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DirecTV Adding PBS And Local Affiliates to DirecTV Stream Virtual TV Service

Donald H. Cresswell (right) appraises a 1905 Spokane bird's-eye view lithograph in Spokane, WA
Donald H. Cresswell (r.) appraises a 1905 bird's-eye view lithograph of Spokane, Wash., during an episode of 'Antiques Roadshow' (Image credit: Jeff Dunn for WBGH)

DirecTV reached an agreement to stream PBS and its member stations to subscribers via its virtual multichannel video programming distributor DirecTV Stream.

DirecTV and DirecTV Stream also recently began carrying the PBS KIds 24/7 channel. In addition, DirecTV Stream viewers get video-on-demand access to PBS shows like Ken Burns’s documentaries, including his most recent one on Muhammad Ali.

With multiple affiliates in some markets, getting carriage on virtual multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) has proved challenging from both a technical and financial perspective, Ira Rubenstein, chief digital and marketing officer of PBS, told Broadcasting+Cable.

PBS has a streaming app, but “we wanted to get distribution on vMVPDs as people are cutting the cord so that we can serve our stations and the people who live in these communities,” Rubenstein said.

But streaming is different from the cable world, because there’s no must-carry. Most PBS stations are on cable through must-carry, as opposed to negotiating carriage and retransmission consent fees, he said. And PBS is different from the commercial networks because in many markets there are multiple PBS stations, airing the same network shows in different timeslots on different days. Many local PBS stations also produce local programming, so they need to be carried, not just a national PBS feed. In all ,PBS has more than 330 member stations.

That requires bandwidth and skill at juggling shows on program guides, Rubenstein said. 

The first vMVPD PBS was able to make a deal with was YouTube TV. “YouTube TV took on the challenge of figuring out how they could offer up to three stations in a market,” he said. “It's hard and there’s no monetization.”

PBS is ad-free, so there’s no local commercial inventory in PBS programming for vMVPDs to sell. “It really takes companies that are committed to serving their communities and their viewers and who are willing to partner with us to help bring our stations to their platforms,“ Rubenstein said. ”After YouTube, AT&T was the most willing.” \ 

PBS content has proved popular on YouTube TV and Rubenstein expects it will perform similarly on DirecTV, giving DirecTV an advantage over most of its streaming rivals. 

For DirecTV, recently spun off from AT&T, the PBS affiliates add to the local programming offered on DirecTV Stream, the new name for AT&T TV Now. DirecTV Stream already provides signals form about 800 ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates, plus the Bally Sports, NBC Sports, Spectrum Sports, AT&T SportsNet and MSG Networks regional sports networks. 

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“Entertainment is personal and should serve every member of the household, which is why we’re partnering with PBS to deliver DirecTV Stream customers more choice, more control and a more convenient way to access the content they care about most,” said Rob Thun, chief content officer for DirecTV.

With the addition of PBS and its affiliates, subscribers will be able to stream locally produced shows including Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline and PBS NewsHour.

PBS’s Rubenstein said he is talking with other virtual MVPDs. “I’m hopeful that when some of the others see we have yet another deal done, they will start feeling some pressure to figure out how they can add us,” he said. 

PBS Kids programming includes Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Molly Of Denali, Odd Squad, Pinkalicious & Peterrific and Wild Kratts.

“At PBS Kids, making our high-quality content accessible to as many children across the country as possible is integral to our mission,” said Sara DeWitt, senior VP & general manager of children’s media and education, PBS. “As families continue to look to us for more ways to watch, we’re thrilled we can continue building on our offerings with DirecTV — both on broadcast and digital — to ensure we’re meeting them where they are.”