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PBS Is Missing From Streaming Lineups, and That Needs to Change

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Remember when people would try to bolster their intellectual and cultural cred with a dismissive "I don't watch television?" or "I only watch PBS?" You don't hear that much anymore, thanks in part to the fact that we're living through a second golden age of television. It's also due to the fact that, for cord cutters at least, PBS content is harder to find than it used to be.

As a subscriber to Hulu + Live, one of my few major complaints is that while I can get my local network affiliates, my PBS station is missing. Hulu isn't alone in this; PBS is absent from all the vMVPDs, and it's not the vMVPD's fault. PBS senior director of corporate communications Aparna Kumar told Cord Cutters News last year that the reason is simple: local PBS stations don't have live linear streaming rights.

All kidding about TV snobbery aside, the lack of PBS content on vMVPDs is a problem. Ever since the FCC reserved lower FM frequencies for non-commercial, educational stations in the 1940s, public broadcasting has been a crucial part of our culture. Its importance was further cemented by the passage of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS, which works with local affiliates to deliver content that's educational, less prone to political extremes, and unbeholden to advertisers. We can argue about the degree to which it's met those goals, but the bottom line is that PBS has always provided an alternative to commercial television's worst tendencies.

Of course, in 1967 nobody foresaw the rise of OTT or the licensing labyrinth it would create. Thankfully, PBS is actively working on getting on vMVPDs, according to comments made by PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger on Saturday. Even better, the network is doing so in a way that will stay true to its mission. “The more that we can continue to focus on that unique aspect of the fact that we are a media service that lives and breathes at the community level and that there's stuff there that they can't find on Netflix, that is going to be of great value,” Kerger said, according to TV Technology.

When can we expect to see PBS in skinny bundles? Kerger didn't say, but it sounds like it's not far off. In the meantime, some PBS content is available in the broadcaster's app, and there's always OTA. I'm just hoping it's on Hulu when Ken Burns's Country Music premieres in September.

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