PBS Does the Hulu

PBS, the folks who bring us “Antiques Roadshow,” just embarked on a smart journey into future, creating a Hulu-style, on-demand Internet video portal.

Now it just takes a couple of clicks to catch up with “Nova,” “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer” and “Great Performances,” among other shows.

There are even vintage Julia Child episodes, though apparently not the infamous one where she “cuts the dickens” out of her finger. Speaking of Dickens, the site includes “Little Dorrit,” the latest “Masterpiece Theater” serial.

The portal debuted with 130 hours of programming, with promises to add much more – sans pledge drive interruptions (though the corporate funders will get pre-show plugs and banner ads reportedly are planned.)

This seems like a good move for PBS, and will expand online cultural options far beyond, say, Paris Hilton’s blog. But will publicly supported television attract the elusive young, educated and online audience it’s apparently seeking? And even if PBS succeeds in drawing the Internet crowd, will the new blood pump out the pledge dollars?

PBS at least realizes it needs to do more than just spread its programming across a bunch of show-based sites. The new page is a user friendly, one-stop portal along the lines of YouTube and Hulu, the NBC/FOX video venture. (Unlike YouTube and Hulu, though, there’s no way yet to embed the videos, though PBS reports it's working on it -- see first comment below..)

The PBS portal will be a test to see whether a generation that’s becoming increasingly accustomed to getting its information and entertainment for free is willing to donate hard-earned bucks to support quality programming.

As for the much younger set, there’s still the PBS Kids page, which mixes games with episode of “Arthur” and other children’s fare. But there aren’t any episodes of “Sesame Street” – a show that’s as old as PBS and synonymous with the network.

That’s too bad. Today’s Elmo fans could be tomorrow’s PBS supporters – online or otherwise.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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