Ina Fried

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Ahead of New Show Debut, PBS Revamps Its Kids’ Site to Be More Mobile-Friendly

In designing its PBS Kids website, the public broadcaster pays attention to all the ways kids are different from adults — making the buttons bigger, the characters more prominent, and the content a mix of play and learning.

“Our goal is to engage them, make sure they are having fun, but teach,” said PBS VP Sara DeWitt. With 11 million unique visitors per month, DeWitt said, her team knows their site is often a child’s first experience with the Internet, and they take that opportunity seriously.

The video player on the redesigned PBS Kids Web site

But in its latest redesign, the company had to grapple with an issue facing adults and kids alike. More visits are coming from mobile devices. That meant the site needed to adapt easily to multiple screen sizes and drop Adobe Flash in favor of HTML5.

Video is an especially important component, with PBS Kids serving 200 million streams per month.

“Almost three-quarters of our video streaming traffic comes from mobile at this point,” DeWitt said in an interview.

Though not a huge change, visually, the revamp was a major commitment, involving 12 of the PBS Kids’ 20 digital staffers working since May. The influence for the redesign was the company’s existing mobile apps. The new design comes as PBS prepares to debut its newest show next week — “Peg+Cat.”

With “Peg+Cat,” PBS is also doing a new tablet app that plays on the math and music themes of the show to provide an interactive way for kids to play with the characters on the show while also learning some additional concepts. The app features both a structured “Big Gig” area that uses songs from the show and a free-play “Sound Check” zone, where kids can have a more open-ended experience.

The heavily Flash-based PBS Kids site, prior to this recent redesign.

As important as the apps and websites, DeWitt said, is coming up with things parents can do apart from the computer or tablet to build on the show’s lessons.

The educational space is a crowded one, DeWitt said, with tons of apps teaching counting and the ABCs. Increasingly, PBS is working on other areas, including social skills and decision making — areas where parents have fewer options. The recent Daniel Tiger’s Day and Night app, for example, focuses on morning and bedtime routines, while a separate PBS Parents app is designed to help spur the creativity of adults looking for non-technological ways to keep kids occupied in restaurants, car trips and other settings.

That Parents app hit home, DeWitt said, generating 700,000 downloads so far.

“It’s been much more successful than we hoped it would be,” she said.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus