If you grew up in the United States, or even have fond memories of the children’s TV show Sesame Street, you’re probably very familiar with the media company Public Broadcasting Service, more affectionately known as PBS. Publicly-funded and education-centric, the non-profit brand was founded almost 50 years ago and works with its member stations across the nation to provide programming which informs both young and old. PBS covers a variety of topics as a media brand, covering genres ranging from entertainment to education to science and tech. Overall, PBS describes itself and its partner stations as “America’s largest classroom, the nation’s largest stage for the arts and a trusted window to the world.”
Over the years, PBS has had to adapt from its origins in traditional television to the ever-increasing digital media landscape. As more and more audiences turn to mobile devices to watch video content, PBS has made sure it’s not missing out on the opportunity to reach these viewers. In 2017 alone, the media organization pulled in 316.6 million total views on its titular social video accounts alone! This doesn’t even count the millions of views it’s generated on the accounts of its other owned and operated properties. Curious how PBS did it? Let’s take a deeper look at the media company’s social video strategy.
PBS Has Found a Home on Facebook and YouTube
According to Tubular’s software, 26 different video accounts are credited to PBS as a parent company. These channels and publishers include the video platforms of some of PBS’s 350 local partner stations across the United States, as well as more specialized, top-level outlets like NOVA and PBS Digital Studios. The majority of views each month across all these PBS accounts hail from Facebook and YouTube, with a dash of eyeballs from a few videos on Instagram and Twitter.
While each of these channels undoubtedly offers their own unique insights into their particular audiences and industries, let’s first focus on the primary PBS account itself. Across the four social platforms noted above, PBS boasts nearly 6.8 million followers, with the most (3.6 million) found on Facebook. Most of the publisher’s followers hail from the United States, with the largest U.S. audience at 95% following the PBS Facebook account. What are all these fans watching on these social platforms? They gravitate to the trailers, show recaps, teasers, and documentary-style pieces PBS uploads on a regular basis (ironically, most of these promote traditional television programs instead of just digital series, a tactic we’ll address at the end of this article).
On Facebook, for example, the most-watched clip is a fascinating mini-documentary detailing the takeoff of the world’s largest airplane. This video, uploaded back in February 2017, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the aircraft’s pilots and just how much coordination and engineering it takes to get the massive 500-ton “city in the sky” off the runway. Overall, the clip boasts 22.5 million views to date and is the #1 most-viewed piece not just on PBS’s Facebook account, but across all its social accounts of all time!
Go inside the cockpit of the world's biggest plane as it takes off. #CityintheSkyPBS premieres Weds, Feb 8 at 10/9c. http://to.pbs.org/2jDgZH5
Posted by PBS on Thursday, February 2, 2017
The publisher’s second most-watched clip of all time is also its most-watched ever on YouTube. This video is a preview trailer for the PBS show Nature, and shows a montage of baby animals in their first few days of life. Uploaded in October 2009, the video is has attracted 13.5 million total views. Finally, let’s take a look at PBS’s third most-viewed video ever, which also claims the honor of most-engaged clip across all of the brand’s content on all platforms. The 2015 video features the Sesame Street character Cookie Monster doling out life advice to adults, which entertained enough people to generate 11.6 million views to date and an average 30-day engagement rate (ER30) of 0.8x:
Cookie Monster's advice is truly timeless. More Everything But the News: youtube.com/everythingbutthenewsSesameStreet.org youtube.com/sesamestreet
Posted by PBS on Wednesday, March 18, 2015
A very interesting aspect to note about this last video is its end title and the description PBS published on Facebook. The Cookie Monster-starring clip ends with a still shot promoting not just sesamestreet.org, but also the show’s official YouTube channel and the channel for PBS Digital Studios’ Everything But the News. Likewise, Sesame Street’s YouTube channel is prominently linked in the Facebook video’s description. Why might this be? Keep reading to find out…
These Are PBS’s Top 5 Video Channels
So we know how PBS’s primary channel operates and attracts views on a regular basis, but what about some of its subsidiary properties? To answer that question, let’s take a look at the top five most-watched channels and publishers from last month. Here’s which PBS properties pulled in the most views across Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram in March 2018:
- PBS (22.6 million views)
- Crash Course (21.4 million views)
- PBS NewsHour (21.3 million views)
- PBS Kids (18.5 million views)
- Deep Look ᐧ PBS (5.5 million views)
The top honors go to the main PBS property itself, which raked in a solid 22.6 million views last month. The majority of these at 18.3 million came from Facebook, followed by 4.2 million on YouTube and 106K on Instagram. The most popular video in March was ironically uploaded on the month’s very last day; the trailer for PBS Masterpiece’s film The Child in Time, starring the much-loved Benedict Cumberbatch, has already generated 185K views, with 56.3K of these appearing on its first day of going live!
Witness a lyrical and heart-breaking exploration of love, loss, and the power of things unseen. The Child in Time on MASTERPIECE | PBS airs tonight at 9/8c. #ChildInTimePBS
Posted by PBS on Sunday, April 1, 2018
Next up in March was Crash Course, the education-based channel launched by the famous vloggers, brothers, and VidCon co-founders Hank and John Green. Nearly all of Crash Course’s 21.4 million views came from YouTube, which isn’t surprising considering that’s the primary platform for the channel’s content. Both PBS and Crash Course seem to use Instagram and Facebook videos to supplement what’s being taught on the brand’s YouTube channel.
The third and fourth most-watched PBS channels last month also saw most of their views on YouTube. PBS NewsHour, which produces news broadcasts and analysis, pulled in 12.5 million of its total 21.3 million views from YouTube alone. Likewise, PBS Kids saw an overwhelming majority of its viewership on YouTube, where it generated 18.3 million of its total 18.5 million views in March. Finally, we have Deep Look, a science show/video series from PBS Digital Studios and California station KQED which uses macro photography and microscopic shots to “see science up close.” This show is only found on Facebook’s Watch platform, where the account saw 5.5 million views in March.
PBS Boasts a Masterpiece Multiplatform Video Strategy
Now that we’ve looked at all this data and how it’s not all restricted to one social account, we can clearly see PBS has mastered the art of a multiplatform social video strategy. The brand has figured out not just what types of content audiences what to watch, but also where they want to watch it. PBS isn’t afraid to cross-promote its other social accounts (as we saw with the Cookie Monster clip earlier), nor is it worried about pushing digital viewers to linear to gain more viewership there, too.
Let’s take the PBS Kids channel, for example. Roughly 21.6% of its audience is females aged 25-34, and it’s fairly safe to assume they’re millennial mothers showing content to their young children via the YouTube or YouTube Kids app. This same content wouldn’t work to attract views on Facebook, which currently has no dedicated, child-focused video section and tends to boast an older user base. However, this is also likely why PBS worked with Watch to release Deep Look on that platform, because the show boasts some episodes which talk about decidedly more mature themes like animal sex.
The ultimate takeaway from PBS’s story? It pays to smartly diversify your online video strategy, distributing across different applicable platforms to reach as many interested followers as possible. Where will you release a video next?