Twin Cities PBS

Streaming service review: PBS Passport

Updated on December 10, 2021

For the past few years, PBS has offered its own take on on-demand streaming services, PBS Passport. While PBS’ regular streaming app offers plenty of free programming, PBS Passport grants access to a deeper back library of shows.

Unlike other streaming services, PBS Passport is treated as a benefit for donating to your local PBS station (or your choice of station, for those in areas with multiple PBS stations). For a minimum monthly or annual donation amount ($5/month or $60/year for most stations) you’ll gain access to Passport.

PBS Passport is available through the PBS app, which is available on everything with a screen: iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, and Fire devices, all web browsers, plus several smart TV brands (Samsung, etc.). Passport-only programs are identified with a compass/star-like blue icon.

Pros of PBS Passport

PBS Passport programs
PBS Passport programs. (PBS / screenshot by author)

It’s inexpensive

Most stations request only a minimum donation of $60/year, or $5/month (as a monthly payment), to access Passport, making it one of the cheapest streaming services. Netflix by comparison is $13/month (for the high definition quality tier), while even Disney+ costs $7/month.

A large library of quality programming

PBS Passport offers an expanded back library of PBS’ various programs: “Nova,” “American Experience,” “Great Performances,” “Masterpiece,” “Great British Baking Show,” etc. There’s also some Passport exclusives, such as “Frankie Drake Mysteries” (about a pair of women private eyes in 1920s Toronto), or “Sandition” (based on an unfinished Jane Austen story).

No commercials

Like its over-the-air counterpart, there’s no commercials on PBS Passport programming. The only exceptions are pre-show bumpers pitching another PBS program or thanking “viewers like you.”

You’re supporting public broadcasting

As I said earlier, the amount paid for Passport is considered a viewer donation, and goes to support your local PBS station. (It’s also tax deductible.) Support for PBS is important, especially these days (and with funding cut threats). As a noncommercial broadcaster, your local PBS station probably needs the money a lot more than Disney or WarnerMedia does.

Cons of PBS Passport

"Frankie Drake Mysteries" on PBS Passport
“Frankie Drake Mysteries” on PBS Passport. (PBS / screenshot by author)

I admit it’s hard to think of downsides, but I came up with the following.

PBS Kids programs require a separate app

PBS’ main app doesn’t include their children’s programming (PBS Kids), and that extends to the Passport programs. Instead, users can use the separate PBS Kids streaming app, which offers a selection of episodes of all of its shows for free, and (of course) without commercials.

Some PBS programming is available on Amazon, Netflix, or Kanopy

Amazon Prime Video carries a large number of PBS programs. This includes some of the PBS Kids back catalogue, as well as a selection of PBS’ primetime shows. Amazon also offers “PBS Masterpiece” as an extra add-on option for Prime Video subscribers; $6/month gives access to a back catalog of “Masterpiece” episodes. As such, Prime Video subscribers might not want to pay for PBS Passport separately.

Netflix also carries some PBS programming, though not nearly as much as what Amazon offers.

There’s also Kanopy, a free streaming service available through some public libraries, which offers a handful of PBS programs. However, most libraries put a limit on the number of programs per month (my library’s limit is five).

That said, paying for PBS Passport sees the funds go to PBS stations directly, and without Jeff Bezos as a middleman. And unlike Netflix or Prime Video, PBS’ app also offers local programming.

PBS Passport isn’t available in Canada (or Mexico?)

PBS Passport is unavailable for Canadian PBS viewers, even if they’re donors to the PBS stations they receive (either over-the-air or through cable). This mostly affects PBS stations near the Canadian border, such as KCTS in Seattle or Detroit Public Television. Non-US programming rights and requirements for geo-blocking are to blame.

I’d assume the same goes for any Mexican viewers of PBS stations along the US/Mexico border. That said, the websites I checked for the PBS stations in San Diego (KPBS), El Paso Texas (KCOS), and San Antonio (KLRN) didn’t make this clear.

Other observations

PBS’ app is fairly easy to use, with everything reasonably well organized.

It’s also possible to bookmark (in a single playlist) one’s favorite programs, as well as programs’ individual episodes. That said, there are no user profiles offered in the PBS app.

Who should use PBS Passport?

Overall, PBS Passport’s a nice streaming service. I’d recommend it for:

  • PBS station donors.
  • Those who don’t want to pay another company like Amazon for PBS programming.
  • Those who want an inexpensive streaming service offering high quality programming.
  • Fans of particular PBS programs; “Sandition,” despite its short run, developed quite a following online.

Again, if you’re looking for PBS Kids programming, that’s available through a separate PBS Kids app for free. Still, your donation for Passport also supports PBS member stations’ kids’ programming, so both “Masterpiece” and “Molly of Denali” will benefit.

Photo by Michael Hicks. (Flickr / CC BY / cropped from original)

6 thoughts on “Streaming service review: PBS Passport

  1. PBS: PUBLIC Broadcast System.

    That’s a load of b******* that “PBS can’t AFFORD to offer free programming any longer”. That’s a total load of B*******!

    The PBS “Passport” is there to fulfill the wishes of PBS STAFF. The money goes into THEIR pockets, NOT ONE PENNY GOES TOWARDS THE PROGRAMMING! NONE OF IT!

    PBS staff needed a way to “increase payout revenue for their STAFF”. They wanted to be making the same as their “subscribers”, in excess of $100,000/per annum. That’s where the PBS Passport concept was born.

    The Corporation for Public Broadcasting contributes insane amounts of $$$ to PBS from the government.

    Both estates of Conrad Prebys and Joan Kroc gave PBS over *****3 f****** billion dollars***** which was squandered on “pay revenue for staff at the PBS stations” across the country. They needed to “make more money”. F*** THEM!

    SPEND YOU MONEY ON BRITBOX OR ACORN AND LEAVE PBS TO GROVEL FOR MONEY. I refuse to watch a station that “had good intentions in the beginning” but then slumped to “money demands”. Again f*** them!

    1. Sorry if you feel that way about PBS and PBS Passport. But for the record, PBS only gets about 14% funding from the CPB/federal government; the rest a mix of private and corporate donations. Looking up WFYI (Indianapolis’ PBS affiliate, a mid-sized TV market), the average PBS station also gets a similar percentage breakdown between CPB and viewer/corporate donations:

      https://www.pbs.org/publiceditor/blogs/pbs-public-editor/how-do-federal-get-to-your-local-station/
      https://www.wfyi.org/federal-funding-for-public-broadcasting

    1. You might want to contact the PBS affiliate your donation’s going to to ask why their live stream’s stopped. (Depending on where you live, possibly the recent weather-related problems hitting the Midwest?)

  2. The PBS Passport app for Roku is very frustrating. Mainly because it does not keep track of what you have watched and if you leave in the middle of a program it does not remember where you quit.

    1. I agree. There are times I see the choice to RESUME but more often I have to figure out which episode and where I was. I tried chatting with a tech support person who assured me I was wrong. Now I see that it’s more a Roku and Passport issue.
      I’m very happy with the content but this flaw is annoying. I did see mention of a Playlist to keep track and I’ll look for that.

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