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:
It was interesting to see that Pebble blew past its $100,000 goal for crowd funding development of its innovative watches from Kickstarter, raising over $10 million. In checking out Kickstarter and a competitor called Indiegogo, it struck me that these sites, and others like them, might be a good way for public media entities and independent producers to raise funds for their projects -- though Pebble's large return is atypical.
Today, a Canadian friend of public media, Rob Paterson, posted some very useful advice for those who aspire to raise funding this way. Although written from a general rather than pubmedia perspective, it should be must reading for producers wanting to pursue this.
Additionally, you should check out Colleen Taylor's helpful post on GigaOM comparing these two major players in this space.
As more traditional sources of funding are harder to tap, these provide a good source of journalistically independing funding.
If you have experience with using crowd sourcing for public media projects, please leave a comment here or send me an email. --Dennis
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.
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
Feels comfortable in the traditional role, being the nonprofit arm of the media world
Attracts relatively broad audiences
Generates the largest audience and sum of user-sensitive income
Increases net unrestricted revenue
Permits greater spending on high return-on-investment programming
Expenses reduced through outsourcing and collaborations with “newco” services —startup and spinoff companies that handle functions such as master control, program acquisition and scheduling, interstitial production, and individual giving
Local line of business
Thrives by building engaged communities, usually by joining in collective impact with others in the public service sector
Serves as the media arm of the nonprofit world, enlarging its role as a civic convener, working strategically to multiply the impact of partner organizations (public television entities have been doing this for education partners since before there was a PBS); and/or
Focuses particularly on journalism, which fits well the traditional role as the nonprofit arm of media, but also builds community impact
Has targeted audiences
Net revenue from the national line of business
Project revenue from foundations, partners, tax-based sources
Broadens its output and reach by increasing its ratio of producers/journalists to support personnel
Uses smarter, “smaller-but-broader” facilities for content generation
Shares studios among television stations, with perhaps 30 to 60 sites in the country
Lowers cost using more digital-friendly production modus operandi (e.g., VJ techniques in television; Knight training in public radio)
Utilizes “Create Once Publish Everywhere” mode of production and distribution[ix]
Adopts “distributed distribution,” using multiple platforms, including partners’ and other community outlets.
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.
[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.
Yesterday evening, I sent the following on Twitter: “BM: If anyone doesn’t need common carriage, it’s you – Go direct…” This is an expansion of that thought.
A few days ago, I published a guest post by Howard Blumenthal of MiND TV on public television and disintermediation. By the standards of this modest blog, it got a lot of attention, including some thoughtful comments. Then I read Elizabeth Jensen’s New York Times piece saying that Bill Moyers had ended his effort to return to PBS with a weekly series because: “PBS has informed us there is no time slot available in which the series could be designated for simultaneous common carriage across the country. …”
I’ve spent 38 of my 41-year career in stations and now in semi-retirement work half-time as executive director of a station organization, so I certainly believe in the value of local stations. And I’ve argued for the power of common carriage in both the station community and as a former PBS board member. But we can’t deny the disintermediation that’s going on all around us on multiple platforms and we need to figure out how to make it work for public media.
There’s a lot of room between denial and embracing, but it seems to me that if anyone could be successful in doing self-distribution – going direct to viewers – it’s Bill Moyers. Unless his proposed show’s content would be fishwrap a few hours later, he has the brand, following, and (probably favorable) demographics to make disintermediated distribution work. Amazon, FORA.tv, Hulu, Netflix, Roku, YouTube and many more are all waiting – not to forget non-common carriage public TV distribution via American Public Television, etc. And a plethora of social media tools can both get the word out and encourage the conversation that Moyers’ programs have always generated.
Howard Blumenthal, CEO of MiND: Media Independence in Philadelphia, circulated the following “efficiency chart” among some public television CEOs today. I thought it was worth sharing and am posting it here with Howard’s kind permission. --Dennis
Please allow me to explain the chart…
1. As we all know too well, one of the key media trends has been "disintermediation." We now buy music from musicians, so record labels, record distributors and record stores no longer control the music business; same for many other media. And so, the top chart, with just "You Tube" in the distribution path, is a disintermediated model. Replace YouTube with any single system or distribution brand. Disintermediation is efficient, mostly because it eliminates "middlemen."
2. It would be difficult to find a media model that's more intermediated than public television. That's the second model, filled with entities and brands and expenses that each require staff, technology, handling, priority in the eyes of the viewer, and more.
As we contemplate the future of public media, and the role of the stations in that future, we must seriously consider the model that we have built. It's clunky, costly, challenging to innovators, and ultimately, adds only marginal value to the consumer who wants to watch, say, Antiques Roadshow. If the brand is "pre-school children's programming," perhaps several program brands (Curious George, Sesame Street) can be clustered under a master brand. Unfortunately, we've got a whole lot more than just two brands happening in the second model.
If we're going to succeed long-term, we need to face this challenge. Otherwise, other, more efficient models will take the place of our well-established institutions.
Enjoy the chart. If you want to discuss, I'm available.
We learned this month that the Coen Brothers used what’s historically been Apple’s consumer video editing software – Final Cut Pro – to edit True Grit. The make of DSLR camera that I use, Canon’s “prosumer” EOS 5D Mark II, has been used for shooting professional 1080p HD (see Luminère example as well as at least three television seasons of Fox’s House, BBC Two’s Shelfstackers and BBC Four’s Road to Coronation Street). A new version of Final Cut Pro is expected this Spring with major enhancements (link: TechCrunch).
Production capital and human costs for television are arguably making the industry non-competitive, as Michael Rosenblum has evangelized, so this can’t help being a healthy trend. Of course, in the end, it’s about both costs and culture. --Dennis
Garrison Keillor was born 107 years after Mark Twain and now, 100 years after Twain’s death, GK has used his first guest host on APHC. Will Rogers overlapped Twain about 30 years, but it’s hard to name someone else in the company of these three. It’s hard, too, to believe APHC will survive the retirement of its creator. It’s about the writing, not the music. --Dennis
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.
It's not fashionable to write about a continuing role for broadcast among the multiple digital disruptions it's encountering, but one of our most insightful digerati, Kevin Kelly (an early Wired editor) puts it concisely here:
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. ...