The Public Broadcasting Service, the U.S. broadcaster of Britain’s “Downton Abbey,” will unveil its U.K. venture on Nov. 1 with an episode of the “Nova” science show, part of an effort to add earnings abroad.
PBS’s U.S.-made television programs, including documentary series “Frontline” and “American Experience,” and content from its archives will be available to U.K. customers on British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc’s Sky service, said Rebecca Edwards, head of PBS’s marketing in the U.K. The company is still in talks with Virgin Media about carrying the channel, she said.
PBS U.K. was formed as a partnership between the U.S. TV network’s distribution business and David Lyons, head of energy company Orca Exploration Group. Richard Kingsbury, a former executive at satellite-channel operator UKTV who is general manager of the venture, said he sees PBS’s U.K. channel as a complement to the British Broadcasting Corp., catering “intelligent” content from the U.S. to British audiences.
“The people that have the feeling that some shows have been dumbed down a little bit,” Kingsbury said in an interview in London. “These are the people PBS will appeal to.”
The PBS lineup will heavily feature documentaries and history programs, said Kingsbury, who previously ran the Good Food and Yesterday channels for UKTV, a venture of the BBC and Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.
Spokesmen at the London-based BBC didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed message seeking comment.
The U.K. branch of Alexandria, Virginia-based PBS will operate much like BBC Worldwide, a profit-making enterprise managed separately from the BBC’s main nonprofit, publicly financed arm, that will ideally generate money for its parent, Kingsbury said. The PBS U.K. office in East London has four full-time employees and another dozen freelancers. That number may grow as the channel’s distribution and viewers expand.
PBS U.K. initially won’t have some shows that have become a hallmark of the channel in the U.S., such as the children’s program “Sesame Street” that has been airing for more than four decades, as it continues to secure rights to programs not wholly owned by the parent company, Kingsbury said yesterday.
“Downton Abbey,” a drama set in early 20th century England that won four awards at the Emmys last month, and programs that require music rights may also not appear at first, he said. London-based ITV Plc’s terrestrial network already broadcasts “Downton Abbey” to British audiences.
PBS U.K. may seek rights to broadcast programs not owned by the U.S. parent, though it will primarily use what’s available in the archives, Kingsbury said.
While PBS has sold programs to the U.K. through its distribution arm, which is also helping manage the new venture, some channels have become more reluctant to use its content and what does appear isn’t clearly branded as a PBS show, he said.
“A lot of networks don’t like to take programs from others,” he said. “The BBC used to pick up quite a lot, but I guess they’re under pressure not to acquire.”