PBS Re-Launches Web Site
Redesign of PBS.prg offers video from both local, national shows
By George Winslow -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/25/2010 1:00:00 AM
"It is a very important development for PBS.org because it gives our audience one-stop shopping for both national and local content and it is a tremendous benefit for the stations because it helps expose their great local content and video to a larger national audience," said PBS Senior VP of Interactive and Product Development and Innovation Jason Seiken in a lengthy preview of the site's new features and PBS's digital strategy. "We really felt that the best way to serve our audience is to take this national/local approach."
To achieve that goal, PBS built a new middleware platform called Merlin that is powering many of the new features on the site, including tools for automatically posting local content on the site.
"Merlin is a powerful local and national publishing platform that allows us to use metadata to seamlessly and efficiently integrate local content from 350 PBS stations across the country into PBS.org," Seiken explained.
When visitors access PBS.org, the site will automatically recognize the user's location from his or her IP address and then serve up a front page that mixes PBS' signature national programming with select local shows.
Virginia viewers, for example, who visit PBS.org will see national shows mixed in with local programming and content from WETA. Users can also select other local PBS stations and their programming will automatically be displayed along with the PBS national fare. Anyone who clicks on the local program at PBS.org will then be taken to the local site to see the video.
The new Merlin platform allows PBS and the local stations to do this automatically, without a lot of manual posting, as long as the programming is tagged with the right metadata. "It is a very important tool for our local stations because there isn't any human intervention," Seiken explained. "All the content is flowing into the page from the metadata, both the local and the national content. None of the content is being programmed by hand."
The redesign is also part of an ongoing strategy to add more video and display it more prominently on PBS.org. "Since we launched our video platform, our video streams have multiplied to about 5 million streams a month, which is up from about 2 million 18 months ago," Seiken said.
With the re-launch, the video player is more prominently displayed on the page and the site will have more content, around 4,700 hours of video, of which about 2,000 hours will be local programming.
The new Merlin platform is designed to help PBS expand the digital distribution of its content and the pubcaster is also launching apps for iPhones and iPads.
At launch, Seiken expects to offer 20 to 22 different shows for these devices. The number of episodes per show will vary, but the free apps will generally give users access to about a month's worth of full episodes from each show, as well as short original programs, such as Nova's Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers.
The platform will also help PBS expand its digital offerings in the future. "This is part of a broader initiative to open up the PBS platform," said Jon Brendsel, VP of product development at PBS Interactive. "Widgets, mobile applications [and many other things] become exponentially easier and cheaper for us to do. The reality is that we can't build everything for everyone so like [many other companies] we are moving to API [application programming interfaces] and feed-based platforms" that facilitate the digital distribution of content.
PBS has embraced open platforms for quite some time and recently has also been moving toward cloud hosting. "In the last 18 months, we have been moving all of our new infrastructure-and Merlin will be included-to Amazon's EC2 [Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud] platform so that it is all being hosted in the cloud," Brendsel said.
One big advantage of this move is cost. "Demand ebbs and surges during the day," he explained. "At 4 a.m. you may see just a couple of application servers handling the load for all of PBS and then during primetime you may see that surging to 10 to 15 application servers. We just pay by the hour and the machine gets spun up automatically to handle additional traffic. It allows us to take advantage of the cost models that cloud computer brings."
The redesigned site also has better search features and offers a more cohesive look and feel to the design of PBS.org, which includes more than 1,500 separate programming sites and areas.
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