PBS Affiliate Re-launches Site Around Ad-Supported Video

Greater Cincinnati’s educational PBS member TV station, CET, has re-launched its Web presence as an ad-supported on-demand video site. The move comes as public radio and television stations struggle to balance noncommercial sensibilities and the need for sponsorship dollars.

“We anticipate the site to maintain its noncommercial feel and look,” said Susan Howarth, president and CEO of the 52-year-old CET. In light of this, Howarth added that the 501c3 nonprofit organization will be selective in its acceptance of ads on the new CETconnect.org site.

CET is in search of banner advertisers and in-stream video advertisers. The site is also offering full site sponsorships, as well as sponsorships for each of seven video content categories which include Arts and Culture, Current Affairs and Kids and Families. Sponsors are also sought for its CET TV section, which promotes CET television programming. Currently, no ads are being run by paying advertisers.

Ads will run alongside and in front of video content such as a 20-minute interview with a representative of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce discussing economic issues, a 5-minute segment featuring a local wood carver, or a 30-minute documentary about building Cincinnati’s Union Terminal. Educators can also search for programming on CETconnect.org and make online requests for it to appear on analog or digital cable TV channels.

CET’s television programming is underwritten, and receives funding from federal, state and local governments in addition to foundations and private donors. Unlike CET television, the Web site does not fall under Federal Communications Commission guidelines barring advertising. Reportedly, PBS.org is reconsidering running paid advertising on its site, which has raised the ire of public media purists. Oregon Public Broadcasting also runs ads on its site.

“This site gives us the opportunity to bring in revenue from some different channels,” commented Howarth.

Originally conceived as a means of appealing to younger demographics, the new site is now expected to attract older users between the ages of 55 and 80, according to Howarth. She said that most people participating in focus groups who expressed interest in CET’s video offerings “had retired, and they had time, and had worked in jobs that had computers…and they were interested in self improvement.”

Though the video library is sparsely populated now, CET plans on adding new video content to the site each day. Some footage will come from CET’s TV programming archives, which deal mainly with local issues pertaining to the tri-state region of Ohio, Indiana and Northern Kentucky. However, CET will produce video exclusively for the site. The organization is also relying on its local nonprofit partners such as The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Art Museum, to both provide video content and offer content ideas. The partner institutions will also promote CETconnect.org on their own Web sites.

CET may be considered a pioneer among public broadcasters in its new focus on streaming video, but it’s certainly not the first to offer video on its site. In 2001, PBS and Oregon Public Broadcasting launched American Field Guide, a site offering over 1,400 outdoors- and environment-related video clips, hosted on PBS.org. Los Angeles-based KCET provides archived video on its site, too. Other PBS member station Web sites offer some video content, mainly of programming already aired on their television broadcasts.

“A lot of our expansion will depend on the kinds of resources we can bring to it,” Howarth explained. So far, video is the major focus, but CET expects to unveil interactive site components like discussion forums in the future. Howarth also noted that podcasts are on the way soon. The Web site will also provide a forum for CET to air short pilot programs to test audience response, which could also help the organization to garner funding to produce full programs for broadcast. “We’re thinking about the site in phases,” said Howarth.

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