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:
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.
The prestigious James MacTaggart lecture is a fixture at the annual MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. I’ve never attended one, but they’re always interesting and I look forward to catching up when they’re posted. This year’s lecture was given by Eric Schmidt, the Google Executive Chairman and, until this year, its CEO.
Here are some excerpts relevant to the focus of this blog:
Around 60% of Netflix rentals are the result of algorithmically generated recommendations.
What are the trends to watch? I can sum that up in three words: mobile, local and social. …¶… Reflecting on this, new genres of online content and services are emerging. If content is king, context is its crown – and one of the most important contextual signals is location. If you’re searching for coffee from your mobile,odds are you’re not looking for a Wikipedia entry, but for directions to a nearby café. ¶ Social signals are another powerful driver of behavior. If three of my friends highly rate a TV series, odds are I’d check it out even if reviewers say it’s rubbish. …
On TV viewing:
In fact, I don’t' expect TV viewing will ever switch to be entirely on-demand. There will always be a cultural pull, for some shows, on some occasions, to watch in real-time. Linear viewing remains remarkably robust – in 2010, over 90% of broadcast TV viewing remained ‘live.’
A couple of weeks ago, I had a good conversation with an old friend and colleague who is an executive at a combined radio and television operation about the dilemma such stations have in knowing which of the new set of web tools being developed by NPR and PBS to adopt in such “joint licensee” situations. It parallels the dilemma such stations have faced for years in how to present their web operations – that is, to combine radio and television on one site, to build separate sites, or to make one combining the two. The scatter charts below are the result of a little deeper dive into the data then I did for my post last Thursday, Pubmedia web ranks vs. inbound links.
Bottom line: I’m now less inclined to say, “Let them develop separate sites,” than I was on the phone with my friend.
Both charts still look at inbound links (also called backlinks), though I’ve dropped PBS and NPR data to open up the scale a bit and added some stations. In the legends below, by “PBS,” I mean standalone websites for PBS stations; by “NPR,” I mean standalone websites for NPR stations that carry the NPR newsmagazines; and “Joint” means websites combining pages for both radio and TV. “Classical” refers to websites for both commercial and non-commercial classical music stations.
The first chart displays the same X and Y axes as the one on Thursday, but the data points have been differentiated for these four categories. Larger backlink numbers logarithmically improve traffic ranking. In other words, you dramatically improve search traffic by this demonstration of respect for your site’s content. It’s likely that search traffic is greater than what I’d label “relationship traffic,” though of course some percentage of people who find you through search go on to develop relationships with you.
You’ll see that the general pattern for combined joint licensee sites is not a lot different than the one for sites for NPR newsmagazine stations. Sites for TV stations and classical music radio stations trail in inbound links and in traffic rankings. The median Alexa traffic ranking for the sites in this group is 173,005 (ranging from 4,977 to 625,617). KCRW (#1), WNYC, WBUR, KQED and WBEZ sites are in the top 10,000 – all but joint licensee KQED are radio-only sites.
The second chart below uses the inbound links as the X axis this time, and the Y axis is the number of those backlinks per 1,000 television households (to control for market size). There are a few more data points because the number of inbound links is given for several stations for which no traffic rank is displayed.
Here, the median backlinks per 1,000 TVHH is a modest 0.16. The top performers are joint licensees, KQED.org and KPBS.ORG with 1.05 and 1.16 backlinks per 1,000 TVHH. Non-classical music radio-only site and joint licensee sites each have a median of 0.24. For TV-only sites it’s 0.12, and for classical radio sites it’s 0.04.
You might ask, is it just television that has problems? In joint licensee situations, stations like KPBS and KQED, which offer a lot of linkable content in both media definitely lift the backlinks and traffic linkings rankings of the combined site. Both lift the other, but television doesn’t provide as much lift as radio does. I looked at data for the four news-producing commercial TV stations in Washington, DC (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and for the commercial radio all-news powerhouse, WTOP. All five plus NPR all-news station WAMU had a respectable number of backlinks in about the same range (1,317 for CBS to 2,036 for Fox). TV stations with lots of linkable content do well.
You might also ask, is it impossible for a music-only station to perform well with backlinks? Here, I looked at the sites of just a pair of similar stations, KEXP in Seattle and WXPN in Philadelphia (neither are shown in the charts above). Both station have a national reputation and neither station is particularly high power (KEXP is only 560 watts; WXPN 5,000 watts). Having been a "neighbor" of sorts to KEXP during its development, I know that it made an aggressive push in internet delivery and now has 1,239 inbound links vs. 655 for WXPN – that translates to 0.66 per 1,000 TVHH for KEXP and 0.22 for WXPN (both numbers probably understate the true number since neither station probably reaches the full range of the Nielsen TV DMA households). That’s nearly 20% larger than all-news KUOW’s in the same market, five times larger than the site of KPLU (mixed news and jazz format), and seven times larger than site of the main PBS station in the market, KCTS. So, yes, music-only stations can get lots of “link love” and perform well in search with the right strategies.
So, back to my friend's question: There’s no reason why a majority of your pageviews shouldn’t be coming in through search. For this blog, it’s about 70%. These data suggest that search traffic will be lifted if you combine the sites, since the main URL’s “respect” will drive that. The “relationship traffic,” on the other hand, might be advantaged in some ways by building independent sites. At a minimum, joint licensee sites should do a much better job at making radio visible instead of hidden on a tab behind a bunch of public TV program visuals. Remember, radio lifts TV better than TV lifts radio (that’s true for on-air promotion also) – and both lift the web better than the web lifts them. Judging from what I’ve seen, way too many stations are apparently following the losing strategy of making the web site into a program promotion vehicle. You’re content companies – put that up front, make it as much of a river as you can, and look for strategies to grow your inbound links.
Available web statistics tend to overstate the broadcast equivalent of cume and understate the broadcast equivalent of average usage (and therefore time spent using). If broadcast usage was counted like web usage, you would be counted as two in your cume if you tuned in on two radios or TVs in a given rating period. Each browser you use to access the same web site counts as a “unique.” The disappointing web performance we see for too many public media web sites is even more so in reality.
I’d suggest we’re looking at the wrong thing anyway. Inbound links (also called backlinks) drive traffic because search engine algorithms consider them a sign of respect. Given the large proportion of your traffic that comes from search engines, strategies that encourage backlinks will move your digital performance in the right direction.
This scatter chart comes from public data I looked at for the top 52 television markets – New York through New Orleans – for both radio and television (some markets are missing). The two dots in the upper left side are for NPR and PBS. In general, it shows that the higher number of sites linking in, the higher you are (lower number) in traffic ranks (both are power curves, hence the log-log scaling). The metrics are from an Amazon subsidiary called Alexa, which relies on data generated from installed browser toolbars and, as of 2008, from other unspecified sources. It’s rankings get some criticisms, but for our purposes it displays the relationship.
The following table shows organizations having more than 1,000 inbound links:
Left to right, the first number is Alexa Traffic Rank, the second is inbound links, and the third is links per 1,000 TV households. Note that all of these top-ranked stations are either radio or joint licensees – content and relationships for radio stations carrying the NPR news magazines definitely drive backlinks. Excluding NPR and PBS, the median rank = 176,654, median backlinks = 255, and median backlinks per 000 = 0.19.
Having multiple URLs lowers your “Google respect.” A broadcaster in one market in the teens has one URL for radio, one for TV, and one corporate. In the aggregate, it has a semi-respectable 0.43 backlinks per 000 TVHH, but radio alone (its best performer) has 0.24, TV 0.12 and the corporate brand 0.07. Because these backlinks are distributed among three URLs, it won't get the benefit of the aggregate number.
Also – though this needs some more data – sites using “old school” station-dot-org URLs seem have better backlink performance than those with longer corporate brands. One stand-alone radio station in a market in the twenties has a puny 36 inbound links at its corporate ID URL, but nearly five times that at the station-dot-org URL it no longer uses (it redirects to the main ID).
Lastly, classical music radio stations (I looked at WFMT, KING, KUSC, WGUC and WRR) do significantly worse than stations with the NPR news magazines. This may be in part due to the source of data that Alexa uses, or perhaps classical demos just don't use the web. More on this in a later post.
First, congratulations to @KQED, and particularly to one of our top innovators, @TimOlsonSF and his team, on the launch of the very cool KQED Video web app for the Chrome browser. From Chrome, it’s accessible through the Google Chrome web store. KQED’s implementation features its own productions served up through YouTube -- but a very clean and unobtrusive implementation of YouTube. My only complaint is that when you hit the back button during playback, it dumps you out of the site, requiring you to re-enter the site to view more.
Congratulations, too, to Jason Seiken and his team at PBS for the PBS Kids Video and PBS Kids PLAY! apps, and to Kinsey Wilson and his team at NPR for the NPR for Chrome browser. Job One will be to get my daughter in Wyoming to download Chrome for Mac and the PBS apps for my grandkids and the NPR app for herself and her husband.
Web apps are going to be huge, duplicating or even exceeding the experience one gets on a tablet in a web browser.
Although I tried it almost as soon as it came out, I’d not really spent much time with Chrome until a few months ago, but now for reasons other than its app store (largely its ability to do search in the URL window), it’s up all the time. The web apps it supports are sure to make it an even more frequent choice. --Dennis
P.S.: KQED’s app shows up as a “Popular” choice in the “News and weather” category.
Erick Schonfeld reports on a new Yahoo study that shows the disappearance of a gap in online viewing caused by live TV that was present in 2009. He writes:
... Only two years ago, prime time showed the biggest dip in online video viewing as people turned off their computers and turned on their TVs. But now, more people are streaming TV shows and movies from services like Netflix and Hulu, and they tend to watch those videos during the same time period they previously watched regular TV. ...
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.