Viewers might have wondered if PBS was rethinking its commitment to children's programming after it allowed HBO to snap up Sesame Street last summer. But today the network announced a big play to keep kids watching its shows around the clock.
Later this year, the network will launch a free, 24-hour network for children's programming called PBS Kids. This will let children watch during prime time and other hours when PBS doesn't air kid-centric content.
The channel will be available as a digital subchannel on PBS stations nationwide (joining other PBS digital subchannels like Create and World). The network will also stream it online at pbskids.org and via the PBS Kids Video app, which is available on iOS and Android devices, as well as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Android TV and Xbox One. The livestream will join the on-demand full episodes and clips that are currently available on the app and online.
PBS will continue to air its PBS Kids programming blocks on the primary network during the morning and afternoon.
"Parents know that PBS Kids makes a difference in their children's lives, which is why so many have said they would value having access to our content throughout the day. Television continues to be the most widely used platform for children's educational content, especially among low-income families," said Paula Kerger, PBS president and CEO, in a statement. "The new PBS Kids 24/7 channel and livestream offered by local member stations ensure that educational media is available to all families, all the time and via a platform that works for them. Given that 54 percent of all children nationwide do not have the opportunity to attend preschool, providing access is a critical element of our public service mission."
After it launches later this year, the PBS Kids livestream will offer integrated games, allowing viewers to switch between a PBS Kids show and a game.
PBS cited Nielsen data that most children's television viewing occurs on weeknights and weekend afternoons and evenings, which is when PBS doesn't air kids programming. And while children have embraced streaming, 68 percent of the network's video content continues to be via live TV.
The news comes as the children's programming market is more crowded than ever. Last summer, Sesame Workshop struck a deal with HBO to premiere new seasons of Sesame Street on the premium cable network. The first episodes under that new deal debuted last month on HBO and will be available on PBS nine months later. In addition to longtime competitors Disney and Nickelodeon, PBS is also facing challenges from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, which have beefed up their kids programming. Meanwhile, Sprout, which PBS once had a stake in before NBCUniversal bought it outright in 2013, unveiled a brand refresh last fall as part of a push for more original content.
PBS Kids will air PBS shows like Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Dinosaur Train, Wild Kratts and Odd Squad, as well as new series Nature Cat, Ready Jet Go and Splash, an upcoming show from The Jim Henson Company that will premiere this fall. The network has not said whether Sesame Street episodes will air on PBS Kids, explaining it is working with individual producers to develop the schedule for the new network.