Cutting the cord: All the broadcast stations included — except for PBS
LOS ANGELES – Cutting-the-cord alternatives like YouTube TV and PlayStation Vue make an attractive offer. Ditch cable, and save money by only subscribing to a handful of broadcast and cable channels you want, instead of a universe of 500.
But a question many are asking is, “Why is PBS missing?”
The Public Broadcasting System, which was founded in 1969, is part of the same free, ad-supported broadcast network lineup across the entire United States, with CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and the CW offering free programming to anyone with an over-the-air antenna. It’s included on every basic cable lineup.
So what’s the hangup? PBS says it wants to be included with the cable alternatives and hopes to get there by the end of the year. But PBS says it isn’t really a broadcast network but instead primarily a syndicator of content to independent public TV stations.
It buys shows like Call the Midwife and Victoria and produces news shows like Frontline and kids’ programming (The Odd Squad).
What PBS doesn’t have now is complete livestreaming rights to all the shows, but it hopes to change that.
“It’s a high priority for us,” said Ira Rubenstein, the chief digital officer for PBS. “We hope to be there sooner rather than later.”
Cord-cutters can still watch PBS programs online, but not always for free.
The PBS Video app, which is available for phones, tablets, and streaming players like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, offers most of the available PBS programming, usually the same day as 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, 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 thus 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 said “99%” of PBS programming is available within the PBS app, save for the occasional live music performance.
But for viewers who don’t support their local station, finding shows just won’t be as easy as on Netflix.
The British dramas and Ken Burns documentaries are available for just the first two weeks and Antiques Roadshow and Nova for four weeks before sending viewers to the PBS Passport, while news and kids’ content stays up and is always available, Rubenstein said.
The separate PBS Kids app has the complete lineup of shows, PBS says.
PBS says more than 11.2 million PBS viewers viewed 730 million videos on the PBS Video and PBS Kids apps in 2017.
PBS is a private, non-profit 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.
Of cable TV alternatives, YouTube, DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue offer all the broadcast networks, save PBS, for about $40 monthly. The other missing players in some packages are Viacom channels, like MTV and Nickelodeon. They are available on DirecTV Now.
PBS brings the British drama series “Victoria” to U.S. airwaves, via local public TV stations.