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When even veteran network TV programmer Garth Ancier cuts the cable cord, you take notice. He explains why he did, on TalkingTech.
LOS ANGELES — A big question for many cord cutters — why isn’t PBS included in the new crop of cable alternative services?
Offerings from YouTube, DirecTV and Dish often offer fewer channels and cost one-third or more of traditional cable bills. With top channels like the broadcast TV networks, CNN, AMC and ESPN, they make an attractive offer for those looking for a respite from huge cable TV bills.
CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and the CW are featured on most of the alternatives, but PBS, the other longtime traditional broadcast TV channel, is not.
“It’s a high priority for us,” says Ira Rubenstein, the chief digital officer for PBS. “We hope to be there sooner rather than later.”
The reasons for PBS’s absence are complicated, but it comes down to this: Unlike CBS and the other broadcast networks, PBS hasn’t acquired the on-demand streaming rights for all of its shows. Rubenstein says he’s working on finalizing those deals.
Beyond the cost savings, the other big benefit of the cord-cutting cable alternatives is that unlike most cable offerings, with these services you can watch these shows live anywhere. The choices include TV, tablet, phone or computer, and you can also record shows for playback and enjoy at home, at work, on your commute or while on vacation.
Viewers still have plenty of ways to see PBS on all those platforms. They could buy a digital antenna and watch PBS on the TV dial, or view with the PBS app, which is available for TVs, tablets and phones but all the shows aren’t day and date viewing. For instance, PBS’s popular Masterpiece airs Sundays night on TV, but doesn’t show up in the app until the following day.
The problem is many people aren’t up for switching between apps and services. If you can get all your favorite networks within a service like YouTube TV, which costs $40 monthly, and record and view your favorite shows there, who wants to leave for the app?
The Public Broadcasting System was founded in 1969. It’s part of the same free, ad-supported, broadcast network lineup across the entire United States that includes CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox. All offer programming to anyone with an over-the-air antenna. It’s also included on every basic cable lineup.
However it’s not part of some popular digital packages. The four major broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox) are included (with many other channels) on DirecTV Now (starts at $35 monthly), YouTube TV ($40 monthly) PlayStation Vue ($39.99) and Hulu Live TV ($39.99).
PBS says it wants to be included with the cable alternatives on services like YouTube TV and DirecTV Now and hopes to get there by the end of the year. But PBS contends that it isn’t really a traditional broadcast network, like CBS and NBC, but instead primarily a syndicator of content to independent public TV stations.
It both buys shows like Call the Midwife and Victoria for distribution, and produces news shows like Frontline and kids programming, (The Odd Squad.)
Cord-cutters guide to PBS
Cutting the corders can still watch PBS programs online, but not always for free.
The PBS Video app, which is available on phones, tablets and for streaming players like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, offer most of the available PBS programming, usually day and date with broadcast, but not always. Masterpiece, for instance, is available the morning after the Sunday night premiere, and only then for two weeks.
If you don’t catch up with it right away, you’ll need to pay $60 a year for a PBS Passport membership, which promises a monthly $5 donation to your local PBS station, and unlocks the complete library for on-demand viewing.
The Amazon Channels initiative, offering subscription TV (HBO, Starz) via Amazon Prime, also offers a separate PBS Masterpiece subscription, for $5.99 monthly.
Rubenstein says “99%” of PBS programming is available within the PBS app, save for the occasional live music performance.
But finding shows for viewers who don’t support their local station just won’t be as easy as finding new stuff on Netflix.
The British dramas and the Ken Burns documentaries are available for just the first two weeks, Antiques Roadshow and Nova for four weeks before sending viewers to the PBS Passport, while news and kids stays up and is always available, Rubenstein says.
The separate PBS Kids app has the complete lineup of shows, PBS says.
PBS says that more than 11.2 million PBS viewers viewed 730 million videos on the PBS Video and PBS Kids apps in 2017.
PBS is private, nonprofit corporation that serves some 350 non-commercial and educational TV stations in 50 states. It operates on federal funding (from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,) and donations from viewers.
Beyond PBS, the other missing players in many of the cable TV alternative services are the Viacom cable channels, which include MTV and Nickelodeon. They aren’t included on YouTube TV, but are available on DirecTV Now.
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham