PBS Inks Pact for Future Seasons of Downton Abbey on Amazon

Digitally expanding public broadcaster also develops kids' app for Kindle

PBS and Amazon.com have signed a new multi-year deal for content including more NOVA, more Masterpiece and several Ken Burns documentaries (notably The Civil War). Kids shows like Arthur, Wild Kratts and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood (a spinoff of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, already on Amazon along with Sesame Street) will join the fold, as will additional episodes of Calliou and Dinosaur Train. Those kids' series are among the many that PBS will make available in a new Kindle app for children called FreeTime Unlimited, which also includes educational games (and a time lock for parents). 

Financial terms were not disclosed, but PBS reported $46 million in undesignated video revenue in 2011, when the companies last signed an agreement. So expect the figure to be somewhere north of that, given the deal's biggest component: exclusive streaming rights to future seasons of Downton Abbey, starting with the recent Season 3. Amazon snatched the show away from Netflix earlier this year; now it looks like it's staying with the e-tailing giant for a while to come. Brad Beale, director of digital video content acquisition for Amazon, noted in a statement that the series "is continually one of the most watched shows of all time on Prime Instant Video.”

PBS has been quietly reinventing itself for the digital age with apps on Roku, XBox and others (no PS3 yet) that include highlights from its vast library of educational and arts content. Given the broadcaster's unique mandate, PBS's willingness to put its shows on streaming services at no cost to the consumer have resulted in an odd visibility advantage over its more money-minded peers. Try finding new episodes of Dora the Explorer, and you'll end up paying through the nose; look for The Electric Company, and you're set for no more than you're already paying for your Internet subscription.

Jason Seiken, gm of digital for PBS, told Adweek last week that the company was foremost seeking to fulfill its mandate to provide a public service. PBS is developing a sponsorship model to help support its new initiatives, but it has already invested in a slick new website, an iPad app with many of the shows above available to watch and a series of clever auto-tuned videos

"Giving viewers access to our library of past programs through digital platforms like Prime Instant Video complements our broadcast service and is an important part of our strategy to reach new audiences," Seiken said in a statement.