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
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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/
When I was managing public radio and television stations in the Pacific Northwest, I used as a decision-making tool what might be the effect on the imaginary equity value of our organization of this or that significant decision. It tended to move me in a “build” or new product direction, sometimes to the patient consternation of my excellent team. I found it helpful as one of multiple indicators.
Equity values are determined by a lot of things, including market forces largely outside the control of management. We’ve all been concerned about declining television audiences while public radio audiences have continued strong, so I suppose it was inevitable that station equity values in the two media would meet at some point. There is now evidence we’re there and it has significant implications for the FCC’s effort to free up spectrum for wireless services.
Yesterday, it was announced that Nashville Public Radio has purchased a second station in Nashville for $3.35 million plus full time access to one of its HD Radio channels (congratulations to Rob Gordon, his board and team). Reports say it will be a classical music station. Link: Nashville Scene. In television terms, Nashville is the 29th market with just over 1 million TV households. It therefore paid $3.22 per household for Vanderbilt’s student-managed station.
In the recent past, we’ve seen the sales of public television stations for $3 million each in Pittsburgh (the 24th market with 1.16M TVHH) and Orlando (the 19th market with 1.45M TVHH). Pittsburgh’s was not the primary PBS station, but Orlando’s was – and that market had two secondary stations. So, the Pittsburgh station brought $2.58 per household while, more recently, Orlando’s brought only $2.06.
All of this may lead a gloomy television station exec to look at the possibility of a whole or partial sale to the wireless industry as a good thing. Perhaps that’s so if you’re sitting on a pile of debt you need to quickly liquidate, but these valuations wouldn’t produce much as an endowment investment. The median of 864 college and university endowment investment returns was –18.1% in 2009 (source: NACUBO). Things are up from there, of course, but even a long term average of +5% seems optimistic these days. So, if that $3M spectrum sale produces only $150,000 per year and you can’t net better than that with more traditional revenue sources from that spectrum, you’ve got some pretty serious problems.
There are other factors, too, that make a sale to wireless problematic. It’s likely, said the CTIA and CEA in an FCC filling, that they can get all the spectrum they need through repacking and will need to resort to auctioned spectrum only in the top 30 markets (full disclosure: I’m executive director of the Public Television Major Market Group, but the usual disclaimer about these being my own opinions applies). Further, one presumes that the marketability of your spectrum will vary by where you are in the UHF TV band, with a preference for spectrum that can be contiguously aggregated.
Counting whoever just picked up the marker for this in the wake of Ron Schiller’s departure from NPR, since I joined its board in mid-2005 (I retired as an SVP there at the end of 2010), there have been six “permanent” or interim heads of fundraising development. NPR will now be recruiting a 7th. Development is also a major task of the CEO and in that same time, there have been five such CEOs (I was one of the interims).
NPR just can’t catch a break in this, leaving what should be one of the most compelling philanthropic cases greatly under-achieving. Lack of continuity in leadership leads to “coin-us interruptus.”
Major gifts fundraising is more important now – when tax-based sources are under assault – than ever. It’s a high-touch, long-term relationship activity. In NPR’s case, there is also a volunteer NPR Foundation board and the sometimes difficult relationship with 280 or so station managers to manage. Ron, and also-departed CEO Vivian Schiller (no relationship), were making what is probably the first real progress in both those sets of relationships when Ron announced his original May resignation before the now-infamous Georgetown videotaped lunch. That progress is now problematic.
Journalism is Job One at NPR, but development has to be Task One for the new interim and permanent executive teams. Stations (where I spent 38 years) also need to coalesce around the need for collaboration and new fundraising models. It will be tempting in a financial squeeze to throw up the barricades and stick to what’s safe. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ve seen one interesting proposal in draft form (which I hope will be released soon) and I hope others will get creative also.
For the 7½ years I’ve been doing this blog, its masthead has quoted Jerry Garcia: “Somebody has to do something, and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.” Never more true.
Not sure if this is an effort to relieve or relive my sadness over the events of the past few days at NPR. Or, it may just be a way to answer the dozen or so people who wrote or called yesterday to ask what I thought of Vivian Schiller’s departure as president & CEO, Ron Schiller’s (SVP development and no relation) videotaped meeting with bogus potential donors and subsequent departure, and what it all means for public broadcasting.
By way of disclosure, I was a senior VP at NPR until retiring at the end of December and, although I’ve gone on to work half-time for a public television organization, I still have a big part of my heart living there in the person of friends and colleagues and their daily work. By way of further disclosure – and more significant for what I’m writing here – I was chairman of NPR’s board three years ago this month when we had a parting of ways with Vivian’s predecessor, Ken Stern, and I took over for 10 months as interim CEO and later interim president & CEO. I wrote about it at the time on this blog. I’ve been on many other boards over the years, including the executive committee of the PBS board when we had a parting of ways with its then president.
Having communicated with no one on the NPR board or with the executives directly involved, I can say I know nothing about the specific circumstances of the current NPR situation. I’m going to write instead from the perspective of one who’s seen how many boards work and how public broadcasting functions over 41 years.
First, if you don’t know about this situation, here are links to some good coverage: David Folkenflik at NPR. Mark Memmott at NPR. Karen Everhart in Current. Staci Kramer in paidContent. Ben Nuckols for Associated Press. Jeffrey Brown for PBS NewsHour. Or, browse Google News on the subject. Update 3/11/11: Also see a review of the week's news at Nieman Media Lab.
Boards and CEOs rely on mutual trust and confidence. Boards and CEOs part ways when this is out of whack. It’s that simple and that complicated. It’s tempting to speculate beyond this, as the Washington Post did when I took over in 2008 and as Jeff Jarvis, who I highly regard, did in a post today (by the way, I think his interview by APM’s Marketplace tonight was good). But this speculation is almost always wrong.
In his post, Jeff stated, “The board fired the last station because he pissed off the stations” and implied this was true of Schiller’s departure as well. In March 2008, Paul Farhi wrote in the Post that the “Stern and the…board had clashed repeatedly over several of Stern’s initiatives, including NPR’s expansion into new media.” From personal first-hand knowledge, both statements are just flat wrong. As CEOs, Ken, myself as an interim, and Vivian were all strong proponents (most effectively Vivian) of digital investments and there was an acceleration of those investments throughout three administrations of NPR because it was and is the right thing to do. The board supported each of us with leadership and approved budgets.
I have never seen, in the case of NPR nor any other board on which I’ve served over many years, a split in policy between station managers and lay reps. It doesn’t happen that way. And it’s been my experience that lay reps are especially valuable because of their corporate experience when it comes to making a leadership change. So what’s the significance of station managers having a slight edge in representation? It’s a non-issue in the governance of our national public broadcasting organizations.
Yes, any organization’s leader in a similar situation has some stations that push back and some stations that love them. It’s impossible to generalize. By the way, commercial broadcasting networks and retail franchise operations experience the exact same push and pull. That’s life in the real world.
Jeff is absolutely right to say, “There is a strategic cliff ahead.” Vivian saw it – so did Ken – so did I. We invested in solutions which the board supported. But NPR isn’t going to make the jump to internet distribution without writing off 90% of its listeners and be forced to win them back over the long slope of wireless growth. The audience isn’t ready for it; the mobile internet won’t scale to that level of use (just do the math) for many years, if ever; and local journalism and community outreach – plus more mundane but necessary things like local traffic and weather – depend on tax-based support and the income that audiences attracted to NPR programs voluntarily subsidize. The reality of operating public radio in the 200 or so markets in fly-over country is probably not apparent from our major cities, but it’s arguably more important to citizenship and quality of life in those communities than it is, because of alternatives, where Jeff and I live.
So, was the NPR volunteer board “ball-less” when it did whatever it did – appearing to some as dismissing its CEO to appease Republican critics? No, I think they were working to regain confidence in their ability to govern the organization and move it and public radio forward in the face of “Christensen disruptions” and challenges to funding. That is their tough job.
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
Bob Pittman, ex-AOL, AOL Time Warner, et al., has a great reputation in the media business and has just been appointed Chairman of Media and Entertainment Platforms for Clear Channel. I’ve been impressed both with Pittman – who I’ve heard speak at a public broadcasting conference or two back in the day – and with Clear Channel, which among the major broadcast groups is a leader in new platform development. Should be quite a combination.
So that made a post by Jeff Pollack in Huffington Post catch my eye: 10 Things Bob Pittman Can Do to Help Reshape The Radio Business. Pollack’s advice is good for all of the radio industry, including those of us on the pubradio side. Read the whole thing, but I’m pulling out #5 as a sample:
5. Emphasize a relentless focus on embracing the latest platforms that will engage the audience, and exploit all of the media offerings that radio offers today. Radio must be a little ahead rather than always catching up. There is a uniquely strong relationship between radio and Internet usage. Time to make that pay off by having programmers flex their creative muscles and work directly with sales teams to create more programming-friendly, multi-platform packages that benefit the stations and are attractive to national advertisers.
Link: Huffington Post. Good stuff. --Dennis
Jerry Pournelle’s lengthy but always interesting “Chaos Manor” column in Byte was must reading for me when that magazine existed. So it’s been fun to see him as a guest on a couple of Leo LaPorte’s recent recent This Week in Tech videos, which I usually watch via Roku on laundry nights.
On the show I watched tonight, Pournelle repeated his “Iron Law of Bureaucracy,” which may be relevant to those of us in public broadcasting as we consider the challenges of maintaining a mission during changing patterns of media usage and the necessity to consider collaborations and mergers. Here’s how he stated it on the program:
Any organization has two kinds of people: those that are dedicated to what the organization is dedicated to and the other dedicated to the organization itself. The second always gets in control.
The Chaos Manor column continues online. I hope I’m that sharp at 77. --Dennis