Stephen Hill has posted some comments that he made about digital distribution at the invitation of public radio's Station Resource Group. From Stephen you would expect passion, insight, experience and an illuminated path on display. He doesn't disappoint. Link: Spatial Relations.
I was also invited to send comments and did so. They were divided between the subjects of digital distribution and relating to a specific application. I've posted only the first part below (which touches on both public radio and public television) in the "Continue reading" area below. --Dennis
Digital distribution consortim
Comments by Dennis Haarsager Feb. 11, 2007 relating to an on-going discussion in the public radio community relating to the need to create a digital distribution mechanism for the industry.
In the past two years, I've spoken to 8-10 stations or groups of stations about becoming digital public media organizations, by which I mean serving our mission through a combination of legacy services and services enabled by the disruptive influences overtaking electronic media today. My takeaway is that people in public broadcasting view the role of new media primarily as a servant to their legacy services, not so much as a new way of accomplishing our mission. I'd argue that this misses some of the most compelling benefits that new media can provide.
That’s not to say that new revenue isn’t an important goal, because there is significant new direct revenue to be had from digital distribution modes. The DDC work on revenue for audio, OMN's analysis for video, and Stephen Hill's extrapolation of his experience with HoS, all point to real money. If only for this reason alone, we should be pushing forward on a collaborative DDC-like solution – though I think that prevailing notions about execution risk failure.
The greatest risk of failure comes from limiting DDC activities to super-serving the public radio audience.
- First, public radio by itself does not have enough scale -- nor does public television, nor do the many transmitterless public media entities. I'd be very liberal about who we admit to a public new media consortium as have PRX and OMN. If public radio and television can't come together on this, then we deserve the failure we’ll suffer. Further, I'd argue that we should greatly expand our content nets to other non-profits, educational institutions, government agencies, etc. in part to gain scale for public service media.
- Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, new media users come to our content via search, referrals, syndication and heuristics. People use new media differently -- they just don't start out looking for something by thinking, OK, I'm going to go here to see what public radio is offering, and then I'm going to go there to see what public television is offering. Television and radio broadcasting are historical communities based on transmitter contours that mean a lot to us but mean absolutely zero to the on-demand consumer. New media communities are often not geographical but rather built on other common interests. To the degree we re-segregate ourselves online to the same degree we continue to do so in the broadcast world, we will quickly fail.
Success will require that most players in the system believe they are benefiting from a DDC, not just the content owners at the fat end of the power curve. But even though the direct revenue from new media sources is compelling and benchmarks exist, relatively few players will share in the benefits -- at least if you just look at payments to producers. The potential of revenue from retailer roles for stations is untested, without benchmarks (arguably, income from NPR productions might benefit stations more democratically), and likely less than stations achieve by retailing NPR programming to members and underwriters. The distribution of direct revenue is likely to vary in significant ways from the distribution of needs, so I think we need to look beyond direct revenue to other benefits.
So if there is a misdistribution of salable on-demand content versus financial need, one thing that's not maldistributed is the connection that exists between stations and their communities. Every station, especially in radio, operates as the Godzilla of community service, dwarfing the delivery of contact hours with our true competitors -- other non-profits, governmental and educational institutions in our communities. In public radio, not quite half of our revenue comes from other than listener-sensitive sources -- sources that give us money because of our social or educational mission. We've focused for years -- rightly -- on monetizing our listener-sensitive revenue, but the archival value of new media distribution is, I think, a very powerful tool for improving (and in some cases just keeping) the other 47% of revenue. It's here that the distribution of benefits becomes more equitable.
I think there's real urgency in this for both radio and television. The urgency isn't that new media is going to replace old any time soon -- or perhaps ever. But what I fear will happen, and soon, is the "mediocratization" of our most visible services and the decline it will cause in audience-sensitive revenue. That "mediocratization" will be driven by the increasing push back for national programming investments as more pressure is placed on dwindling station resources. Public television stations already invest an exceedingly small percentage of their $1.8B annual economy in national production and it is already very difficult to get station assent to increases in that investment, even though most CEOs will agree it's needed. The relative peace we've enjoyed in public radio since the performance-based assessment came along is beginning to unravel and I think that public radio is just a decade behind – maybe less. Stations will opt for local survival before national excellence and financially-stressed stations, large and small, are numerous in both legacy media. Call it a spiral or a slippery slope, the vector is downward.