PBS Pilots To Be Pre-Streamed

Users' votes will affect what gets on-air

PBS is trying a little science experiment. The noncommercial programming service will announce Monday that it will, for the first time, stream a show online before it is available on-air. The move comes as the network explores program delivery on multiple platforms and looks to boost its online presence.

PBS will stream pilots/specials for three potential new science series at PBS.org Jan. 1, then air them on member stations starting Jan. 3 and ask Web surfers and viewers to weigh in online with their favorite.

Although the effort is being dubbed “PBS Science Idol” in-house, the online vote will not actually be determinative. PBS will take the surfers' top vote-getter into account with other research in determining the winner, which will get a 10-episode slot in fall 2007 on member stations.

“Ultimately, we are going to make the call,” says John Wilson, PBS senior VP and chief TV programming executive. He hopes a slam dunk winner emerges: “We have a programming team, and this is what we do for a living. But we are looking forward to having multiple feedback loops.”

The three pilots are Wired Science, a co-production of KCET Los Angeles and Wired magazine; Science Investigators, a co-production of WGBH Boston and Lion TV; and 22nd Century, from Tower Productions and presenting station Twin Cities Public Television.

Each will get a free screening on PBS.org as well as a free podcast on Apple iTunes. Each of the three will also air on PBS on three succeeding Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET, starting Jan. 3, with accompanying promos asking viewers to vote online for their favorite.

PBS says it doesn't necessarily plan to stream every pilot in the future. “This is a first,” says Wilson. “We'll see if there is a second.”