Thursday, July 10, 2008

Open Source the PBS Player

A few weeks ago PBS announced that they selected thePlatform, partially owned by Comcast to create a media player for all online streaming, including affiliate video. This was a solid start in building a system-wide digital strategy and was a nice complement to their announcement that they would be distributing content through the fantastic Hulu service.

The Big Bear in the Room

The strategy obviously bears some comparison to the already established BBCi Player that is gaining great reviews and traction in the UK. While the BBC has a completely different operating environment than PBS, there are great lessons to be learned (to be, honor with imitation) from their player. Some highlights ripe for borrowing:

  • Cinematic design with a dramatic dark background (or go converse with Hulu's white background) that sets off the videos.
  • Good organization of programming, by channel, cateogry and a solid "all channel" line-up.
  • Cool use of the iconic buttons in the radio channels, which could be repurposed for PBS on content types.

Frontline Ain't No Slouch Either

However, beyond ooh and aahing over all things British, the folks at Frontline and WGBH have created their own very solid player. The home page of the individual Frontline series is nicely laid out, connects with lots of the high-quality supplementary content (an improvement over BBCi) and the player itself itself is commendable in its simplicity of presentation.

What Do We Want?! Open Source the PBS Player

I don't mean that PBS should create an open source player, but rather let's open up the next generation of video streaming to creative partnering with the broader world of public purpose media entities. Let's stretch ourselves to move beyond lovely display and into concrete action.

What is the next generation?

Simple, it is helping people take the next step. Meaning that public purpose media should lead users to improve their lives, whether it is becoming more engaged in their communities, expanding their education or taking a concrete action in their personal lives. We must break away from the hubris that great art/film is the act in itself. What we want from public media is to be informed and inspired, but also lead to improvement, to action, to the next step.

And to be honest, PBS nor NPR are in any position to make that next step occur. They need help. They need partners. They need to socialize with the rest of the world. Come on, it's only lunch.

The Take Action Widget

A challenge: PBS should convene a small group of savvy public purpose entities, folks like The Nature Conservancy, the Smithsonian Institution, and - if I can humbly submit - One Economy Corporation to design a series of experimental widgets for the PBS player that could be attached directly to a program or category of programming. The purpose of the widget would be to connect users directly to action, as well as broaden the reach of PBS to play a more significant role in the lives of its viewers. For example, you watching a great program about endangered frogs on Nature and the Nature Conservancy widget let's you sign up for their 'Frog Alert' news service, connects you with an upcoming Amphibian Rally and '10 lessons in Saving Frogs in Your Home Town'.

There will no doubt a number of things to consider - how to 'certify' proposed widget creation, how to make sure that the connections are not self-serving, but public service, and so on. However, by allowing the broader world of public purpose media to participate, that is also allowing affiliates to work with their own local partners, PBS can leap frog beyond playing catch-up to showing the world a thing or two about public media.

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