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The entire Ken Burns collection will also be available to stream via Passport, the OTT service available to PBS members through their local stations. Both platforms benefit public television, which Burns is passionate about. He called the new channel unique in putting such a large body of quality work in one place.
“The art form has become so eclectic and people will have an opportunity to appreciate the different approaches to making documentaries,” he told Deadline. Documentaries have gained wide acceptance in recent years in “a combination of the power of storytelling and the desire to understand a complicated world.” He said he is currently finishing a three-part series on Ernest Hemingway that will air in the spring of 2021, and that he is working on projects around Muhammad Ali, the Holocaust, Benjamin Franklin and the American Revolution.
“PBS has become the premier destination for documentary programming in the United States and has invested enormously in giving films by various emerging storytellers and filmmakers that need much-needed national exposure,” Stanley Nelson said in a statement.
PBS Distriibution selected the list of documentaries. Frontline executive producer Raney Aronson said the channel will launch with approximately 100 of the 700 films in the series from the past 38 years. “I like that they include so many movies from so many years, it gives an idea of the Frontline narrative.”
“I really hope more people can see them,” he added. “We all look forward to sustainability … and this is part of that puzzle.”
The documentation channel began to take shape late last year, said Andrea Downing, co-chair of PBSD when the division launched three subscription channels. In addition to Masterpiece, she has PBS KIDS (2016) and PBS Living (2019). “Revenue is incredibly important to the system,” he said. With the PBS Documentaries, “We believe we have a really strong product at the right price.”
PBS is a complex universe with 330 independent member stations that have widely divergent resources. Revenue from old-fashioned local promise remains crucial for many of them, so the debate over migrating content to newer platforms is very much alive, although the stations mostly acknowledge the need to meet viewers, especially to the youngest, where they are. PBS launched Passport in 2016 and helped update the stations one by one to make them available to donating members, usually $ 5 a month. After more heavy lifting, local stations began broadcasting live on YouTube TV in late 2019.