lies in new models of programming which straddle the divide between our on-air content and our online capabilities.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies our digital evolution better than the MAKERS project, which combines the power of television and the internet to document the last 50 years of the women’s movement.
When I look ahead, I see many more projects like MAKERS that takes advantage of the possibilities of the Internet, and of our traditional broadcast platforms.
Filmmaker Dyllan Mcgee designed a project that would harness the power of both our broadcast audience, and our Internet platforms.
Through an extraordinary partnership we forged with AOL, a year ago, one hundred interviews with groundbreaking women of all walks of life were put online in short two to three minute video segments.
This clip was originally filmed for the web, but ended up being incorporated into the larger documentary we aired last month.
That broadcast reached nearly four million people in its original airing, with even more tuning in during subsequent showings of the documentary.
And it sparked a vigorous online conversation. During the initial broadcast alone, nearly forty thousand tweets with the hashtag #MAKERS were shared, with over twenty thousand retweets, and over a hundred million total potential impressions.
We didn’t just rely on our airwaves to share this important story with the American people. AOL recently did a national search for “Next MAKERS,” and public television stations across the country have also identified local women who have shaped their communities in meaningful ways. Those stories are being recorded and placed on local station web sites.
Working with WETA in Washington DC and AOL, we are providing comprehensive content for educators, centered on the key themes of MAKERS. These materials will reach more than 30,000 junior and senior high schools, and will live online as well.
MAKERS is so important because it goes to the heart of our mission to engage individuals within a larger community.
We do our work in order to inspire conversations within communities, and to help encourage a vibrant democracy.
But in order to keep ourselves relevant, we have to rethink our service to communities, beginning with our very definition of community.
For most of public media’s history, our vision for communities was local, and rooted in place.
While this is still vitally important to our mission, we have to create new communities of shared interest using the enormous power of new media.
Now, we don’t have the biggest budget for promotions in general, and certainly not for social media.
Our team is really more like two people.
And I don’t mean to brag, but, our two people have had some decent results.
On Super Bowl night, one PBS tweet about Downton Abbey was one of the most talked about tweets of the evening, generating nearly 4,500 re-tweets and favorites, and mentions in Super Bowl coverage in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and ABC News.
Following our lead, many of our producers and different business units have also enlarged their presence on social platforms.
We’ve been very encouraged by the results of our forays into this world.
An analysis from Poynter that looks at how well news outlets use Pinterest to engage readers found that PBS has the highest re-pin to pin ratio -- a strong indicator of engagement.
And we were honored to be named one of the top five non-profits using social media, according to Craigconnects.
Social media, and the web in general, have also opened up new conversations amongst our viewers.
Our recent broadcast of the documentary Half the Sky is a great example of how we’ve been able to use social media to inspire conversations about important issues.
For those of you that haven’t already seen it, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” focuses on women’s rights around the globe, in the hopes of empowering women worldwide, based on the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
To encourage people to be a part of this important movement, we placed promoted tweets, and asked celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba to tweet their support.
On the day the first part of Half the Sky premiered on PBS, #HalftheSky trended in the United States. On the day the second part aired, the hashtag trended worldwide.
Over the two nights of broadcast, the size of the engaged audience was 66 million. @Half generated almost 150,000 mentions and one billion impressions on Twitter.
That’s pretty powerful, given this is about an issue that’s central to our human progress.
Now, not everything that we do in this new space is so serious.
Thanks to new technology and social networks, people can create content, and art in conversation with our work.
We have worked hard to bring communities of shared interest together, with events in real time, so we can move online conversations into real interactions.
And we’ve been using these new forms of community to help reinvigorate stations, encouraging everyone to become the YouTube of their communities, a hub for local content.
We are working with dozens of stations to develop local web original video programs, and ensuring that our national infrastructure can help support and promote their offerings.
I was just in Austin at SXSW. KLRU, the local Austin station, has produced one of my favorite examples of local web original videos.
That program was crowd-funded, by the way, using both local and national tools, which brings up an important point.
Relying on the communities we create and support, we are going to focus on new ways of bringing revenues into stations.
Moving forward, our digital work will be developed with the aim of strengthening local stations’ presence online.
We are also actively working to create a “membership funnel,” a way to take the seven million anonymous users who visit PBS.org each month and pushing them through a conversion funnel to becoming qualified leads for stations.
We are also working to develop new sources of funding, like the support for the SOC updates that was provided by the Anne Ray Charitable Trust.
And we’re going to work to integrate all of our work, whether it’s in the online space or during pledge, to make sure that it is closely aligned to our mission and values.
I won’t say we’re fully where we need to be, but I think our evolution is well under way, as we’ve transitioned from a legacy television company to a truly multi-platform media organization.
By going back to our core DNA, and identifying our unique strengths, we’ve been able to transform our work for kids, for adults, and for communities, to truly educate, engage, and inspire our audiences.
In the KIDS space, we continue to distinguish ourselves with content that educates and inspires today’s children using the newest research and technology.
We are expanding our work for adults onto many platforms, utilizing the unique strengths of our broadcast and web capabilities to engage new audiences and provide a window to the world for as many Americans as possible.
And we’ve are redefining our work in communities, to help inspire new conversations and connections in support of a stronger democracy.
All of these transformations wouldn’t be possible without you all here today.
Each of you is helping us build on our legacy, and transform our public broadcasting system.
As engineers and traffic staff, it might be easy to get lost in the technical aspects of your job.
But please remember, that with every new video you transcode for the web, and every efficiency you find in your productions, you are helping to bring about a tremendous change in public broadcasting.
We must work together to meet the challenges of tomorrow, and our system surely cannot do it without you.
Thank you, and now I’ll be happy to take your questions.