Last week, thirteen PBS stations from across the country kicked off the Merlin Pilot program. So far, stations participating in the pilot have seen a demo of the Merlin Admin tool and discussed the ways they will need to begin preparing content for the Merlin database. Next week, the pilot participants will be experimenting with an especially exciting new feature: content channels.
In short, a content channel is defined as a group of content bound by an organizing editorial concept. Any content submitted to the Merlin database must be assigned to a specific content channel.
Then, when content is presented to viewers, Merlin uses the content channels to associate links and content to their appropriate station or over-arching brand.
For example, Chicago's WTTW can set up a content channel for Chicago Tonight, a local evening news program with a strong online presence. WTTW may also set up more specific sub-content channels for other Chicago Tonight brands, such as its unPHILtered and More on the Story blogs.
We settled on the term "Content Channel" rather than "Program" to recognize the fact that we're operating in a digital realm where rich content sources may not have a related program or on-air element. For example, KQED's Bay Area Bites blog may have enough unique content to warrant a content channel of its own.
However, more isn't necessarily better when it comes to content channels. They can only serve as powerful promotional tools if they provide a vibrant and varied set of content to online audiences. As a general rule of thumb, content channels should be created for content that has a distinct station brand or logo. Instead of listing smaller programs or blogs within their own content channels, some stations may decide to group content into broader channels such as "WHYY Specials" or "KNME Election Coverage."
During the Merlin pilot program, the SPI team will be working with stations to refine recommendations and best practices around local content strategy and the creation of content channels.
As PBS continues to test and tweak the redesigned PBS.org, local stations should start evaluating their content and thinking about a content channel strategy. How could you break your existing content down into content channels? Remember: the best content channels will provide viewers with a variety of articles, videos, photos, and interactive elements.
For more information on Merlin, be sure to visit the SRC Merlin Resource Center.