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WKAR General Manager Elkins Elected to PBS Board, College Opens NextGen Media Innovation Lab

Susi Elkins

Susi Elkins is director of broadcasting for Michigan State University and general manager of WKAR Public Media. And she has been elected to serve on the PBS Board of Directors.

“I'm really excited. I have a lot to learn,” Elkins says. “There are 27 of us on the board, and we are essentially helping govern PBS and helping them determine policy that will affect the rest of the 335 stations within the country. It’s a big responsibility, but also just really exciting for me. I intend to learn a lot and figure out how I can best help.”

Priorities for the board involve strengthening the PBS traditional over-the-air broadcasting that reaches 98 percent of the country while exploring ways to make PBS content available in a variety of emerging digital formats.

“We're about to celebrate our 50th anniversary, and so we're really focused on planning for the next five decades how we will continue to serve the citizens of the country with really important content.

“The biggest focus continues to be to maintain the trust of the public. For the 16th consecutive year, PBS and its member stations have been named number 1 in public trust among American institutions in a nationwide annual survey. But we also need to really make sure that we're focused on providing unique and diverse content for all citizens. Something that makes PBS unique and special is that we actually seek out sometimes smaller audiences to provide content that wouldn't be available anywhere else.”

Challenges and opportunities?

“We'll be making sure that we reach citizens when and where they want to enjoy our content. The digital piece is important. We really try to focus on storytelling that fosters conversation. And I think that's more important now - we often say now more than ever - but I really believe that right now as the country is grappling with a lot of different challenges that our content can really help foster those conversations that need to happen. That's a big opportunity for us.

”A challenge is that there is a lot of content available, now more than ever, and so we have to figure out our distribution models that will be convenient and appropriate for audiences. And that can be difficult. There are a lot of licensing issues and things that need to be worked out when you're dealing with streaming rights. And streaming is important if we want audiences to enjoy our content on their phones and through the apps. We reach over 126 million people through our digital properties, especially on the children’s side, like with our 24/7 PBD Kids channel.

“We're finding that the free, over the air broadcast piece continues to be extremely important. But more and more, we’re looking at digital. We have had over a billion views of our videos. We’re the number one streaming on demand service for children. But we want to make sure we're providing that content in a way that's helpful to parents and teachers. Distribution of our content is a big part of the challenge moving forward for us.”

WKAR and the Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences have opened the NextGen Media Innovation Lab. The new lab will explore applications of the newest television broadcasting standard, ATSC 3.0 technology, or NextGen TV.

“I think one of the reasons that I may have been elected to the PBS board is because of some of the innovative work that we've been doing together with the college. Dean David has been really supportive of our work in innovating around the potential new standard of ATSC 3.0.”

ATSC 3.0 technology combines broadcast and broadband and expands the potential for education, mobility, emergency alert systems, telemedicine and more.

“Another way of saying ATSC 3.O is Next Gen TV.

“We were the first public broadcasting station to receive an experimental license in this new standard from the FCC. Then we realized that as we build out the broadcast chain, we need a space where we can work with our researchers here on campus and others across the country at other stations to really think about how to use this new standard for education purposes and for the public good.

“Our friends in the commercial side of broadcasting have been innovating as well and they have been experimenting around revenue generation, ad placement, geotagging, those kinds of things, and we'll learn a lot from that. We want to stay focused on how we can use those innovations for public service, civic engagement, and education.

“One of the things that makes the public broadcasting system so special is that we have these 335 plus stations in communities across the country. Some are in large markets; some are in very small markets and serving very rural areas. The strength of stations like WKAR is what makes PBS strong. We have to make sure each station has what it needs and that they're utilizing resources in a way that serves their communities in order to remain relevant.

“At WKAR, our big focus really is to continue to serve our community by bringing them cutting edge, really interesting content from the national schedule and then filling out our local schedule with important original content created by our team here at WKAR.”

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870.

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