Three years ago, when the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was developing its local, national online video platform, the company had a 65-year-old viewer test the user experience. "This isn't at all what I expected from PBS," she said about the radically different design. "It's so modern."
Jason Seiken, the senior vice president of PBS Interactive who oversees all digital services, shared this anecdote with the audience at Mashable's Media Summit on Friday. In a nutshell, this sweet story tells us something very integral about the company's digital initiatives: It's radically changing the way people see PBS, and that's its goal.
In a discussion with Mashable senior tech analyst Christina Warren, Seiken explained that PBS saw approximately 165 million video streams online last month, as opposed to about two million a few years ago. Not only that, around 62% of last month's streams were viewed on a mobile device.
"PBS, three or four years ago, faced a big business challenge," Seiken said. "The challenge was that we dominate on television up to age 6, and we get people 55-plus, but that big doughnut hole in the middle, we're missing. And we weren't capturing them online, either."
Seiken said that moving linear video production to distribution channels fixed the online problem, but the company realized that wouldn't solve the overall business challenge. PBS created PBS Digital Studios, initially trying to create what Seiken called "bad television for the small screen."
"We realized that what we needed to do was get away from what we do in television, and do things that are very native to this medium we call it PBS quality with a YouTube sensibility," he said.
And from that came the Mister Rogers remix, a video that became an overnight sensation by combining nostalgia for Rogers' many lessons with a modern beat and autotuning. The viral hit has helped change the culture of PBS in a "radical and an incremental way," Seiken said. The remix is certainly not the way PBS has always done things, but by having a big idea and ensuring that there would be a a big payoff, it worked.
At the Media Summit, Seiken announced that the fourth and newest remix in the series from PBS Digital will be released on Monday.
But how does PBS garner a modern audience to return to PBS for content? The answer definitely returns the conversation to mobile, and having consumers expect PBS to be at the forefront of that space. PBS has three apps for iPhone and iPad two for adults and one for kids, and according to Seiken, kids are devouring the brand's content through mobile. Almost 10 times as many kids are watching PBS on mobile devices than adults. "They're just voracious consumers of tablets," Seiken said.
Photo courtesy of Erica Gannett.
Read more of Mashable's coverage of the 2012 Media Summit:
- How Social Media Impacts TV and Film Ratings
- The Nate Silver Effect: How Data Journalism Can Predict the Future
- Will Condé Nast or Hearst Create the Next Pinterest?
- Tablet Readers Don't Want Interactivity, Says Hearst President
- How to Monetize Without Hurting Your Community
- Is Twitter Helping or Harming Political Journalism?
- PBS Digital Isn't Your Grandma's Public Television