Rob Paterson has two compelling interviews that I'm recommending, one with long-time public radio indie producer Stephen Hill, and the other with Iowa Public Radio's Todd Mundt. Alone among people involved with public broadcasting, Stephen has built a viable business online and has been advocating for years that pubcasters should look to subscriptions. And Todd articulates a great vision for public radio's mission. Check them out.
At Rob's request, I added some comments on the interview with Stephen that were repurposed from an email that I'd sent Rob. The link for the comments is there, but I can't seem to access them, so am quoting them with some light editing in the Continue reading area below. --Dennis
Quoted (and lightly edited) email in response to above to Rob Paterson:
It was a very good interview, and I liked the one with Todd as well.
I've been through these numbers with Stephen before and, while I think they're blessed with some optimism, work done about a year back for video for Mike Homer of Open Media Network and by the 2006 DDC "summer camp" at NPR also produced compelling numbers. Even if Stephen's were off by an order of magnitude, we ought to just do it. Stephen is really the only person in our orbit who's actually thought through these issues for his own company and done something productive about it. So he's built a huge reservoir of credibility with me. The most insightful part of his contribution on this is that you don't have to effectively give away programming at 2¢-4¢ per listener hour. Many people are willing to give you 1-3 orders of magnitude more for things that have particular value.
So, here's the "however" part.
The distribution of programming for which people are willing to pay premium subscription (or pay to own) fees is not even across the hundreds of organizations within public broadcasting. Therefore, the revenue these fees generate will be unevenly distributed. Unfortunately, the system's financial needs are much more evenly (or at least proportionately) distributed. And what I think of as the most urgent threat public broadcasting faces -- the "mediocratization" of collectively-funded programming through the diminution of station resources -- will come from this wider contraction of discretionary resources.
We must as an industry stop thinking within radio and television silos. It's a distinction that is important to us, but is totally unimportant to our listeners and viewers in an on-demand world. But NPR isn't chartered to worry about television, PBS isn't chartered to worry about radio, and decades of bad blood makes it difficult to build a unified future. We need to get over it and we may need a new institution to do it. Separate systems won't work.
Perhaps most importantly, even if Stephen's estimate of an increase of a third in total system (that is, public radio system) revenues is achievable, that is not the Unified Field Theory that we need to ensure public broadcasting's mission survives the disruptions now underway. I like what Todd, for example has to say about mission:
I fell in love with an idea. The idea is that public radio could become a vital force for the renewal of society and of democracy in America.
That's the "remit" that the Brits have but we don't. If we never made a dime with new media, over time, those new media are, I think, a much more powerful force for achieving Todd's "remit" than are our older scarcity-driven media. But (to the point of my recent "My brother thinks he's a chicken" post), we are already not really driven by listener and viewer giving, we just act as though we are because someone "needs the eggs." The majority of non-member funds come from tax-based, foundation and corporate sources that want us to do some variation of Todd's idea -- and if we want to keep what we have and grow it, we need to go beyond subscriptions in rethinking our economic model. Fortunately, the solution, I believe, is the same.
Thanks for pulling these interviews together. --Dennis