Updated on August 17, 2022
PBS, the nation’s noncommercial public broadcaster, hasn’t received as much attention as other media outlets when it comes to streaming. Still, PBS has found ways to make its programming available to viewers who don’t have cable TV or can’t pick up PBS with an antenna.
PBS is now available on YouTube TV
In December, PBS finally debuted as a live streaming service on YouTube TV. At the start, 100 of PBS’ 300+ affiliates signed on; as of this writing, over 200 affiliates have joined. So far, the other major live streaming services (Sling, Hulu Live TV, etc.) haven’t announced any plans to carry PBS.While over-the-air channels are carried by some live streaming services, until recently, it was largely just the “Big Four” networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox). PBS had been left out of the live streaming rush. (PBS Kids, its children’s programming arm, has had its own live stream for several years now.)
One of the reasons PBS took this long is its nature as a network. PBS relies on its various affiliates for much of its programming, and doesn’t own any of its own affiliates. Much of PBS’ primetime programming is also imported from sources like the BBC, and thus clearing streaming rights requires more work.
As for YouTube (the popular video site), PBS does offer some of its programs for free through several channels, including PBS’ own channel, “Frontline,” “PBS NewsHour,” and PBS Kids.
An on-demand streaming alternative: PBS Passport
That said, PBS does offer its own app on all major platforms (iOS, Android, Roku, etc.). The app carries a handful of recent PBS programs, including “PBS Newshour” and “Frontline.”
There’s also PBS’ Passport streaming service. For what’s usually a $5/month or $60/year donation to your local PBS affiliate, Passport offers as a benefit access to a sizable library of programs. Series available include “Masterpiece,” “The Great British Baking Show,” “Austin City Limits,” and so forth. My PBS affiliate, Seattle’s KCTS, states it offers over 1500 episodes of programming through Passport.
While Passport is available anywhere in the US, it’s not available to Canadian viewers, due to geoblocking and the nature of country-specific programming deals. (Several border-city PBS affiliates, including KCTS, rely on Canadian viewers for donations.) PBS Kids shows also aren’t included on Passport at this time. I assume that’s due to PBS Kids having its own free service and existing deals with Amazon Prime Video.
Still, Passport is much cheaper than the $50/month that YouTube TV charges, and the money more directly goes to supporting PBS.
Photo by Michael Hicks. (Flickr / CC BY / cropped from original)