Rebranding: How Would You Market PBS?

pbs Everyone knows that I disagree with the rebranding of SyFy.   Still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other brands out there that deserve a fresh look,  a new perspective.  When thinking about TV channels, the most misunderstood one might be the comfortable shoe that is PBS.

I am guilty of often forgetting the existence of PBS, but I have a good reason, I swear!   Growing up, my PBS station was always half-bleeding into another channel; reception was inconsistent even on its best day.   Now, however, there’s an HD PBS channel, so there’s no excuse.

Most of the problem with PBS is that it’s format was developed in another era; today it has to coexist with dozens of single-purpose stations.  To get the “feel” of PBS is almost impossible in a catchy, three-word phrase.

It’s  sort of like NPR, a little bit Discovery, with some BBC, and it’s where the grandaddy of Nick, Sprout and Disney resides.  It’s where to go for Frontline and Nova and Masterpiece Theater. Simple enough, right?

And something else that makes PBS neat, but difficult to market, is the fact that there’s really no central programming in PBS.  A station in Alabama could have a different feel than a station in Kansas.

While visiting relatives in the Midwest, I discovered their station had a sci-fi block, hosted by a guy in a cape with 70′s special effects flying around him.  The block featured episodes of Red Dwarf and Doctor Who.

In a time where so much of our television entertainment is completely homogenized, this low-budget, public-access feel is a welcome change… and again, completely impossible to market.

Perhaps the solution will be to continue to branch PBS into separate stations.  They certainly seem headed in that direction with Sprout, and PBS World, and maybe that’s the only solution that will preserve such varied programming.  In the meantime, however, maybe I should tune into PBS more often; they’re not mind readers, and they don’t necessarily know that their programming is even appreciated.   And in today’s merchandising blitz, they may need a reminder that shows like Reading Rainbow are preferable to Hannah Montana.

With Syfy it was clear that actual viewers would have rebranded it in a thousand different ways.  So how would you remarket PBS?  Do you think it even needs a new look?  Would you chop it into separate stations, or go for a bunch of different ad campaigns?  And what kind of pledge drive would ever make you actually bust out your wallet?  (I, for one, already own Riverdance DVDs, so that lure has no appeal for me.)

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