Friday, 24 January 2014 at 10:36 in Advanced Web Services, Broadband, Broadcasting Economy, Cable|IPTV, Consumer Electronics, DTV, HDTV, Information Technology, Innovation|Change, Legal, Management, Media Economy, Mobile Content, Mobile DTV, On-demand|VOD, Public Media, Social Media, Spectrum, Technology, Television, Web Content, Web Economy, Web/Tech | Permalink
| | |
It must have been the very early 1980s when the television station I then managed got out of the film business. The proximate cause? Our producer on a river rafting documentary lost her Bolex (I think it was) in a hole at the bottom of some serious rapids.
We are now at a point where the artistry and flexibility of film style production is available to web and broadcast producers again with digital SLR cameras. My stepson and his colleagues have been doing some very interesting work with an old Canon EOS 5D Mk II of mine tricked out with Magic Lantern. A number of public media organizations are using similar or less expensive equipment. The EOS 5D camera has even been used to shoot full-length feature films.
Slavik Boyechko, Digital Media Director of Alaska Public Media and writer of the Alaska Video Shooter blog, has written two terrific how-to posts for the PBS Station Products & Innovation Blog:
In addition to the creative advantages of this style of production, there are cost and even mission advantages as well. Nice work Slavik, and thanks to PBS SPI for highlighting this.
The following essay of mine was published in the public media newspaper, Current, on Jan. 30, 2012. It’s not yet online so I’m reproducing it here with a small update to call out the role of education. I currently do work for the Public Television Major Market Group and serve on the American Public Television board, but the opinions expressed here are my own.
The stations are here so they can understand and illuminate a community’s aspirations and concerns, engage people in the life of their community, and help people reengage and reconnect with one another.
-- Richard C. Harwood and Aaron B. Leavy[i]
The remark above reflects a way of thinking strategically about the institution of public broadcasting at this point in our history. Today, public media boards and executives face such strategic questions as:
What can we do to be a more significant and engaged institution in our community?
What should be our focus, and what does that mean for redeploying resources from current activities?
How can we help nonprofit and government entities be more effective when their missions are in greater demand?
How do we respond to disruptive changes in media usage?
Our web/social/mobile efforts don’t feel effective; can we change that?
How do we reach younger people after childhood?
Do we have the right internal leadership…the right strategic skills on our board?
What is the appropriate staffing mix between content and support specialists?
Can we achieve scale and lower costs through collaborations?
How can we deal with the loss in public funding for capital equipment at a time of more rapid replacement cycles?
What’s the best way to differentiate our station from channels?
What follows won’t answer these questions for your specific situation, but it is intended to give you a strategic framework from which you can derive them.
Most of the opportunities and threats we face today apply to both radio and television, as does much of this framework, but the title, of course, borrows the current PBS slogan. Feel free to substitute your national acronym.
The reality of our business
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us
It wad frae monie a blunder free us / An’ foolish notion
– Robert Burns, “To A Louse,” 1785
We’re not the BBC or CBC with assigned remits; we’re a peculiarly American conglomeration of some 365 independent radio, television and joint licensees. The public tends shape its top-down view of us through NPR and PBS. The stations tend to shape their view from a community-up perspective, being in the same business as NPR and PBS, just on a more geographically-limited scale. Both views are incomplete and limiting.
A more useful way to model the local station is to consider it as having two distinct lines of business, one national and the other local. It’s common for us to view the two as a zero-sum game – the more we spend on national, the less we have for local and vice versa. But the evidence is that it is, or can be, just the opposite — a virtuous circle of mutual benefit.
National programming creates the financial margins in listener- and viewer-sensitive income that combine with grant and public funding and earned income to subsidize local programming. Local stations, in turn, provide significant financial resources to produce, market and distribute national programs.
The margins returned by national programming are substantial. Look at PBS in 2009 for example. Allocating viewer-sensitive revenue by audience, national programming returned $2.14 to stations for each $1 they invested, but other programming and production expenses returned only 12 cents per dollar.[ii]
The virtuous circle is completed if stations build multiple income streams and reduce production expenses in order to “be more local.” Strong local stations can invest in being more national, and the more predictable their revenue for national production will be.
In other words, the more we optimize each line of business, the more significant and sustainable we will be. If stations “be more PBS” (that is to say national — APM, APT, NPR, PRI), they can better “be more local,” too.
Public media are well-established in our communities and Are strongly positioned to serve their communities by bringing people together around their interests and giving them valuable, pertinent content.
Most foundations, many corporations and individuals, and even tax-based entities are looking to support innovation, partnership and positive change.
In public media we have strong, valued brands and competitive national programming generating billions of listener- and viewer-hours annually. Local stations are deeply rooted in the communities they serve, providing a strong foundation for public service hand in glove with other nonprofits with compatible aims.
The decline in journalism for print, radio and television is widely noted. New text-based online journalism efforts have been established in several cities, often with expatriates from city newspapers, and sometimes in collaboration with established public media. Few, if any, have thus far become profitable.
There are more than one million public charities in the U.S. — about 2,800 for each of the 365 public broadcasting entities. [iii] If you think public media providers are fragmented, the public charity space is much more so. And their effectiveness is limited by what John Kania and Mark Kramer of the nonprofit consulting firm, FSG, have termed the “isolated intervention of individual organizations.”[iv]
In 2010, the revenue for these charities totaled $1.4 trillion for these more than one million public charities, and they aggregated $2.5 trillion in total assets. Additionally, state and local governments collect tax revenue of $1.3 trillion collected for public service.[v] Together, these investments in public service were more than 80 times larger than the combined revenues of commercial television stations and the radio industry.[vi]
As natural conveners and media experts, public media seem ideally positioned to make a major difference in the work of the public service sector. But the “isolated impact” principle means we stand little chance of making a difference by ourselves, either; rather, as Kania and Kramer argue, our sector should be building “collective impact.”
As local stations, we have far greater opportunities in being the media arm of the nonprofit world than being the nonprofit arm of the media world.
We are dealing with fundamental long-term challenges in media usage and the media economy that are upending the entire media marketplace, including public media. Web implementation for most stations has been too limited and too often devoted to the wrong ends, failing at both its intended purpose (promotion and audience cultivation) and for the greater purpose it could serve (local content delivery). Mobile platforms are coming on fast, but local stations — with a few notable exceptions, mostly in radio — are deer immobile in the headlights.
Over-the-air television largely survived the last disruption of media-technology advance —cable and satellite networks — though with substantially diminished audiences — because the users of the new distribution platforms had approximately the same demographics as those who watched broadcasts.
The ongoing digital disruption, in contrast, actually holds greater opportunity for public media. The digital audiences are significantly younger and consumer media more friendly to their schedules than following those of any broadcaster or cable network. This is an opportunity for growth – if we take the right steps – because they comprise the demographic gap we’ve been underserving.
While most foundations and many potential major-givers are looking to support innovation, partnership and change, they also increasingly apply standards of accountability. Competition for this giving is growing because charities’ needs are growing, because government has less discretionary money to contribute, and because the charities’ fundraising is increasingly sophisticated.
Public media, especially in television, have way too little funding to replace their capital equipment with the shortened life cycles of digital technology and the loss of public subsidies such as the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program. And this will be exacerbated if we attempt to maintain what can be considered, given today’s media trends, an over-investment in capital facilities.
Strategic framework for change
The essence of strategy is deciding what not to do.
--Michael E. Porter[vii]
So we have three profound pulls in the same direction of change, and each is motivation enough for decisive action.
The opportunities we have with the charitable and public sectors should compel us to action even if we didn’t face the challenges of funding and media change. Fortunately, accepting the challenges of community engagement will help address them.
Similarly, the funding challenges alone should compel us to action even if we didn’t face those of media change and nonprofit community service.
And the demands of media change would be sufficient to move us to action even if the other two weren’t in play.
To “be more” in both of public media’s lines of business – national and local —I believe we should follow the advice of Harvard professor Clayton Christensen and colleagues and effectively disaggregate them at the station level: Give them separate strategies and often separate leadership, enabling each to grow without the imperatives of the other. [viii]
Disaggregation at the station level means pursuing these lines of business separately — the national side operating largely through the most cost-effective outsourcing and “newco” collaborations, and the local side rebooted from the ground up to take advantage of journalism, education or community engagement opportunities, with much less need for expensive capital and support staff.
In that framework, the components typically have these characteristics:
National line of business
Local line of business
There are, of course, many challenges in moving toward this framework.
One of the hardest is lack of strategic governance, or even governance that is directly involved with the station in too many cases. That’s beyond the scope of this essay, but the Station Resource Group has a good overview of this issue[x] and Bill Kling, former CEO of American Public Media, has persuasively described the limitations of universities and other institutional licensees.
Another significant challenge is lack of consensus, both within and among stations, on what they want to achieve and, especially, how they want to do it.
Many stations must significantly change course, something that will engender internal resistance. The shift will be especially significant in television stations with traditional production efforts that do not regularly produce news programming.
As a station manager, I admit, I succumbed to the temptation to “play the cards we’re dealt” — to accept past limitations as our destiny. That’s not strategic.
To “be more” locally, we must produce content that touches more of the community more deeply, that increasingly reaches listeners and viewers on their digital devices, that doesn’t require large capital outlays we can no longer afford or justify based on results, and that opens up new revenue streams.
Being more opens up a a whole new world of opportunity for public media.
[i] Richard C. Harwood & Aaron B. Leavy, Why We’re Here: The Powerful Impact of Public Broadcasters When They Turn Outward, Charles F. Kettering Foundation, 2011.
[ii] Programming from other sources like American Public Television likely provides a return similar to PBS’s but that’s masked in this analysis because they provide a smaller percentage of broadcast hours and because local programming is much more expensive per hour. Under-reporting of capital costs likely means that returns on local programs are even lower. Data are derived from PBS AFR Dataset reported in Booz&Co, “System Health and Sustainability,” 2010 PBS/CPB Round Robins.
[iii] Source: National Center for Charitable Statistics, http://nccsdataweb.urban.org/PubApps/profileDrillDown.php?state=US&rpt=PC
[iv] John Kania & Mark Kramer, “Collective Impact,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011, http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact
[vii] Michael E. Porter, “What is Strategy?”, Harvard Business Review, Nov.-Dec. 1996.
[viii] Disaggregation is used to describe a tool of change management recommended by Clayton M. Christensen, Matt Marx, and Howard H. Stevenson in “The Tools of Cooperation and Change,” Harvard Business Review, October 2006.
[ix] Daniel Jacobson, “COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere,” Programmable Web, http://blog.programmableweb.com/2009/10/13/cope-create-once-publish-everywhere/
Previous white papers in this series:
AKT Number 1: Introduction
AKT Number 2: Prospects for IP Radio
AKT Number 3: Prospects for Broadcast Radio
Radio Platform Innovation Strategies – “All Known Thought” Number 4
“I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.”
– “Hal,” the HAL 9000 computer, voiced by Douglas Rain in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
– Attributed to John Wanamaker, 1838-1922, retailing and advertising pioneer
I was in 6th or 7th grade when I built my first radio: a primitive “crystal set” similar to the one illustrated here from the 1920s. The coil was wound around a Quaker Oats can, the detector was a galena (lead ore) crystal with a stiff “cat whisker” wire used to probe the crystal for a sensitive spot. It picked up one station – weakly (no audio amp) – no matter where I tuned. In consumer electronics economics, “dumb” is often a good thing and a crystal set is as dumb as it gets. More on this under “Consumer electronics economics” below.
On the other hand, the HAL 9000 computer in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey claimed to be a “conscious entity,” the ultimate contra-example to dumb radios. That film opened in May 1968, seven months before astronauts left Earth’s orbit for the first time on Apollo 8. The guidance computer on Apollo 8 was primitive – holding only 76,000 bytes of memory and weighing 70 pounds – and so was the kludgy radio network which relayed the “burn for the Moon” order via my Air Force squadron on Guam. Now, 42 years later, a pleasant female voice (I call her “Claire”) from my 2008 Jeep’s navigation/audio system gives me turn-by-turn instructions. Its computer, rather small by today’s standards, can store 10 billion bytes – and there’s a whole separate computer to run the vehicle.
Today’s smartphones and computers can perform radio functions and are a lot closer to “Hal” in sophistication than to the simple combination of resonant circuit, detector and sound reproducer which began radio receiver technology. Radio, at its essence, is content not the delivery device. This white paper will explore strategies that stations and their organizations might follow to keep us in the game.
For seven years I’ve been doing a media economics blog disguised as a technology blog (technology360.com), which might help explain why I’m starting this white paper with economic assumptions for both the consumer electronics industry and station economics.
Consumer electronics economics. When a consumer electronics company is trying to sell millions of units of something, the more it can “dumb it down” by minimizing the component count within a defined functionality specification, the more price-competitive it can be. Arguably, price-competitive sells more units than feature-competitive. Components can be integrated circuits, connectors, even buttons. As we saw with the story of David Sarnoff, Edwin Armstrong and Philo Farnsworth in the second AKT white paper, intellectual property is also a component cost – and not an insignificant one since today it drives the costs of the chips that are used in these wonderful gadgets.
Because of the component cost of making radios smarter, devices like smartphones that can do radio plus do other things will have an advantage. Handheld devices, in particular, need to pass the test of being compelling enough to justify space in a purse or briefcase.
Media economics. The second quotation at the top might seem odd for a public radio audience, but I don’t think that’s the case if you share these assumptions:
Two of the earlier white papers have looked at the state of play for Internet Protocol and broadcast radio. I would like now to place those aspects of innovation off to the side and continue this survey with what’s happening on the software side of innovation – all of them enabled by metadata.
Never Metadata I Didn’t Like: Software Innovations
Metadata are simply data which describe other information in a useful way – data about data. An old-fashioned 3x5 library card is a good example. Use of metadata permits search, retrieval, manipulation and dissemination of information.
Metadata are used (though with different standards) across all media. Digital cameras record metadata about pictures you take. Radio stations and Sirius|XM use metadata to transmit Program Service Data (PSD), also called Program-Associated Data (PAD), to listeners via HD Radio® or analog Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS). The following innovations all employ metadata magic.
iTunes and Song Tagging. An example of the use of metadata for radio interactivity (though not in real time) is iTunes Tagging on HD Radio. An HD Radio receiver that is enabled for this capability will have a small amount of on-board storage that, when a listener likes a tune, simply pressing a Tag button records the station’s metadata including station identity and tune. The information is syncs with the listener’s iPod and then with iTunes on the listener’s computer. The listener can then purchase the song, giving the station a commission from Apple. iTunes Tagging is supported by a sizable number of receivers. Microsoft’s Zune HD Radio Song Tagging is a similar feature. No station is going to get rich on this, but it’s a good illustration of non-real-time interactivity.
Personalized Audio Information Service (PAIS, pronounced “pace”) is federally-funded project developed by NPR Labs (partnering with the International Association of Audio Information Services, iBiquity Digital Corp. and Towson University) to provide millions of print-disabled people access to audio programming in a personalized way. Like iTunes and Song Tagging, it uses program-preference tags sent over the internet to a program source. These tags trigger the recording of programming sent over an HD Radio transmitter on a PAIS-compatible HD Radio receiver where it’s recorded for playback by a listener, effectively creating a custom podcast. A technical document describing the system is available at NPR Labs web site.
RadioDNS is an international non-profit collaboration developing a standard for converting station metadata (PSD/PAD) for radio stations already transmitting to valid web addresses in the internet Domain Name System (hence, RadioDNS). It works with analog FM, HD Radio and other digital stations, and on internet streams. The receiver needs to have either an occasional or permanent IP connection.
Although most of the RadioDNS board participants are from Europe, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has a seat on the board and Clear Channel and Cox are members of the consortium.
The station registers its domain name with the RadioDNS database and consumer devices query a look-up table using those metadata to perform useful tasks (see below). Consumer electronics and software companies can use RadioDNS services for free, while broadcasters pay a small charge per entry in the DNS lookup table.
Receivers for it are already available in Europe and the RadioDNS technology is built into a number of iPhone and Android apps.
Within the RadioDNS rubric, there are three principal areas of development underway:
Addressability is a close cousin of what many multi-transmitter radio operators already do. Northwest Public Radio, which I managed until early 2008, is a network with two program services over 13 stations that stretches some 550 miles from west to east. By using addressable satellite receivers at our transmitters with on-board storage, and with memories fed through a separate channel, we were able to set up station zones for customized information. The listener in Grangeville, Idaho, no longer has to listen to underwriting credits for the Volvo dealer in Bellingham, Washington. We multiplied our underwriting inventory and gained a more rational pricing structure. Although it was used then only for underwriting and station IDs, it could do weather, news updates, and even whole programs – transmitter by transmitter rather than zone by zone. The next generation of NPR’s ContentDepot software will enable this for national underwriting – a concept known as “split copy.”
Persona Radio. Imagine yourself getting into your car one morning in Leesburg, Virginia, ready for a 40-mile commute to work in DC. On turning the key, your radio comes on, tuned to WAMU, and says (imagine the voice of “Hal” from 2001, or perhaps Carl Kasell):
“Good morning and happy birthday, Dave. There are some celebration coupons in your account with our compliments. Your retrieve button has current weather and traffic for Leesburg to Washington. It will update again in ten minutes.”
You retrieve your weather and traffic (underwritten by a Leesburg business), and then the radio begins playing Morning Edition, which it’s been storing since you turned the key. Ten miles down the road, you hit that button again to hear the updates. While it’s playing out, the radio is again buffering Morning Edition so you won’t miss anything. It’s pledge week, but as a sustaining member of WAMU, you bypassed the pledge drive “yada yada” with the normal Morning Edition segments arriving over a separate feed.
Persona Radio would provide these capabilities and more, coupled with an enabled radio. iBiquity has published a 40-page technical report on Persona Radio that you may ask an engineer to interpret. In short however, this will allow the listener to personalize radios, normally through a station’s web site or smartphone app. The user’s preferences are derived from a profile stored in the receiver (age, gender, etc.) or from the “user’s current state” (GPS location, stated activity, etc.). The following items could be personalized based on this profile:
Persona Radio is what its developers call a “smart radio concept.” It’s being undertaken by iBiquity Digital Corp. and the NAB FASTROAD program using HD Radio. Since the term “smart radio” has several other meanings (e.g., for so-called cognitive radios which can change frequency to avoid interference), perhaps it would be better to call it “smarter radio.” That notwithstanding, compared to the “dumb” radios we have today, these would be pretty darn smart. Some Persona Radio functions would not be available until more advanced HD Radios are on the market. With radios that can support it (as can DMB receivers in Europe) your radio can get even smarter through software updates you push to the receivers.
Sounds great. So what’s the hitch? Well, unless someone comes up with a hybrid HD Radio/IP radio (see below) or hybrid HD Radio/Mobile DTV receiver, Persona Radio will take some of your digital capacity for the customized information, reducing the number of discrete program channels, not to mention traffic and visual information, you can carry via HD Radio technology today. We might see stations within a market pooling their digital capacity to provide additional bandwidth.
Hybrid radios are ubiquitous – nearly every cellular telephone incorporates more than one radio, and nearly every consumer radio incorporates separate AM and FM radios. My 2008 Jeep has a Sirius radio as well – so that’s three radios – plus a 10 GB hard drive and a video display. There’s no reason why one couldn’t build a radio that combines FM HD Radio with either on-board 3G or 4G services or with it built into a 3G or 4G USB card or tethered smartphone.
At the risk of reprising something that I posted to my blog in March 2007, check out a concept drawing here: A many-to-many radio using HD + IP. It would be a breeze to program using HD Radio’s “operating system,” Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL – a markup language somewhat similar to HTML). Brilliant or not – apparently it was the latter – the idea has gone nowhere though it’s been brought up in conversation with executives from two consumer electronics companies who might have made it happen.
I’d venture a guess that the best way to contribute to the growth and value of HD Radio would be an iBiquity-provided Software Development Kit (SDK) opening the platform for developers. Of course, we would need receivers that accepted the resulting applications, but the availability of such platforms would contribute to a competitive marketplace for features.
Are there other ways to make hybrid radios? Fortunately, yes. Well, in this case, “fortunate” depends on whether you view this as an opportunity or a threat. Some of your station’s competitors are moving into your sanctum sanctorum – the family car – by permitting the car’s sound system to interact with a smartphone. There are multiple efforts underway.
Thewhite paper I wrote on the Prospects for IP Radio mentioned one of them – the Ford/Microsoft SYNC® collaboration on a dozen current Ford Motor Company models. SYNC With MyFord Touch™ connects with your mobile devices (smartphones, iPods, etc.) and lets you control them through the dashboard in a safe and intuitive way. Radio providers will likely want to customize their mobile apps for this platform as will happen with Pandora (65 million registered users) by the end of the year (source: Variety, which also reports that Mercedes-Benz and General Motors are also adding Pandora).
In mid-November 2010, Toyota and Clear Channel announced that Clear Channel’s iheartradio would be incorporated into some Toyota models beginning in 2011. Listeners will have access to 750+ radio stations “and other exclusive content.” Clear Channel has been remarkably active in mobile and online platforms, and their iheartradio app is available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, BlackBerry, Android, Chumby, and Sonos platforms. It has, according to the Wall Street Journal, 10.5 million users. Technical and user interface details are scarce so far.
Top 10 List for Radio Strategies
First, some cautions. Though this white paper is written under NPR auspices, the following recommendations are mine alone and are influenced more by my 38 years in stationland than my three years at NPR. NPR (in particular, NPR Labs under Mike Starling’s leadership) has done a lot of radio innovation over the years and continues to do so, but nothing here should be construed as a plan to move forward on these ideas. Another caution is that strategy is as much about deciding what you aren’t going to do as it is what you are going to do – I’ve (mostly) ducked that one in this list. Lastly, I can almost guarantee that everyone will find something in the list with which to disagree.
Number 10 – Audio Over Mobile DTV (national organizations and stations). Work with television broadcasters and program aggregators that are launching audio services over the mobile DTV (ATSC M/H) standard to advocate for inclusion of public radio in market bundles (guide to MDTV stations). Although the (so-far) encouraging Digitial Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB) experience in Europe, which it most closely resembles, isn’t necessarily transferrable to the U.S., and there is rational skepticism about whether consumers will accept yet another device primarily to get local TV, this technology does have investment momentum in the television industry and there are plans to add audio bundles to the mix. It also is a plausible solution to IP media scaling issues. Rob Pegoraro has a hands-on report in the Washington Post.
Number 9 – Web Integration/Radio Personalization (national organizations and producers). Influence developments in HD Radio, RadioDNS and Persona Radio with an eye toward ensuring that new features can be adapted to public radio’s mission and economy. Although public radio probably has a small but important role, this has a big impact on viability of the radio medium in a media economy increasingly driven by the accountability and granularity of results that internet advertising provides. Producers and distributors need to add descriptive metadata to their programming and develop means to distribute PSD/PAD along with program feeds for stations to use in multiple platforms (RBDS, HD Radio, RadioDNS, Persona Radio, web pages, API-accessible archives, mobile apps).
Number 8 – Spectrum Priorities (national organizations). Follow the spectrum battle and respond as appropriate. Radio has interests here. First, we should support additional spectrum allocations for 4G wireless since our listeners expect to find us there with reliable services. Secondly, the FM band, in the wake of LPFM crowding, translator proliferation, “Franken FMs,” and inadequately-funded FCC enforcement of interference and even piracy rules, is becoming an interference mess. Radio has a good public service case (problematic business case notwithstanding) for additional spectrum immediately adjacent to the noncommercial band: channel 6 or even channels 5 and 6. Maybe that’s where digital-only radio should go in the longer term. It sure makes more engineering sense than putting ATSC DTV down there.
Number 7 – HD Radio (stations). This will annoy both the “analog foreverists”and the digital media advocates: Give HD Radio more time. Its acceptance will accelerate as more stations use the higher digital power authorizations and the more sophisticated features (album art and station/sponsor logos are in at least one radio shipping now). HD Radio has decent momentum with consumer electronics and automotive companies. If you haven’t done so already, you should increase your digital power by the time Persona Radio rolls out (25% of public radio stations aren’t even on the air with digital yet). True, it’s a capital expense; sometimes mostly “forgiven” by the need to replace an aging analog transmitter. There are no guarantees, but many smart people were skeptical of FM into the early 1970s but FM listening equaled AM by the end of that decade. Broadcast still scales much better than IP radio.
Number 6 – Automotive Integration (national organizations). Work with mobile device, automobile and automobile electronics manufacturers to incorporate mobile apps and interfaces featuring public radio programming, including station streams.
Number 5 – Build Community Around Mission (stations). Many, if not most, stations are using Facebook, Twitter and blogging to engage audiences around their programming. But too often these social media efforts are primarily promotion vehicles for programs and pledge and not as a medium to engage audiences in the mission. Twitter is particularly valuable for news, as Paul Balcerak of Seattle’s KIRO-TV describes (source: Lost Remote):
“Twitter’s huge for us. It’s like a police scanner voiced by the general public that also allows us to get info to people who need it.”
Your web and mobile platforms enhance your station’s immediacy and are a flexible solution to the tyranny of a broadcast schedule. You should be thinking of your station as a way to promote your local mission on your digital platforms, not the other way around (the math is more favorable). If the digital media department of your station isn’t growing – even at the expense of all others – something is wrong.
Number 4 – “There’s an app for that” (national organizations and stations). Launch applications for as many platforms as possible – at a minimum forApple’s iOS and Android devices, but there a number of darker horses that should be monitored (Windows Phone 7, Symbian, WebOS). Stations should be aware that, for iOS apps, Apple has begun rejecting radio apps that appear to be clones, changing only logo and feed addresses. Your station is a unique reflection of your mission in your community – your apps should be also.
Number 3 – Make Radio Easy to Find (stations). This is a no-brainer. Making it easy for listeners to find your radio streams should be your top web and mobile priorities. If you’re a joint licensee where radio is one of a half dozen tabs, insist on having a “Listen now” button on your home page. You’re a radio station, for goshsakes, give them radio! Way too many public broadcasting web sites make the listener really work to find the audio. This is even more important for mobile apps where poor design can turn away listeners.
Number 2 – Distributed Distribution (stations). Follow a “distributed distribution” strategy. Your transmitter reaches everywhere and your web presence should do the same. Generally, it doesn’t. Place links to your content (all of it or curated; streams and archives) with as many places in the communities you serve aspossible. Treat each such opportunity in the same way you would a translator. In the past, I’ve called it an “Easter egg” strategy – “hide” your content in plain sight all over the web.
Number 1 – Radio + Digital is Powerful (for everyone). Recalibrate your thinking about who we are. Kevin Kelly, one of the founders of Wired and author of the new book, What Technology Wants, has the following comments in New Rules for the New Economy blog about the place of radio:
On the new mess media, rumor, conspiracy, and paranoia run rampant
.... Capitalizing on these disadvantages, broadcast will thrive symbiotically within the network economy. Sometimes real-time signals en masse are needed and wanted. Broadcast's flyover will be used, or material will be directly pushed to users. The web needs broadcast to focus attention, and broadcast needs the web to find communities. ... [emphasis added]
If our strategy mirrors thinking that it’s either broadcast or digital platforms, and if economics are the driver, we should be prepared for an either/or result that may not favor us. To reiterate Kelly: The web needs broadcast to focus attention, and broadcast needs the web to find communities. It’s the combination that’s powerful.
-- Dennis Haarsager
NB: This starts out as a long story about publishing medical books, but I intend it as a way to illustrate the pace and degree of change in the media for the blog’s usual readers at the end. --DH
This spring I married a physician who has written or edited a fairly large number of medical books. Her background is both in clinical practice and research, she has an appointment as full professor at an area medical school, and she has way, way more letters behind her name than do I. Her most successful book is a sort of how-to manual for procedures in her area of specialty, the most recent edition of which came out in 2007.
So a few weeks ago, we were discussing a call she received from her publisher asking her if she wanted to do a 5th edition of the book. The last edition had a companion DVD that contained videos illustrating seven of the 53 procedures in the book. The videos are good, including some basic animations, but require a physician to go to a computer, find software that will play the odd format (with some trial and error, one of which crashed my PC, I discovered that RealPlayer could handle it), and hope that the procedure you need to do is one of the 13% in described in the book (the book does have helpful drawings and photos). You shouldn’t have to call the IT department before trying to bone up on intubations.
As a new iPad owner, I’d been very impressed with how tablet apps are creating a whole new category of book – or is it a whole new category of video – or is it some new medium we haven’t yet named? I’d heard great things about two such apps, so I downloaded them and they blew me away. One is Alice for the iPad by Atomic Antelope, a presentation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The other is Theodore Gray’s, The Elements: A Visual Exploration by Element Collection, Inc., a mesmerizing way (I kid you not) to visualize and learn about the periodic table of elements.
I showed these to my wife and her co-editor, and they got it instantly. In The Elements, not only do you get text and video but computations are also included in the app. The ability of a “book” to include text, audio, video, animation, and computation totally blows away the traditional atom-based professional book (imagine being able to enter patient parameters and instantly determine medication dosage). And the tablet format frees you from having to retreat to your office (perhaps at a different location), boot up a DVD through problematic software, and find the right video in multiple indexes. You can do all this in the hallway or even the OR if you want.
That led the three of us to have a conference call with the publisher, a leading company for this type of book. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they hadn’t viewed the same iPad apps that we had, and perhaps we weren’t the most articulate advocates, but it was clear that they were in the business of making books of paper and perhaps they could add some additional procedures to the DVD that’s bound into the book. If there was recognition that the whole conception of a professional book has changed, it wasn’t evident on the call.
Enough of the book publishing story. I don’t want to be too hard on them because those of us in other traditional forms of media are too often not much better at re-envisioning our products. But we must do that and, indeed, there is very good creative work being done toward that end. Let’s do more. --Dennis
Kevin Kelly has a good post introducing what he calls “The Shirky Principle.” Clay Shirky states:
Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are a solution.
Shirky made his quote in a recent talk, a bit from his upcoming book Cognitive Surplus. Shirky also referred to a similar idea in a recent blog posting about the ways in which media companies and the media industry are often constitutionally incapable of changing because they are still solving the last problem.
Link: The Technium.
Those of us in the media should go on to Shirky’s blog post, The Collapse of Complex Business Models, linked here and above. In it, Shirky writes:
… In the future, at least some methods of producing video for the web will become as complex, with as many details to attend to, as television has today, and people will doubtless make pots of money on those forms of production. It’s tempting, at least for the people benefitting from the old complexity, to imagine that if things used to be complex, and they’re going to be complex, then everything can just stay complex in the meantime. That’s not how it works, however. … ¶ … Some video still has to be complex to be valuable, but the logic of the old media ecoystem, where video had to be complex simply to be video, is broken. Expensive bits of video made in complex ways now compete with cheap bits made in simple ways. … ¶ When ecosystems change and inflexible institutions collapse, their members disperse, abandoning old beliefs, trying new things, making their living in different ways than they used to. …
I’ve just ordered Jaron Lanier’s new book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto based on a review in Slate by Michael Agger. He writes:
… As near as I can make it out, Lanier's view is that the Web began as a digital Eden. We built homepages by hand, played around in virtual worlds, wrote beautiful little programs for the fun of it, and generally made our humanity present online. The standards had not been set. The big money and the big companies had not yet arrived. Now Google has linked search to advertising. The Internet's long tail helps only the Amazons of the world, not the little guys and gals making songs, videos, and books. Wikipedia, a mediocre product of group writing, has become the intellectual backbone of the Web. And, most depressingly, all of us have been lumped into a "hive mind" that every entrepreneur with a dollar and a dream is trying to parse for profit. …
It seems to be a critique in many ways of how derivative content has become in the Web 2.0 age; how we’re replacing creativity with rehashing what’s come before.
Today’s episode (hour 2) of the NPR program, On Point with Tom Ashbrook is a discussion of the book with guests Lanier and long-time Web visionary (co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto), David Weinberger. --Dennis
From Piet Hein, More Grooks, Borgens Forlag, København & MIT Press, Cambridge, 1968:
You'll conquer the present
if you smell of the future
-- and stink of the past
Back in September, Radio World published a column titled “The Problem Isn’t Demand, It’s Bandwidth” by veteran broadcast engineer, Frank McCoy. The title was a bit of a non sequitur, because of course if there was no demand, bandwidth wouldn’t be a problem.
McCoy notes that:
… There are dire predictions that radio's best days have come and gone. Who can blame the pundit who sees only a simple consumer choice between listening to what some radio program director predicts that I (and 20,000 other people) want to hear, and choosing for myself exactly what I want when I want it? …
… Should we all be concerned that the days of the 1,000-foot tower are gone and that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection is a possible new competitor? Will radio as we know it become just another feature of cell phones? Will in-car Internet give commuters millions of station choices? ¶ The answer is no. …
He arrives at this “comforting” conclusion by comparing the bandwidth required by IP audio streams in a real-world situation vs. available bandwidth, finding that IP audio just won’t scale up enough to be a threat to radio broadcasters.
The exercise is interesting, but it would be a mistake for us to draw much comfort in it – at least if your goal is to stop worrying about other platforms.
 Distribution technology isn’t a static thing. For example, one of the commenters to his article points to a new broadcast-friendly technology called Multimedia Broadcast and Multicast Services (MBMS) now being rolled out in certain cellular telephone networks. Other multicasting* efforts are also in development or available.
*NB: IP multicasting has a different meaning than does broadcast multicasting. Rather, it is a way to achieve one-to-many bandwidth scaling without having to have to “home run” each stream back to the original server. In other words, IP multicasting is roughly comparable to what we mean by broadcasting.
 Other technology components aren’t static, either. Better compression and error correction algorithms are being developed all the time which enable more and better services in less spectrum. And, for music stations, there is already the profound effect already felt from digital music players like the iPod, which in turn benefit from improvements in mass storage. Moore’s Law posits a doubling of data capacity every 18 months. One might ask, why take up valuable spectrum to repeatedly retransmit bits that can be more easily stored in a listener’s purse or shirt pocket? Or, as Pandora, Slacker and other streamers-that-learn have done, why not, if you’re going to retransmit bits, at least customize the radio experience on the fly? Smart radio operators in the future will learn how to stitch value into, and thereby extract value from, these customizable streams.
 IP streamers and broadcasters aren’t the only games in town. Digital TV broadcasters are about to get into the act with the ATSC-M/H standard in this country as DVB-H and 1seg have done so elsewhere. While billed as mobile video services, they also do mobile audio much more efficiently than the IP streaming most stations use now, so look for some of that traffic to migrate to the television spectrum.
 Ever since the brainy actress, Hedy Lamarr, co-invented frequency-hopping radio in 1941, our notions of spectrum as protected real estate have been under challenge. Some feel that spectrum as we know it is an obsolete concept – that smart receivers and smart transmitters can much more efficiently utilize the spectrum than can the geographically-allocated transmitters and dumb receivers that we now use (a huge amount of existing spectrum is un- or under-used due to the need to protect cheaply-made receivers). I posted back in June about efforts to raise a public debate about this from the New America Foundation, which had just published four papers on the topic. I doubt that either the economics of the consumer electronic industry or the requirement for the FCC to maintain a detailed and accurate database of transmitters in use will favor this idea any time soon, but these conditions, too, are not static and will likely become more favorable to more spectrum-efficient technologies in the future.
 Lastly, we broadcasters shouldn’t think of this as a complete migration of broadcast listening to mobile IP platforms insofar as its economic consequences. To be consequential to us, these services have to only skim the cream off our listening to harm the thinning margins that most stations are experiencing. So these new services don’t have to capture the full broadcast load of listener attention to do damage to legacy broadcasters.
Some 50 years back, radio faced another challenge as television decimated its previous programming model. Needle-drop radio replaced it and a new business model was born. We need to be at least as agile in adjusting broadcast service and business models as technology has shown in its ability to evolve over time. As the old joke’s punch line goes, one doesn’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than you.
As always, opinions expressed here are my own. --Dennis