Like most PBS member stations, NET, Nebraska’s PBS & NPR Stations found itself regularly fielding questions from its viewer base—mostly older adults—about how to sign up for and use NET Passport.
“We usually plan a lot of PBS Kids events and do live tapings of our programs,” says Ian Vosburg, NET’s Director of Annual Giving, about the excursions. But with one coming up a few months ago, they planned to experiment with an idea related to viewers’ NET Passport questions. “We had heard that another station had tried video-streaming workshops, so we thought maybe this was something we could do. We figured we might as well take it out to the people instead of the people coming to us.”
So in late May and early June of this year, NET took advantage of a road trip to western Nebraska to schedule four video-streaming workshops in the communities of Chadron, Ogalalla, Sidney and Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
The workshops were simple and showed attendees how to watch content on PBS.org, using the PBS app, or on Roku. Leaders walked participants step-by-step through the process of signing up, logging in, activating Passport and more.
The communities were small and Vosburg’s team expected a relatively light turnout. In Chadron, a town of 5,600 residents, a dozen people showed up. The other locations saw half that much. “It was an interesting mix,” Vosburg says of those who took advantage of the workshops. “Generally speaking, folks were a little older, but there was a range of people.” Some arrived having no idea of what streaming was. Others already had a Roku device but didn’t know how to use it.
“There was one woman in particular who said she had already purchased an Amazon Fire TV Stick a month prior to the workshop, but she was afraid to open the package because she just didn’t know what to do,” Vosburg remembers. After the workshop, she was ready to take that next step: opening the package and using the device. “She totally felt like she could do it.” Not only did the hands-on workshop educate her and give her more confidence, participants left with a printed document that reminded them of every step that had been discussed (see below).
Adjusting the Model
While the workshops were successful for the small number of viewers who attended, Vosburg wonders if a few programming tweaks might improve attendance in the future. “Looking back at it, we didn’t have quite the attendance that we wanted, but that was still a nice thing for us to do because we were already going out to those communities to engage with our views and members,” he says.
In the future, NET may ask viewers who already have Roku or other streaming devices to bring that technology to the workshop. And from a marketing standpoint, the promotional language might need to be adjusted. “Maybe we don’t call it a ‘video-streaming workshop’ [in the future] because people may not even understand what that phrase means,” he wonders. “We need to find the language that helps people understand what they’re getting into when they come.”
NET also plans to investigate whether the internet speed available in some rural communities is even enough to support video streaming in the first place. “I’m not sure if some of the rural areas can support it,” says Vosburg. Meanwhile, NET plans on testing the concept again at its home base in Lincoln taking the streaming workshops back out on the road.
But whether the specific Passport idea continues to grow for NET, Vosburg believes getting out into the state and offering hands-on training is a winning concept in general. NET may also try reaching out directly to individuals who call or email for help accessing Passport.
Vosburg says educational events like these fit well within the PBS brand. For those who attended the streaming workshops, the biggest barrier to content was unfamiliarity with the platform. Education dismantles that uncertainty. “There was a fear of technology. It felt too complicated,” Vosburg says.
But at the workshops, a patient, step-by-step walkthrough of the process demolished that barrier. Participants saw that the process was much simpler than they thought, and every individual success satisfied the leaders as well as the attendees. “Releasing those barriers is so important,” Vosburg says. “We just want to be as accessible as possible for everybody.”