Sara DeWitt Talks PBS KIDS Strategy


Sara DeWitt, senior VP and general manager at PBS KIDS, told TV Kids Festival delegates about the broadcaster’s mission and commissioning and acquisition strategies.

“Our goal at PBS is to be thinking about being as accessible to as many kids as possible,” said DeWitt in her conversation with TV Kids’ Kristin Brzoznowski, which you can view here.

“Our support is steady,” said DeWitt on how PBS is managing the current upheaval in the market. “We have been able to stay the course. It’s more important than ever that we’re here—that the U.S. has an accessible, engaging media option for kids that’s also noncommercial and isn’t feeling the same pressures in the same way. We are trying to think about how we are having an impact on kids and making sure that we can reach as many kids as possible throughout the country. We aren’t having to watch that bottom line in the same way that a lot of others in the industry are.”

DeWitt then talked about the commissioning approach at PBS KIDS, where the focus is on children 2 to 8. “Our commissioning strategy for a couple of decades has been looking beyond just linear, thinking about the multiplatform options from the beginning. We have to think about how IP can be operating in all of these different spaces.” That includes gaming extensions, short-form for YouTube and podcasts. “That’s where I think the real magic is right now.”

Like many other broadcasters, PBS KIDS is also focused on “substance over volume” in its commissions. “We also think about how we can fill gaps. What kinds of things are kids missing right now?” These include early literacy and math skills following the learning loss during Covid-19.

As for acquisitions, DeWitt described them as “limited. We’re really looking for opportunities to diversify our slate. We’re looking for content that really fits nicely with the PBS KIDS mission, our values and our goals. And acquisitions are a good opportunity for us to experiment with different ways of engaging with the audience. But we don’t do them as often. We’re really more focused on commissioned projects.”

Drilling down on what makes for a good PBS KIDS show, DeWitt noted that it’s a “creator-driven” network on the hunt for talent that “has a real passion for storytelling and has a story they want to share, something that we think is going to resonate with kids and inspire the audience’s passion for learning. We need to feel like the creators understand where we’re coming from, understand the values of PBS KIDS and the mission of reaching all kids, of being as accessible as possible.”

That includes a commitment to representation and accessibility—including reaching kids who may not have constant access to high-speed internet. “A lot of our producers are excited about that mission, thinking about not only how their storytelling can resonate with these kids but how the games that they create alongside can work on lower-end devices, can work in and out of Wi-Fi, so that kids can take content with them.”

Community outreach is also crucial, she said. “What kind of play patterns is it going to inspire? What kinds of things could a librarian, a teacher or an afterschool educator use from this show to help extend the learning in that space?”

Linear broadcast is still crucial given the PBS KIDS mission of reaching all kids, including those who don’t have regular broadband access, supplemented by a streaming network that delivers long- and short-form content, a YouTube channel and gaming, which DeWitt referred to as PBS KIDS’ “fastest-growing platform.” Podcasts have become increasingly important, especially those that deliver family co-listening experiences.

Talking more about gaming, DeWitt noted, “For a very long time, we’ve asked our producers to think as they’re developing the show what would lend itself well to a game. We want to make sure that those same writers are writing the game dialog. We want this to be a very organic experience. Games don’t just have to be mindless time. The games can reinforce what the kids are learning in the show. We offer the largest library of educational games for kids 2 to 8.”

That lineup runs across 350 games, many of which are also available in Spanish. “Over 40 million games are played on that app on average every month.”

On the value of PBS KIDS and its mission, DeWitt wrapped up her keynote by noting, “We want to help people think about how they can use media for positive things. We want to create media that inspires kids to keep exploring and learning beyond the screen and to help people understand that they can leverage that media for learning at home. There is content out there that is high quality, educational and developmentally appropriate for kids.”