Paula Kerger, President and CEO, PBS Keynote at 2012 PBS Technology Conference


2012 PBS Technology Conference
Paula Kerger, President and CEO, PBS

Before I begin, I’d like to thank each of you for being here today.

I think it’s so important that each year we come together and have a chance to talk in person about the direction of our system, and to share ideas and innovations.

One of the greatest values of this conference is in connecting stations to other stations, and I know that this year our fantastic organizing team put a lot of thought and effort into making sure that you had more opportunities than ever to make those connections.

All across the country, our stations are being asked to do more with less, and it’s important that we share our best practices, and learn from the experiences of others. 

When faced with fewer resources, stations in New York combined to create a joint master control system, and now stations in Florida are following suit.

Vermont Public Television is literally doing more with less, finding efficiencies in their heating and cooling systems to bring down their energy footprint.

And Lakeland Public Television has found a way to add live remote HD productions to their schedule, all on a shoe string budget, thanks to some smart investments in technology.

What I’m most impressed by, though, is the growth and innovation that’s taken place in our broadcast operations centers across the country.

No matter if you work at a big station, or a small station, over the years your jobs have shifted. Whereas before you were only responsible for broadcast operations, each of you has had to develop new areas of expertise as our system has shifted into digital production and distribution.

I want to applaud you for your flexibility, curiosity, and willingness to take on new challenges.

Your can-do spirit, and commitment to embracing new technology and innovation are at the heart of our mission at PBS.

Throughout our history, PBS has been a pioneer. From content to distribution, we have broken new ground.

We led the way:

Inventing educational children’s television through series such as “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Being the first broadcaster to air live proceedings from the floor of the United States House of Representatives.

Pioneering closed-captioning and launching broadcast television’s first satellite network.

Now, as the media landscape has evolved and changed, we’re in an entirely different world than when public television was started.

Just look at the ways in which people consume media.

People are no longer tethered to a broadcast schedule, but instead expect their television content to be accessible on demand, whether that’s through DVR’s or the Internet.

And the way that people engage with their communities is completely different.

Instead of using the postal service, or even the telephone, business and personal connections are increasingly made on social media platforms like Facebook or Pinterest.

Television content has undergone a profound transformation as well. When public television was founded, there was no such thing as reality television.

By 2010-11, it accounted for about 56% of broadcast schedules.

In the face of this new media landscape, it’s time for PBS to re-ignite our pioneering spirit by adopting new methods and models.

Our guide stars in this journey are what I call the “Three C’s”:

Community Engagement; and

By finding new ways to connect with our audiences, strengthening our service to our communities, and revitalizing our content, we will continue to fulfill our public service mission to help all Americans “Be More.”

And we will chart a new path forward for public television, ensuring our content and services are more relevant and vital than ever before.

Today I want to talk a little bit more about our work in each of these three areas, because I think they are essential in moving our system forward.

The first “c” of our guide stars is “connection,” and each of you in the room today plays a vital role in this work.

We have been evolving the ways that we share our content, resulting in a more efficient, effective service.

Behind the scenes, we’ve been working towards Non-Real Time Delivery, which will deliver most programs to stations as files, 2 days prior to air, with minimum interference from issues such as rain fade.

Station leaders like WLPB in Louisiana and WJCT in Florida, and all of our alpha and beta stations participating in the development & testing of Non Real Time Delivery have played such an important role in moving this important project forward.

Full implementation of NRT has the potential to save an incredible amount of recording time and effort at our stations.

And our upcoming MPEG-4 transition will reduce the number of satellite transponders that we need for distribution of content while also adding new channels for use by the system.

Much of this important work seems like magic to those of us not in the trenches.

But I know that there’s been a significant amount of effort that is behind each of these initiatives, and I applaud all of you for the work you’ve done and will do to make this a reality.

I also want to give credit where credit’s due when it comes to connecting with our audiences.

As a point of pride, when I speak to groups I often say that by connecting to our audiences via the web and mobile devices, as well as our traditional broadcast platform, PBS is more accessible to more Americans now than at any time in public broadcasting’s history.

And that’s all thanks to you.

Today, a single show – whether it is a national or local production – can have a life in dozens of outlets – distributed on-air, on-line, and on mobile devices.  Of course, it is the technical capabilities – things like transcoding, publishing systems, file transfer tools - built and run by you and your peers that make it possible for us to reach more Americans than ever across all of our platforms, and goes hand in hand with our larger focus on technological innovation across the system.

We are working in the digital space to build infrastructure that will empower stations to make their local content more easily available to audiences.

We are moving forward with Station Bento, a CPB grant funded project designed to make it easy for stations to create fully-featured web sites and leverage online content.
We are also moving forward with our pilot project to integrate local station content into our mobile apps.

8 stations are participating in a 3 month alpha pilot, and in the last three months, stations have added 581 videos from 32 programs, representing 190 hours of local programming.

This commitment to connecting with audiences across platforms has paid off.

Americans watched nearly 148 million videos across all of PBS’s web and mobile platforms in January. That’s up from two million per month three years ago.

What’s most exciting about our online work is that we are able to reach a new and different audience.

Over sixty percent of visitors watching videos are between the ages 18 to 49, and the average age of our online viewer is 35.

This audience is very engaged: our viewers spend an average of 22 minutes per video, which is far above the industry average.

We’re also growing our tools and resources in the social media sphere to help put the “public” in public media.

We now have over one million Facebook fans and more than one million followers on Twitter.

And we are working with stations to create geo-targeted posts that will help local stations reach PBS fans with relevant messages.

Up until now, our work in the digital sphere has focused on distribution: how we can get our content out to as many users as possible.

But instead of just using new technologies as a platform to distribute our existing content, it’s time to use our digital platforms to experiment, and push the boundaries of our work.

We’re using the web to test out new shows and new formats, some of which may be transferred to our broadcast schedule.

We now have eight web only series that run the gamut from Idea Channel, a biweekly web series that examines the evolving relationship between modern technology and art, to Noah Comprende, an animated show for kids that helps them learn Spanish.

And we’ll continue to experiment with formats that aren’t suitable for broadcast, but further our mission to educate, inspire, and engage our audiences.

This brings me to the second of our “three c’s”: Community engagement.

PBS and stations are committed to meeting the needs of the communities we serve, by identifying areas of need and addressing them using the unique power of public media and the services we provide.

Once again, our technology and operations teams are leading the way.

We know that public television stations have an important role to play when it comes to emergency situations, and I’m extremely proud of our system’s work to build out our capacity to serve our communities.

Right here in Las Vegas, KLVX has become the heartbeat of Las Vegas’s emergency response system.

In New Orleans, WYES helped write a new ending for an historic journey. Fifty years ago, the Freedom Riders planned to end their protest bus ride in New Orleans, but the route was cut short because of violence.

Thanks to the work of WYES, on May 16, 2011 the bus carrying FREEDOM RIDERS documentary creators—Author Ray Arsenault and Executive Producer Mark Samels—along with five of the 1961 original Freedom Riders and the 2011 student riders, finished their journey in New Orleans.

They were greeted by crowds young and old, of all races and faiths who came to witness and celebrate the completion of a hard-fought and inspirational ride.

In Central Illinois, WILL, the University of Illinois’ public media station, dedicated an entire day of programming and conversation to the subject of hunger, to call attention to the tens of thousands of people throughout Central Illinois who are worried about where their next meal will come from.

And Vegas PBS is working to educate people at every stage of life, whether it’s through their Ready to Learn work with pre-K children, or their new Online Vegas Virtual workforce training program, which provides over 200 instructor-led programs for professions requiring a state license or certification.

Vegas PBS is not the only station working in education- all across the country our stations are meeting the needs of their communities where traditional educational institutions are falling short.

Research shows that the most critical period in a child’s life are the years before the age of 5.

This is when children learn how to learn – when their educational, emotional, and social skills begin to take shape.

Yet statistics from the Annie E. Casey Foundation show that almost 40% of children between the ages of 3 and 5 don’t attend nursery school, pre-school, or kindergarten.

This is unfortunate, because – as we all know – the benefits of high-quality early childhood education can’t be over-stated.  It really does give kids a “head start” in life.

The reverse is also true:  Children, who start behind, stay behind.

PBS is accessible in virtually every home – in every community – across America.

This gives us a responsibility to offer high-quality, educational content for all children – but especially for those who’ll never see the inside of a pre-K classroom.

PBS is fulfilling this responsibility through its continued commitment to educational children’s television shows like SESAME STREET and SUPER WHY and through our most recent children’s programs, DINOSAUR TRAIN and THE CAT IN THE HAT KNOWS A LOT ABOUT THAT.

These programs really make a difference:  Recent research shows, for example, that SUPER WHY helps children from low-income families improve their reading test scores.

This fall, we’ll further our commitment to preparing our youngest citizens for school when we launch DANIEL TIGER’S NEIGHBORHOOD -- the first children’s series from Fred Rogers’ company, Family Communications, since MISTER ROGER’S NEIGHBORHOOD. 

Built on a school readiness curriculum, the series promises to be our biggest KIDS launch in years, and will present a unique opportunity for stations to continue to garner support locally.

In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, PBS and CPB are providing free educational apps to Head Start centers, local PBS stations, and other organizations in underserved communities nationwide to help address the “app gap.”

Recent research has shown that access to computers, smartphones and tablets is much less prevalent in lower-income households, limiting children’s exposure to educational apps.

PBS, CPB and Head Start are working to help bridge this “app gap,” by increasing access to educational mobile content for children from low-income families at the community organizations that serve them and are equipped with mobile and tablet devices.

And we’re expanding our work in the classroom with the new PBS LearningMedia.

This is a free service for all teachers, students and home-schooling families nationwide that includes videos, interactive features, lesson plans, and worksheets to help students learn 21st century skills. 

We’ve partnered with institutions like NASA and the National Archives to bring the best information and content into our classrooms.

But our focus on bringing unique, innovative content to the American people doesn’t end there.

Over the last two years, we have focused attention on revitalizing our primetime content, in order to expand our impact, and respond to the needs of the American people.

When I look out at the media landscape, I see many challenges.

But I also see unprecedented opportunity.

In the US, channels that were supposed to replace PBS by offering history, drama, and arts programming have increasingly turned to reality television- and the trend is only accelerating.

If the rest of the media continues on its current trajectory, PBS and our stations will be the only enterprise whose sole purpose is to provide content of consequence – both nationally and locally – to all Americans.

What do I mean by content of consequence?

It’s the best of children’s media, arts, drama, history, science, and news, the kind of programs that open up new vistas and expand people’s horizons.

This creates an exciting opportunity for public media to fill the niches left open by market failure.

Over the last two years, we have invested in content that’s smart, distinctive, and entertaining; content that stands apart from the rest of the media landscape, and we’ve begun to see a real growth in our audiences as a result.

Of course, when I say this, everyone in the room immediately thinks of MASTERPIECE’s DOWNTON ABBEY, which has created immeasurable buzz for public broadcasting.

From SNL parodies to Vanity Fair spreads, I think it’s safe to say we’re riding a tsunami of public enthusiasm for this outstanding British drama, and bringing new audiences to our stations.

But our collective success goes beyond DOWNTON. We have seen significant growth across our schedule, which means we’re reaching more Americans with our content of consequence.

We’ve also almost doubled our audience on Wednesday nights, adding 700,000 viewers to the “smartest night on television” by moving NOVA next to NATURE, and making it easier for audiences to find our science programming in the schedule.

We also continue to be one of the few sources for content that exposes people to the wonderful world of the arts. 

In the last broadcast season, more than one quarter of all U.S. households tuned in to our PBS arts programming, including millions who connected with the arts through the PBS Arts Fall Festival.

And thanks to the work of many of our member stations, who created their own content to air alongside our Festival’s national content, audiences were inspired to learn more about local arts content in their communities.

Moving forward, we will be investing in bringing our audiences more content that can’t be found anywhere else in the media landscape.

On Wednesday nights, we are creating new programs like AMERICA REVEALED and INSIDE NATURE’S GIANTS, to make science and natural history programming a centerpiece destination.

On Friday’s, our focus on the arts will continue with shows like ART 21, the only primetime national television series to focus exclusively on contemporary art and artists.

And this summer we’ll broadcast the 2012 PBS Summer Arts Festival on Friday nights, which will be hosted by the award winning actress and playwright Anna Deveare Smith.

The Summer Arts Festival will include a variety of American and international arts and arts makers, from an in-depth profile of noted art collector Dr. Albert Barnes, to a behind-the-scenes look at actor John Leguizamo and an historic concert by four Cuban music greats.

We are also committed to providing quality journalism that can’t be found elsewhere in the media landscape.

Today’s citizens have many choices for news and information.

In an increasingly fragmented and frenzied news and public affairs landscape that offers a great deal of heat, but not a lot of light, Americans turn to PBS for programming with depth, integrity and thoughtful analysis – independent, substantive journalism that offers multiple perspectives and respects people’s intelligence.

This is especially important in an election year. As a nation, we cannot begin to come together to confront our problems if we don’t have reliable, accurate reporting to inform our decisions.

As commercial broadcast networks have sharply decreased their coverage of key election events, such as national conventions and debates, PBS ensures that all citizens, even those without a cable or satellite subscription, are able to witness these critical steps in the electoral process, and join the conversation around important issues.

PBS is re-invigorating series such as PBS NEWSHOUR, investing in digital initiatives while preserving their commitment to fair, objective reporting.

We also remain dedicated to the investigative reporting exemplified by FRONTLINE, which remains a fearless monitor of our nation’s most powerful people and institutions.

In addition, we’re forming new partnerships with other organizations that share our values, including journalism schools, nonprofit newspapers, and our colleagues at NPR.

In 2012, each of our news and public affairs programs will have expanded coverage to help voters make an informed choice at the polls.

We’ll also be working with our stations and other partners to increase our local coverage of elections.

And we’re doing this across platforms, to harness the power of digital media to provide more information, engage citizens in active conversation and enable deeper, local coverage.

NEWSHOUR is using innovative ideas like crowdsourcing the translation of the President’s State of the Union speech in order to make the information more accessible to people all around the world.

And I know that stations like KPBS in San Diego, who just completed construction on a beautiful integrated newsroom that combines TV, radio, online, and mobile journalism, will use their combined resources to bring in-depth local coverage across all platforms to their communities.

This work does not stop when the election is over.

We are going to continue to focus on programming that will encourage a national discourse about the issues that matter to the American people.

The reason for all this?

Our member stations remain some of the last locally owned and operated media operations in today’s world.

According to one estimate, 25 years ago, approximately 50 corporations owned the vast majority of American media, including newspapers, magazines, books, music, movies, and radio and TV programming.

Today, this number has essentially been reduced to just 5 corporations:

- Comcast, bought NBC and Universal Studios,
- Disney,
- News Corp.,
- Time Warner, and
- Viacom.

We can count on one hand the number of companies that control virtually everything we see, hear, and read.

This is why local public-media organizations are so special – and so essential to our democracy.

Because PBS and our member stations aren’t owned by a corporation.

It’s owned by the American people.  It reflects the American people’s values, and it works each day to meet the needs of our nation.

It’s all a part of our pioneer spirit – to boldly embrace the new media landscape, using the wisdom and experience we have gained in the last forty years of public broadcasting to guide our way forward.

Using connection, community engagement, and content as our guide stars, we’ll continue to stake out new territory for public media.

I know I’ve shared a lot of facts with you this morning.  I want to conclude with one more statistic, and it’s the most important one of all.

According to a national survey, for the 9th consecutive year – the American people have ranked PBS as America’s most trusted public institution.

We ranked higher than any other organization or institution – including major newspapers, courts of law, and the government.

This trust – forged through more than 4 decades of public service – represents a very special bond between PBS, and the American people.

It also represents a call to action.  At PBS, we’re answering that call.

Together, we’re connecting with new audiences, engaging with our communities, and delivering content of consequence, to expand horizons for even more Americans.

Together, we’re making a difference in the lives of citizens everywhere, transforming how they experience the world.

And none of our work would be possible without the extraordinary dedication and commitment to PBS’s success that all you here truly embody.

Thank you.

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