WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS America (JV)
PBS Distribution (PBSd), formerly known as PBS Ventures and Public Media Distribution, is the home video distribution unit of American television network PBS. The company releases and sells home videos of PBS series and movies and PBS Kids series in various formats.
It is currently distributing PBS programs and movies on DVD, Blu-ray, digital downloads, and streaming media and PBS Kids programs on DVD. In 2017 independent films produced by PBSd were added for theatrical distribution and home video releases.
When they decided to gain wider distribution in 1989, PBS Home Video, Inc. began several decades of going through commercial distributors. New releases from 1989 to 1994 were distributed by Pacific Arts. However, in the early 1990s, Pacific Arts and PBS went through a series of serious disagreements. Lawsuits were filed: by Nesmith and Pacific Arts against PBS for breach of contract, intentional misrepresentation (fraud), intentional concealment (fraud), negligent misrepresentation, and interference with contract; and by PBS against Nesmith and Pacific Arts for lost royalties. The lawsuits escalated in 1994 and 1995 into major litigation between the parties over these rights and payments. PBS and Nesmith and Pacific Arts vigorously prosecuted these multimillion-dollar counter-suits.
The six plaintiffs included PBS, including WGBH in signings, WNET in signings, American Documentaries and Radio Pioneers Film Project (production companies owned by producer Ken Burns), and the Children's Television Workshop. They sought approximately $5 million in disputed royalties, advances, guarantees, and license fees for programs and the use of the PBS logo from the defendants Pacific Arts and Nesmith.
Due to the cost of the litigation, Pacific Arts was forced to cease distribution operations, and suspended the use of the PBS logo on the Pacific Arts videos. Though Pacific Arts distribution system had ceased operating, the various plaintiffs were counting on capturing a personal financial guarantee Nesmith had made to PBS in the original PBS deal in 1990.
The cases went to jury trial in Federal Court in Los Angeles in February 1999.
By the end of the trial, the judge and jury were leaning toward Nesmith's (Pacific Arts) counterclaims. Henry Gradstein, lead attorney for Nesmith, contended in a brief that the company's video rights were worth enough for it to have paid off any proper debts to the producers. But, he said, PBS had concocted a "dastardly scheme, which was played out with military precision, to strip Pacific Arts of its assets by inducing Pacific Arts not to file bankruptcy, by lulling it into a sense of security while it organized a mass termination of Pacific Arts' licenses."
After three days of deliberation, the nine-person jury unanimously agreed with Gradstein and found PBS liable for breach of contract, intentional misrepresentation (fraud), intentional concealment (fraud), negligent misrepresentation, and interference with contract. The court awarded Pacific Arts $14,625,000 for loss of its rights library, plus $29,250,000 in punitive damages. The jury awarded $3 million to Nesmith personally, including $2 million in punitive damages for a total award to Nesmith and Pacific Arts of $48,875,000. The jury resolved the outstanding license fee issues by ordering Pacific Arts and Nesmith to pay approximately $1.2 million to American Documentaries for The Civil War, about $230,000 to WGBH, and $150,000 to WNET.
Following the ruling, Nesmith expressed his personal disappointment with PBS, and was quoted by BBC News as stating "It's like finding your grandmother stealing your stereo. You're happy to get your stereo back, but it's sad to find out your grandmother is a thief."
The decision never went to an appeals court and the final amount paid to Pacific Arts and Nesmith was an undisclosed sum agreed to in an out-of-court settlement.
In 1994, PBS moved to distribution through Turner Home Entertainment. In 1997, when Turner Home Entertainment's parent company merged with Time Warner, distribution was through Warner Home Video until 2004.
From 2004 to 2011 distribution was through Paramount Home Media Distribution.
PBS Home Video became independent again in 2011, and was renamed PBS Distribution—PBSd. It is jointly owned by PBS and the WGBH Educational Foundation. It is currently distributing PBS programs and movies on DVD, Blu-ray, digital downloads, and video on demand and PBS Kids programs on DVD. In 2017 independent films produced by PBSd were added for cinema and home video releases. PBS International offers factual content for broadcast, cable, and satellite services internationally.
After a backlash from filmmakers over WNET's attempts to move independent documentary series to its secondary station's channel, PBS took feedback from the documentary community and developed an indie film strategy.
Through Independent Lens, PBS acquired Stanley Nelson’s documentary film The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. The history of The Black Panthers was especially timely due to the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement's growth. The film was first released in theaters in late 2015, then had a special nationwide public television premiere in late 2016.
PBSd expanded its operation to included theatrical distribution of documentary films by hiring Erin Owens as PBS Distribution's Head of Theatrical Distribution; and Emily Rothschild as Director of Theatrical Acquisitions and Marketing. Owens and Rothschild had just worked with PBS on Stanley Nelson's The Black Panthers distribution.
The operations expansion of PBSd was announced at the Sundance Film Festival on 19 January 2017. The company plans to get theatrical and non-theatrical rights for up to six feature-length documentaries to release per year.
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