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Monday, 11 April 2011

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twitter.com/jmproffitt

Here's the truth...

If we want pubTV *programming* to live on, it has to cut out most of the middlemen and be operated more like a C-SPAN. It needs to be run nationally, centrally, and as a handful of national-appeal channels. Kids, News, Culture. Call it PBS, call it whatever you want. The product then goes out via satellite to last-mile distributors for a reasonable fee. The product is also offered up to legacy PBS stations FOR FREE, but without all the hand-holding that comes with the current service.

Message to legacy stations: No more fees, but you get the rights to broadcast (with some limitations) and if you can make a go of it, good for you.

Message to cable/satellite operators: Here are 3 awesome channels you WANT in your lineup. You just can't insert local ads as you do on other channels.

Message to underwriters: We're finally open for business, please make out your payments to PBS.

Message to viewers: Consisten schedule no matter where you are in the country, consistent channel content aimed at clear demographic segements, less fundraising, better fundraising, clear unification of online and broadcast presences... we're no longer a chump organization with inconsistent product.

I could go on for a long time, with a lot more detail! But the bottom line is that if we care about the programming, this is the most efficient way to do it in the current media model.

However, how could the current PBS board ever achieve this? It's packed with local station types who's jobs depend upon the status quo and who believe things will level out soon and we can go back to our normal lives. Who can ask a man to commit suicide to make way for new life?

Instead, the future holds even bigger bailouts for the PBS system -- if it is to survive -- or simply a string of minor collapses that end in oblivion.


P.S. The best thing the system could do would be to merge NPR and PBS news assets to create a new multi platform news service, also drawing in serious independent news efforts from around the U.S.. Get rid of the culture and kids stuff (sell it off or spin it off) and take on news and public affairs as the core mission. THAT is worth supporting, worthy of federal dollars and fundraising. THAT is a mission that America needs someone to step up and tackle.

Robert Bole

I think that this is a useful discussion, but it lacks a context that I think it is important to consider. And thy name is Universal Service. It is our special mandate made of public media and that is to serve all Americans freely and the most efficient and best way to do that today is through broadcast. In exchange for this mandate we have received special rights with the spectrum, which have been extended (for now) to must-carry rules on cable television, which for many is a leap beyond the broadcast act.

We are in a pickle because we are in between two periods; the period of free-over-the-air/highly efficient but "dumb" access and paid, market-oriented, highly inefficient, but enormously scoped (for now, see Net Neutrality to know what is at stake) "smart" access. And like most economic systems it is in a period of disruption. It has only been the government regulatory framework, plus the federal subsidies that have shielded public media from the turmoil that has devastated business models all around. However, as Howard and John P. have rightfully pointed out that shield is growing smaller by the day.

However, under a networked world there is not the same regulatory framework to safeguard the public interest that we have in the broadcasting world and that is a real problem. Right now the central battles in the "networked public interest" fight are Network Neutrality and Privacy...both of which, public media has not staked any real claim in the results...which are inexact to the concerns that we generally have in terms of market failure to produce high quality content. Network Neutrality and privacy are not going to ensure a good content market subsidy.

While we can rearrange the branding deck chairs, which in the short-term is a warranted concept and realpolitik answer to the immediate problems, the ship of public interest content is sinking. And conceiving and then developing policy framework, in concert with the FCC, philanthropic community (those who will finance the transition to the new), cable & other telecommunication providers would be a good opportunity for us to define our own future.

twitter.com/jmproffitt

I don't know whether to be...

[1] heartened that such a slide has been shared amongst public TV managers for discussion

or

[2] flabbergasted that this even needs to be discussed amongst public TV managers

Every year brings new devices, new modes of distribution, new ways to find and share content, and radically-changing media habits. The iPad alone is eating up TV viewing time (or at least acting as a distracting second screen) and that's just 1 device, introduced 1 year ago.

And Blumenthal's comment about grouping programs into branding headers is another part of this that's even more damaging than new media alone. Cable has embraced breaking out content into collections aimed at target audiences. PBS has continued to fail to do this. It's been 30 years and PBS *still* can't pick a programming model and stick to it. The introduction of multicasting with DTV hasn't even solved this problem because the "last mile" of distribution does not reliably reproduce the multicasted material. That is, you can't reliably create a kids' channel and know for certain everyone in your area will get it. Therefore, the primary channel (the one with all the revenue) remains an unpredictable grab-bag with no overarching appeal.

What I'd like to see is a model in which public TV survives using the current approach. Show me how THAT works. Also explain how it works as more stations go out of business, go independent, go radio-only, etc. and the remaining stations must pick up the slack.

Apparently the pubTV formula is:

Declining Audience + Declining Revenue + Unrelated Fundraising + Cable Competition + Media Attention Fracturing = Success!

Burnie Clark

This has been obvious to many for a number of years. Getting Public Television to talk about it candidly and constructively was always the challenge. Too many vested interests and too much at stake made it a taboo subject. As alternate distribution methods have become more muscular,PTV has had to acknowledge and address the 800 pound gorilla in the room. It is a real shame that the industry was not able to take a leadership position is taking advantage of its strengths in creating the content and partnering with distribution mechanisms such as YouTube much earlier in the process. Is the leadership at a point where that can finaly occur??

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