Intern Angle: PBS Digital Studios

Posted by Taylor Berglund | SPI Intern | PBS Digital on
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The PBS summer interns have a unique opportunity to interact with, and learn from, a vast array of PBS staff across all departments. In this series, SPI intern Taylor Berglund profiles these PBS staff members and shares his takeaways.

“Digital Studios is brand new for PBS, and when I say “brand new,” I mean two to three years old,” Scott Willey, Associate Manager of Digital Video Entrepreneurship at PBS Digital Studios.
explained.

 
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Scott Willey of PBS DS
While PBS does incredibly well with kids and older audiences, Digital Studios is working to capture the in-between demographic of 15 to 30-year-olds using YouTube. The channel is best known for its classic PBS remixes – like the Mr. Rogers remix that recently hit ten million views – in addition to Webby award-winning shows like Idea Channel and Shanks FX. Most of their content comes from pitches by out-of-house creators; once picked up, the shows are then executive-produced, funded, and hosted by Digital Studios. Digital Studios host a wide variety of content, but all of it is united by the PBS brand commitment to education.

Scott explained that his job is to work with the local stations, giving them advice on how to use the people they have to make good, compelling content for the web. However, he cautioned that compelling content for the web is very different from television. One can’t make a 30-minute television episode and stick it online, because no one would watch it. A viewer will decide in the first 15-20 seconds whether to continue watching the video, and four to five minutes is the optimal video length. YouTube operates on entirely different standards than traditional TV.

Consequently, Scott finds traditional broadcast metrics like views less significant than engagement metrics. He pointed to one series, Art Assignment, which averaged 20,000 views: “in TV terms, that would be nothing.” However, because those 20,000 online viewers were deeply engaged and interacting with the content, it’s a strongly performing show. Likewise, Idea Channel hovers between 100,000 to 1,000,000 viewers depending on the topic, but its average of 1,000 to 3,000 comments per video demonstrates a dedicated core base.

The focus on engagement ties back to Scott’s earlier job as a political video creator, where he always had to think in terms of the “call to action” at the end. Every PBS Digital Studios video has that “call to action,” whether it’s to make art, comment, subscribe, share with friends, or something else. The call to action is the most important part of the video to remember, according to Scott: “If at the end of the video, [the viewer] does nothing, then that’s a wasted view. It’s nice, but you want them to do more.”

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