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Sunday, 28 January 2007


John Proffitt

Gotta agree with all the comments above, particularly the "high touch" factor noted by Mr. Winefield, and the station-centered push advocated by Mr. Hill. Those are the holy grails. And Dennis -- your "just do it" mantra sums up what's next for all of us that want serve our public into the future.

I get the sense that everyone (especially decision-makers at stations) has been waiting for THE PLAN. We seem to be waiting for NPR/APM/PBS/PRI/etc. to provide the solution. Surprise! There isn't a solution, or at least not one that you'll be able to pick up off the shelf.

The solution requires stations to reinvent themselves (a tall order, I know, but the alternative is the slow implosion already in progress). We are facing, in a very intimate and immediate way, the Innovator's Dilemma. And the solution to this problem is a combination of what you guys said above:

[1] Realize the solution will NOT be provided to you by a network or producer who, despite all their good intentions, is out to serve THEIR mission before yours. So you're going to have to do whatever is necessary yourself, in-house. You cannot buy a canned version of what Peoria does and repeat that in Santa Fe. You can't contract it, outsource it, or consult it -- you have to figure this out yourself, in your community, on your dime (and with donated dimes). And when you do, the result will be real, organic, local and meaningful to all who participated.

[2] Each local media org must develop a highly localized service that no one else can duplicate by aggregation or "close enough" emulation. It must be authentic, and it must have a "high touch" factor that makes your service real and tangible in a world of intangibilities. You must begin to listen to and interact with your public rather than treating them like a nameless, faceless piggy bank to hit up at pledge drives. (I'm continually amazed at how much we hold the public at arm's length; we really don't want them getting in "here" and mucking about in "public" media -- that's OUR job!).

[3] Get to work and get used to living in a permanent beta state. Waiting for the next study or the next conference is not an option (though keep reading, thinking and talking as you go along). And fear of failure is not a reason for delaying your efforts. You WILL fail -- bet on it. But that's expected, normal and healthy. Each time you fail, you'll change for the better and real supporters will respect you for trying, so long as you handle it honestly and openly.

Going forward, the interesting questions I have are these:

1. How do we get this message (get to work, do it yourself, make it local) into the minds of decision-makers at local (mid-market/small-market) stations today?

2. Would the decision-makers in power today understand the message if they heard it? And could they overcome the Innovators Dilemma if they did?

3. Is it time for someone else to start a parallel public media service, bypassing the old guard? Should CPB and corporations and foundations cut off funding for old organizations that aren't moving ahead in new ways?

Rich Winefield (via Dennis Haarsager)

Reacting to your most recent missive, specifically to: "And it doesn't take higher order mathematics to calculate that the investment in that might not be real compelling for the rank-and-file station that's trying to shore up that chicken coop."

I agree with your logic about local stations, but would add that, as the relevance of local stations diminishes with the explosion of content-creators and various distribution choices, the best way to stay relevant is through a combination of high tech (what was once dubbed hyper localism) and high touch. I proselytized aggressively about both while I was still working within the system, and saw growth in the tech but a depressing reduction in the "touch." Local stations can use both emerging media and good old fashioned outreach to create and nurture relationships within their coverage areas. Indeed, I believe that the education and outreach potential for creating key relationships, leveraging both new and legacy media to add value for teachers, community leaders, parents, etc. is vital to local stations' survival. But it sits at the lowest level of the public broadcasting totem pole. High tech without the high touch will leave many traditional public broadcasting fans in the dust, but combining them to deliver on mission will keep local stations relevant, well beyond the time that the major producing stations give way to the mountains of high quality content being produced elsewhere.

My two-cents, and worth every penny. All the best to you!

Todd Mundt

I think we can find a coalition of stations where management 1) sees the peril and the promise of digital distribution, and 2) is willing to push strongly for a solution. IMA@Boston next month is a good place for us to start.

Stephen Hill

Amen, Dennis.

One thing I did not stress in my post was that it is precisely the stations in the public broadcasting system that are the most vulnerable to disruption from new media.

A chillingly instructive comparison is underway in the music business, and I'm talking only about the legal disruption, not the illegal one still flourishing on the P2P darknets.

The digital music 'value chain' starts with the artist, then moves through the record label, the distributor and the music retailer to reach the end user. By definition, dis-intermediation occurs in the middle of the chain and has had the most serious effect on traditional music retailers. c.f. Tower Records and thousands of smaller retailers, now bankrupt or consolidated into a dying business model.

The major labels now deal with digital retailers direct; the Indie artists and labels (less than 25% of the business but the bulk of the long tail) via a small number of digital distributors like IODA and CD Baby. iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, Emusic and a handful of large digital retailers now account for something over 95% of the legal digital download business.

If the same pattern is repeated in American public radio and television, the disruption will occur mainly at the expense of the stations. Yet with a few exceptions they are still acting as if their old monopoly on key programming will last forever.

The major program distributors (NPR, PRI, APM) will not be seriously affected as long as they can control access to their key program brands, can acquire new fat-end-of-the-tail programming as it emerges, and continue to add enough value in the funding, production, promotion and marketing process.

By some exercise of cosmic justice, for once independent and small station producers will benefit from the general leveling of the playing field and the existence of new services and aggregators online. Our world is certainly not flat -- getting anything established is still an uphill journey -- but the angle is less steep than it was in the days of limited broadcast air time, reductive formats and a small number of outlets.

But the existing stations can expect that unless they can achieve the kind of hyperlocalization that Terry Heaton has been advocating, their function will slowly be replaced for fat-end-of-the-tail programming by a small number of giant media aggregators and large specialty portals -- one of which could be NPR.org! In this world, independent producers have everything to gain and nothing to lose, and the network level distributors will only see the value of their brands increase.

All this leads me to conclude that the political push for wide angle, aggregated on-demand public media services must come from the stations and be designed to benefit them as well as the mission of public service media. In fact, in a truly well-designed system, everyone would win.

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