Some serious makeover madness has taken over PBS Kids. The net announced its Next Generation Media five-year initiative in Q4 2005 and will ring in the New Year with a number of changes including a re-jigged schedule, the creation of a new preschool environment and the launch of a full-day network for the six-to-eight set.
The pubcaster’s research prompted the overhaul, where kids and parents said they increasingly look to PBS Kids to address issues concerning evolving digital technology, the pressure on kids to succeed at younger ages and the troubled U.S. education system. Lesli Rotenberg, senior VP of PBS brand management, is heading up the development of the net’s strategy and part of her remit is to provide edutainment programming across multiple platforms.
To that end, prepping for the fall debut of the 24-hour cabsat channel PBS Kids Go! is the net’s biggest priority for the next few months. The new network will build on the current two-hour block and focus on providing educational shows for six-to-eight year olds. It’s an under-served demo in the U.S., Rotenberg says, as Nielsen only reports ratings based on six-to-11 viewership, and networks tend to program primarily for the older end of that demo using tween live-action shows or curriculum-free toons.
At upcoming markets, the PBS team will be scouring show floors for programming to fill this all-day schedule. Although a number of as yet unnamed series currently airing in the PBS Kids Go! block will be part of the slate, Rotenberg says she will also look to international partners for math- or science-based shows, particularly ones that feature animals. Popular programs from as long as a decade ago with no current home will also fit the bill; provided these series look timeless and translate to other platforms such as websites and portable video devices.
For preschoolers, PBS Kids will launch a new on-air and on-line look this fall. It’s early days, but Rotenberg says this block will get an injection of realism from a live host, stepping back a bit from the fantasy world created by animated MCs seen on other nets. There are also plans to transfer the on-air look to the dedicated website, and Rotenberg cites Sesame Street’s environment as an inspiration because it helps maintain the feel of the brand on multiple platforms. And while the Workshop has also managed to get its TV show on mobile phones via Verizon’s VCast service, PBS Kids doesn’t have immediate plans to take that route.
The net will test its preschool revamp this month by airing blocks reflecting developmental stages instead of set age demos. For example, shows initially targeting kids ages two through five could be repositioned as suitable for any child with pre-reading skills. ‘True preschool’ sets the stage for literate kids who are ready to grasp basic science and math concepts, such as Mitchell Kriegman’s animal-centric It’s a Big Big World. And the two-hour after-school block will target early elementary kids, covering more advanced music, math, reading and science material with shows like Cyberchase. The PBS Kids website will show parents how to gauge their child’s developmental stage.
To ensure she’s headed in the right direction, Rotenberg is inviting education, childhood development, child advocacy and new media experts to join a PBS Kids advisory board. The think tank will develop long-term strategies to meet the needs of tech-savvy kids and their perhaps less-than-tech-savvy parents.