Wednesday, January 23, 2008

PBS launches a nice Online Playground, and charges toll.

Is it just me, or is PBS, the not-for-profit network/channel, doing an end-around with their new site PBS Kids Play? For $9.95 a month, or $79 a year, your child can go online and play games much like those they buy on discs, with characters that they see on PBS. It looks like a very nice, very well done site, with a progress chart to let parents know that the time they spent ignoring their children was well spent. If I sound a little cynical, it is because the whole article about it in USA Today gave me a bad feeling.

I first read about the site from an RSS feed at 901 AM to USA Today . First of all, I'm not completely ignorant of the laws of economics, I know they have to find some way to pay for it, but aren't they supposed to do that with their endless begging like they do for television? The article says that free membership may be offered to donors. The site is supposed to be ad-free, so there has to be something to support it, but the tone is not one of a not-for-profit organization.
PBS Kids senior vice president Lesli Rotenberg says charging for online programming is "a new direction that is much more convenient for consumers" than packaged media such as CD-ROMs.

"This is an evolution," she says. "It's a new way to do business. And the public has always been very accepting of PBS being able to take profits from the sale of products and put them back into its media." - USA Today
The article goes on quoting the PBS executive, saying that to get this quality content, you are going to have to pay-for-it. I have two problems with that:
  • Why? Hasn't the online community found ways around that in every other area? Sure there are premium memberships, but good content is offered all over for free(period).
  • Why is PBS jumping up to start taking a profit? Though I realize it is big money and they deserve to get profits for their programming, $9.95 a month is excessive, on a Disney, Pixar or Warner Bros level.
This is a soon-to-be lucrative area. All of the fore-mentioned players are stepping up to the plate, and PBS should be playing the modest, for-the-good-of-the-kids providers. If the rationale is that only well-to-do families will have access to this area.. wake up, every child should have this access, without Mommy and Daddy having a gold card.

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