The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is one of five national networks in the United States, and like all national networks, programming is broadcast by local affiliate stations. This system allows stations to air nationally produced programs while retaining the freedom to include local productions or productions of local interest on independent schedules. When satellite television was first introduced, providers did not have the ability to carry local stations, so PBS saw a need to create a national version that could be included in satellite channel lineups.
PBS boasts a viewership of more than 217 million people, which includes 90 percent of all U.S. households. As of 2013, the network had 351 member stations in all 50 states and most U.S. territories, and it is recognized as the leader in educational television programming and TV programs about the arts. PBS has been called the largest classroom in America and the largest stage in the nation for the performing arts, and it differs from the other networks in that it is a nonprofit organization. Because of its nonprofit status, PBS relies on federal funding and private donations to keep its programs on the air.
PBS was founded in 1969, and programming first began to be broadcast in 1970. Many of the programs aired are produced nationally and distributed for a fee to licensed member stations. For most of the organization’s existence, PBS had no national programming schedule, but the introduction of satellite technology presented an opportunity for the network to create a national schedule of programs that could be delivered to satellite television subscribers.
Although most PBS programs are educational in nature, the network also carries other popular programs, many of which were produced in the UK. These British programs run through several genres and include such titles as Doctor Who, The Benny Hill Show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers.
PBS Member Stations
PBS affiliates, known as PBS member stations, fall into two groups: community organizations and licensees. Community organizations may be operated by municipal governments, state agencies, colleges or universities, and of the 351 total stations, 84 fall into this category. The remaining 267 member stations are operated by 161 independent, nonprofit organizations, which are the licensees.
PBS member stations are responsible for producing local programming, licensing national programming and creating schedules for airing the programs. This means that the schedules of local PBS stations are all different from one another even though they carry many of the same shows.
When satellite providers became popular, PBS created a national feed because satellite TV did not support local stations at that time. The national PBS channel reaches many households that are in areas outside the broadcast range of local affiliates, but every effort is made to lead viewers to local PBS stations whenever possible. One of the ways this is accomplished is by airing primetime programming one day later on the national channel than on local channels. However, several time-sensitive programs continue to air on the same day, including Wall Street Week, Charlie Rose, Jim Lehrer and Washington Week in Review.