PBS Distribution: Broadcast Television Distribution of Content


(PBSDistribution.org, n.d.)

The newest episode of Downton Abbey has just aired, but due to a twist of fate you missed it entirely. Now, you have a few options so don’t fret. You could wait to buy the DVD at the local super-store, or if you need a more immediate fix of the Crawley family you could stream it off the PBS website. Or if you want to watch it months from now you could download it off an online retailer for a small fee. Whatever option you end up choosing, it will be possible because of one organization: PBS Distribution.


PBS Distribution, also known as PBSd, is the successor to PBS’s internal distribution department. In 2009 PBS and Boston-based member station WGBH Educational Foundation jointly created PBSd as a new distribution company separate from both parent organizations. PBSd was created partially out of convenience and partially out of necessity. PBS could leverage its distribution resources to efficiently compete in the home distribution market, while WGBH was a major producer of PBS content such as Masterpiece, NOVA and Frontline (Kaczmarczyk, 2016).

PBS’s status as a non-profit also came with issues when it came to accessing revenue from DVD and merchandising sales. As a non-profit, about 15% of PBS’s funding comes from the U.S. government through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (Plumer, 2012). The remainder comes from dues paid by member stations, contributions from private citizens, and other sources (PBS.org, n.d.). By creating PBSd, which unlike its parent company is for-profit, PBS and WGBH could use the revenue generated from distribution as a source of funding for production to create new programming (Kaczmarczyk).

The company’s status as a joint venture between WGBH and PBS is reflected in many aspects of the organization. The two current Co-Presidents for PBSd are David Bernstein, current Vice-President for WGBH, and Andrea Downing, former Vice-President for PBS (PBSDistribution.org, n.d.). The organization has offices in both Boston and Arlington, VA, which are also homes of WGBH and PBS respectively (PBSDistribution.org, n.d.).

According to Jeffery Kaczmarczyk, an Associate Manager for PBSd, WGBH is a “key partner to our success.”

“WGBH produces several top selling PBS series so it makes perfect sense to partner with them,” Kaczmarczyk said. “WGBH also has the access to a great acquisitions team, so that we’re getting rights to the best content to distribute.”


PBSd has the rights to distribute the vast majority of content broadcast by PBS and produced by member stations, particularly WGBH. This includes award-winning dramas such as Downton Abbey and Wolf Hall, educational series such as NOVA, and children’s programming such as Arthur, Dinosaur Train, and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. PBSd also holds the rights to distribute documentary films by Ken Burns such as The Civil War and The Roosevelts (PBSDistribution.org, n.d.). In addition, PBSd will often acquire the rights to programming produced in countries outside the United States for domestic distribution (Apfel, 2016).

Business Model

As the main distributor of PBS content, PBSd operates in a number of fields including retail distribution, online distribution, and international distribution as well as a monthly catalog service. This includes distribution deals with physical stores such as Walmart, Target and BestBuy, as well as online retailers such as Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and GooglePlay (Kaczmarczyk). PBSd also offers free and discounted content for educators through the PBS Teacher Shop and PBS Learning Media (PBSDistribution.org, n.d.). It competes with the distributors of other broadcasting content, particularly for prominent placement and attention from the stores of online retailers. Another significant, though unconventional, competitor is the growing number of websites which host illegal streams and downloads of PBS programs. To combat this threat, PBSd has worked to fight pirating through legal takedowns and also by making it easier to view content through legal methods, such as official streams of programs on the PBS website that generate revenue through advertising (Apfel).

Revenue Model

About half of PBSd’s revenue comes from digital sales and the rest from sales of physical goods such as DVDs and merchandise on the company’s online store ShopPBS. On the digital side, profits can vary depending on the terms of the deal PBSd has with a certain host of content. A common occurrence is that revenue is generated by “clicks” from users on a certain product such as a video clip on YouTube or an episode on iTunes (Kaczmarczyk).

(Taken from www.reliableindex.com)

(Reliableindex.com, n.d.)

Moving Forward

In 2014, PBS was the fifth most watched broadcast and cable networks behind Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS (Press Release, 2014). At the time, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager Beth Hoppe said, “For PBS and our member stations, this growth in viewership is incredibly gratifying. We’ve been laser-focused on offering more new hours of exceptional content, creating a schedule that puts shows of similar genres on the same night, and providing better flow between programs to keep viewers tuned in. It’s a strategy that is paying off.”

In 2015, PBS was rated the most trustworthy institution by an annual national poll for the twelfth year in a row and also managed to once again rank fifth among broadcast and cable networks (PBS.org, n.d..).

The growth of PBSd is intimately linked to the growth of PBS, which makes these numbers very positive. But PBSd also has its own issues to deal with in the changing broadcasting industry.

As digital distribution has become a more vital part of the broadcasting industry, PBSd has attempted to adapt. According to Kaczmarcyk, PBSd’s digital presence has “expanded rapidly in the company’s brief history.” This includes exclusive licensing deals with online retailers like Amazon in order to match competitors such as Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS, as well as the company’s previously mentioned efforts to fight digital piracy.



Our Programs | PBSd. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2016, from http://www.pbsdistribution.org/programs/

About PBS Distribution | PBSd. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2016, from http://www.pbsdistribution.org/about/

Plumer, B. (2012, October 10). Why exactly should the government fund PBS and NPR? Retrieved February 08, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2012/10/10/why-exactly-should-the-government-fund-pbs-and-npr/

Funding. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/about/producing-pbs/funding/

WGBH executive leadership biographies. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2016, from http://www.wgbh.org/about/leadership_bios.cfm

Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/about/about-pbs/overview/

Press Releases. (2014, October 29). Retrieved February 08, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/about/blogs/news/pbs-primetime-household-rating-for-2013-2014-tv-season-ranks-5-among-all-broadcast-and-cable-networks/

Interview with Jeff Kaczmarcyk [E-mail interview]. (2016, February 6).

Interview with Daniella Apfel [Personal interview]. (2016, January 11).

Leadership | About PBS Distribution | PBSd. (n.d.). Retrieved February 09, 2016, from http://www.pbsdistribution.org/about/leadership/

Our Services | PBSd. (n.d.). Retrieved February 09, 2016, from http://www.pbsdistribution.org/services/

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