PBS Launches Online Streaming Video Portal

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is a little late to the game, but it has just launched an official online video portal where users can watch streaming video from a wide selection of PBS shows. Not that PBS hasn't offered some of its shows online before this, such as NOVA, but this marks the first time that PBS has consolidated a significant selection of its current and past shows into one place, accessible online to anyone with a broadband Internet connection--much as many of the major commercial networks have already done, such as Fox or ABC.

The PBS Video site officially launched on Wednesday, April 22, and it is currently labeled as a "beta." In the short time that we played around with it on a Windows Vista system, it was very stable, if not sometimes slow to connect; however, we had trouble getting most videos to play when we perused the site's different show offerings using Firefox on a Mac (running Mac OS X 10.5.6 and Firefox 3.0.9).

The site already includes a healthy selection of shows, with the promise that more shows will be added every week. Some of the shows already available include, The News Hour, Nature, and Antiques Roadshow. Eric Freeland, Senior Manager of Digital Video for PBS, states that new videos will even be added the day after they air; and that The News Hour will be available online on the same night it airs, immediately after the broadcast. The PBS Video site even includes some exclusive content, such as Time Team America, which won't be first broadcast on TV until July.

When you first land on the site, it displays a "Featured Programs" carousel, from which you can choose from a number of highlighted shows. You can also choose to browse through a "Features Collections" carousel. The site also includes a "Browse by Programs" option, a "Browse by Topics" option (with choices such as Cinema, History, and Technology), and even a Search box that let's you conduct a custom search (we searched for "Neil deGrasse Tyson," which netted five video results--all were episodes of NOVA scienceNOW). Other browsing options include "Most Watched" and "Most Emailed" sections. In addition to controlling the video playback timeline and including play/pause, volume, and full-screen playback controls, the video player also includes links for "Share," "Email," and "Own It"--the Own It link allows you to purchase the DVD or iTunes version (if available) of the show.

PBS Video Portal Walk Through from PBS Engage on Vimeo.
While PBS is finally getting its feet wet with a video portal, the trend these days is actually to use other sites, services, and applications to consolidate the offerings from multiple online sources. Hulu currently has a PBS channel that has a total of 11 shows, including Independent Lens, Scientific American Frontiers, and Wired Science. As there are now many more PBS shows available online than the 11 presently on Hulu, it is probable that Hulu will soon link to PBS's newly expanded online library and increase its PBS offerings as well. Also, while the release version of Boxee does not presently include a PBS channel, the "bleeding edge" alpha version of Boxee does include PBS support via a third-party plug-in. Now that there is an official PBS video online presence, perhaps it will be easier to add a PBS channel to the current version of Boxee and not have to wait for the next major version of the software.