PBS app on Xbox 360 raises the bar for free content streaming on the console

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'NOVA' host Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

There’s a new PBS app available on Xbox Live, and it’s loaded with full-length episodes of the network’s top series’, as well as clips and previews of upcoming content. The full-length content is a mix of newly aired episodes and favorites from the archives. There’s a lot of stuff too, everything from Austin City Limits to NOVA to Secrets of the Dead.

Using the app is simple. Download it from the Xbox 360 dashboard’s Apps page, fire it up, input your ZIP code (or city/state) to find your local PBS station, and give the app an email address. That’s all. You don’t need to sign up or create a password or anything. Once you’re in, all of the content is accessible using a menu interface that mirrors what we’ve seen in other content streaming apps on Xbox 360 (think Netflix).

The PBS app is a sure sign the company recognizes the direction in which viewer consumption is going. Here’s a key quote from the press release, part of a statement from PBS Digital’s John Brendsel, Vice President of Product Development: “While PBS member stations will always be the first place to find high-quality PBS programming, the launch of our Xbox 360 offering recognizes that viewers are looking to engage with their local station in the time and manner they choose.”

Microsoft continues to struggle in the shadow of cable providers and their deals with existing television networks. Major streaming apps such as HBO Go and ESPN are hobbled, or even completely inaccessible, without a proper cable subscription. There’s no way, for example, to subscribe to HBO through your console, a fact which renders the network’s companion app redundant. Why would anyone in a single-TV household stream content through their console when they’ve got live viewing and likely “video on demand” as well through their cable box?

PBS isn’t a cable network, of course, but delivering a wealth of content in this new app is a step in the right direction. With the Xbox One release quickly approaching, and its much-talked-about ability to provide enhanced TV viewing experiences, Microsoft is motivated to encourage content providers to consider other delivery models. This PBS app works with a proven model, but its content is completely free to access (with an Xbox Live Gold subscription, of course). Hopefully it serves as a taste of more offerings like this to come.

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