Many readers of this weblog know that I'm a long-time general manager of public radio and television stations in the Northwest. What follows (click "Continue reading" below) is, in a sense, an "internal" memo to other public media types -- though my definition if it is broad enough to include those who might say, "we don't need no stinking transmitter."
National Public Radio, which seized the lead in new media applications among the national pubcasting organizations, however modestly, about ten months ago with the inception of its podcasting collaborative, has just concluded a series of "New Realities" retreats that independently provided a remarkably consistent view of the challenges facing public radio in the near future. I participated in three of these retreats. Independently but in parallel with this effort, I've been chairing a group of public radio and televisions stations and independent producers that has been working to help shape Open Media Network, now in a public beta and a month or a bit more away from a 1.0 launch. The perspective I'm about to attempt is colored in a good way by those experiences and by work I'm doing to develop for my organization a workable "2.0" digital distribution strategy for both broadcast and non-broadcast media applications.
Since this will be a relatively long post, please click the "Continue reading" link below if you're interested in this topic. --Dennis
I'd like to use two graphics to illustrate my points (click to enlarge). First, here's a very simplified view of "public media 1.0" vs. "public radio 2.o." It's one that's consistent with the work of the NPR retreats I mentioned at the introduction of this piece -- though it was never to my knowledge expressed this way there.
Note that in the 1.0 world, the flow of content is pretty simple -- though some entities perform more than one role (for example, nearly all stations are also producers). In the 2.0 world, the traditional content flow is disrupted by "bypass" of the traditional roles. Listeners and viewers can produce and distribute on their own. Professional producers can bypass aggregators, whether it's programming wholesalers or stations. Etc. There are arrows going everywhere. No wonder everyone is nervous.
The second graphic shows the current listening and viewing universe for the transmitter-enabled public media world.
Of the nearly 300 million people in the United States, some 32 million people 12+ listen to public radio stations at least once a week and some 85 million people 2+ watch public television stations (in each case, add 80% to approximate monthly usage). The yellow area -- those who don't use public broadcasting at all in a typical week, is large but 2004 research by the Corp. for Public Broadcasting shows that many of these have demographic and other characteristics that are consistent with public broadcasting users -- if they only had the time.
So how do we reach the roughly 200 million people in the "less than weekly" yellow area and beyond? [As a side note, already 15% of visitors to our Northwest Public Radio web site are outside the U.S. and a less precise but larger number are within the U.S. but outside our stations' coverage area.] How else can investments in on-demand content be beneficial?
I believe there is a wide-ranging group of benefits, but three stand out as accruing to public broadcasters from a multi-pronged web strategy:
- Stations can serve existing listeners and viewrs more deeply. This is by far the guiding principle behind most station web sites as well as the NPR and PBS sites, and is the focus of most current station interest in web innovations. Although it's sometimes put down as a "glorified program guide" approach, it's totally rational and is likely to remain a top priority for stations for some time. On-demand content can serve this need well -- more depth, more quantity, etc. -- with tangible benefits in traditional sources of revenue. But this isn't enough.
- Stations can improve their standing as important institutions in their communities by serving a community aggregation function for public media. More and more organizations and individuals in our communities are producing or trying to produce public media. At my university, there are 8-10 video editing stations available to students for their use in doing class assignments in lieu of or in addition to writing term papers. One high school student I know of in California has some 40 video features produced and edited. Schools, colleges, universities, museums, libraries, archives, government agencies are all in need of production, aggregation and distribution services. No, most of this stuff doesn't belong on the air when time is dear, but to apply that standard to web-based distribution is to deny the public its own voice. Nothing will provide a better demonstration to corporate, foundation and tax-based sources of your lasting value in your community, regardless of how you define it.
- Recycling the audiences from our own stations between air and the web will not be sufficient to provide the economic kryptonite we need to survive the disruptive changes in the media industry. The NPR podcasting pilot with iTunes has ably demonstrated how we can hitchhike with other brands to provide distribution into the yellow area of the universe above and beyond -- for pay if we want that, and I think we do in many cases. There are many of ways of providing services for compensation and tools available to make it successful. How-to programming could "hitchhike" with a brand like Home Depot, outdoor programming with REI, and more. Musical and news genres can be made available by subscriptions exposed through other partnerships. Get creative.
So in a nutshell, those are the three strategies that I think are most urgently needed. There are others -- B2C and B2B -- that are also promising. We urgently need to move beyond the discussion of whether we need a back-end to do this -- yes, of course we do, and it's largely here (as my late Ozark-born mother-in-law used to say, "if it was a snake, it would have bit you")-- and move to a brisk and far more important discussion of how we build our next generation of services on top of this so our mission can survive the disruptions taking place to its current vessels. Tempus fugit!