May 13, 2011

Online viewers of PBS content complain to ombudsman over sponsorship "experiment"

Late last month, PBS began "experimenting" with a new sponsorship format for online videos of its major broadcast TV programs, writes PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler. And now Getler is receiving letters of complaint from online viewers.

Videos of shows such as Frontline and Masterpiece now have a couple 15- to 30-second sponsorship messages from commercial companies inserted within the program, not before or after as in TV broadcasts. While only a "handful" of people have written to Getler, " it struck me as a potentially fundamental change in approach that was worth recording."

Jason Seiken, s.v.p. for PBS Interactive, told Getler that this potential revenue stream is necessary because has become, in a sense, "a victim of our own success," growing from two million to 115 million online video views monthly. He said PBS is "trying to be creative about offsetting those costs" with this trial run, which will last about six months.

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