Prepping a Show for Delivery to PBS
Are you in the midst of putting your heart and soul into a documentary project and see PBS as a likely distribution platform down the road? Perhaps you’re applying for a grant for your project and want to be sure you include PBS deliverables in your budget. Maybe your documentary is already finished, you have interest from a PBS station and it’s time to prep the show to meet their delivery requirements.
- What does the process look like?
- What do you need to budget for?
- What are the common pitfalls?
We help producers deliver programming to PBS stations across the country and can help you through the process no matter where you are in your production timeline.
What is PBS?
The Public Broadcasting System (or PBS) is a non-profit organization and the most prominent provider of educational programming and support services to public television stations in the United States. PBS has over 350 member stations, and they have latitude in what programming they schedule, usually choosing to air a mix of nationally distributed PBS content and content that is of local interest to the market in which that member station operates. If you’re a producer interested in getting your program onto PBS, we recommend starting here:
If you’re looking for funding to finish your show, you’ll likely need to apply through a specific organization or an established anthology series (not PBS or a member station). Here is an archived list of opportunities and what kinds of programs they typically fund: http://archive.pov.org/filmmakers/resources/public-media-funding.php
There are many entities that are colloquially referred to as “PBS,” including PBS national, local PBS stations, APT (American Public Television), NETA (National Educational Telecommunications Association), NETA+ etc. Each entity within this PBS ecosystem has slightly different requirements for programming delivery. In fact, up to 50% of the prep work we do to deliver shows can be different depending upon the entity to which you’re delivering your show.
I want my film distributed on PBS. What next?
If you’re early in the production process, you may not know exactly what part of the PBS ecosystem will be interested in your show, but you’ll need to answer many of the questions below regardless of what PBS entity you end up working with. Your goal should be to budget for the work you think you’ll need to do to prep your program for PBS.
PBS will want you to do all the work get your show or series ready-to-air
Don’t expect PBS to do any post production work on your program. They will want you to deliver a show that is completely finished and meets their specifications. Many documentaries start on the festival circuit, then air on PBS. You’ll likely need to make at least some changes to your program to make it “PBS-ready.”
Get exact specifications from your PBS station
These specifications will help guide you as you prep your program. Some of the action items arising from the questions below will fall to the producer’s editing team, and some may be handled by a team like ours as we prep the show for final delivery.
- Any non-English language in the program will need to be translated and subtitled
- Your film may reference your website or where to buy DVDs. Check with PBS to determine if this will need to be changed or removed.
- What total run time (TRT) is acceptable?
- Does the program need to end on an exact 00 frame? (For example, do you need a TRT of 01:56:04:00 exactly or is 01:56:04:12 acceptable?)
- Does your PBS outlet have a logo that needs to be attached to the end of the credits?
- Does a TV Ratings Bug need to be added to the top left corner of the video at the head of the show? If so, what is that rating?
- Every PBS entity has slightly different rules regarding credits and the “Special Thanks” section. Find out what these rules are for your program.
- To what audio peak levels, LKFS specifications and audio track configuration must the show adhere?
- What file type is acceptable for the deliverable?
- Does the file need a head slate and if so, what information should it include?
- Does the file need some amount of silent black at the end after program?
- Does the show need to be closed captioned?
- How does PBS want the closed captioning delivered?
- Does this PBS entity have an FTP that shows should be uploaded to, or does it need to be posted somewhere from which PBS can download it?
We often work with producers to provide final finishing services (like sound design and mix, color correction or online editing), but in a number of cases our work starts when the producer has an HD 1080i/59.94 drop frame cut of the program with content locked for PBS.
At that point, we receive a flattened ProRes .mov or .mxf of the final program with stereo full mix on channels 1&2. From there, we prep the program for delivery, conduct a thorough quality control evaluation (QC), and upload final deliverables to our FTP site or another site as required.
We have extensive experience helping producers from all across the country meet PBS specifications and deliver programming. Please reach out to us if we can help you navigate the PBS delivery process.