New PBS deal could shake up video streaming market for schools

SAFARI will be adding 300 PBS programs and series to its digital platform, on top of the 650 it currently offers.

A new agreement between the Public Broadcasting Service and SAFARI Montage will make SAFARI the main provider of national PBS video content streamed to schools—an arrangement that could shake up the market for school video streaming services.

In the figurative arena of content distribution, it seems that SAFARI Montage—a K-12 digital media management and distribution solution—has been taking no prisoners, as evidenced by the company’s announcement of a deal with PBS to provide hundreds of additional PBS videos. The deal also reportedly terminates PBS’ national contracts with other major players such as Discovery Education and Learn360.

Building on a working relationship that dates back nearly 25 years and has encompassed now-obsolete technologies such as VHS and Beta tapes, SAFARI and PBS have struck an agreement that not only renews their current contract, but expands it to include hundreds of new titles—and makes SAFARI Montage the primary major commercial digital distributor of PBS’ library of full-length programs to schools nationwide.

“[We] have always known [PBS] to be very committed to pre-K-12 education,” said Andrew Schlessinger, CEO and co-founder of SAFARI Montage. “They are a content provider that has been a clear force in the classroom, and we’re honored to be their partner in U.S. K-12 education.”

“We have [officially partnered] with SAFARI for nearly a decade and have greatly appreciated the excellent service they provide to educators,” said Alicia Levi, vice president of education for PBS Distribution. “In addition, we are proud to grow our partnership with a company that shares our commitment to engaging students and teachers with tools specifically crafted for innovative, 21st-century learning.”

The new deal, which begins July 1, adds 300 PBS programs and series to SAFARI’s digital platform, on top of the 650 PBS titles that SAFARI currently offers. The company also will be adding more PBS content later this year as a result of the agreement.

All of the 650 PBS titles are included in SAFARI’s core content package, except one series, Eyes on the Prize, the definitive civil rights era documentary, which will be included in the core content package as of July 1. New offerings being added to SAFARI during 2012 include American Experience: “Clinton,” NOVA, and Ken Burns’ Prohibition, as well as Design Squad, Martha Speaks, and Super Why! (For a full list of titles, click here.)

According to PBS, educators will have access to each program in its entirety as it was originally broadcast. On average, the general-audience programs are 60 minutes per episode, and PBS KIDS programs are approximately 30 minutes per episode.  Program topics include everything from history, science, and the arts to math and literacy—all from PBS’ series and producers.

“When you think about the PBS library, documentaries from Ken Burns have become such a staple in social sciences classrooms, that I would guess that most social sciences teachers have used a Ken Burns documentary to bring American history to life in their lessons,” said Schlessinger. “Or Cyberchase, Between the Lions, or Liberty’s Kids for elementary education. These series tie very closely with the core curriculum and are used extensively in classrooms. We knew this from the sales of DVDs, and now from digital usage analyses. Not only are they well aligned to the core curriculum, but over 75 percent of the PBS series and programs we get are closed captioned.”

Schlessinger said it’s this kind of accessibility, pertinence, and quality that draws educators to these titles and makes the expansion of the company’s contract with PBS so noteworthy.

“My sense after being in this business for over 25 years is that PBS has about 20 percent of the most important K-12 series/programs available for today,” he said.

PBS noted that while SAFARI will become the only major national digital distributor of PBS’ library of full-length programs to K-12 schools nationwide as of July 1, the content is available from other sources, most notably from local PBS stations—many of which provide content to local schools in their communities.

“Discovery Education customers will continue to have access to PBS content as part of our ongoing agreement with PBS member stations such as WETA, SCETV, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, among others,” explained Kelli Campbell, senior vice president for Discovery Education. “Discovery Education also works with independent producers that provide PBS content aired on TV and will continue to offer many popular programs including Sid the Science Kid, Reading Rainbow, The PBS NewsHour and WordGirl, among others.”

Dicovery currently houses thousands of video clips from PBS member stations-independent producers that have aired on PBS and PBS National.  These videos are part of Discovery Education’s paid subscription service.

“As we regularly seek to enhance and expand our content in order to ensure we have the most up-to-date resources available, we
work with our education partners to evaluate all of our content and tools,” said Campbell. “Based on that evaluation, among other things, we agreed we would not renew our partnership with PBS National, which represents a small fraction of our overall content.”

Learn360 did not responded to an eSchool News reporter’s requests for comment.

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