In the previous post Jon Schwartz calls the question I reproduced a 'polite indictment' of the public radio system from one of its most respected executives. Jon manages a network of stations in Wyoming, and is therefore most concerned with the fate of stations in the network era. I'm responding to him by summarizing ideas that I've previously expressed here in more detail, especially in Growing the Network.
When deep insiders like Jon Schwartz are calling for systemic change, you know the time has come. Either it will happen...or the opportunity will be lost and public media will settle into a mature state of limited relevance. That would be a shame; it's not as if we haven't had the time and the opportunity to make the transition.
Jon,I applaud your effort to raise once again these issues and put them into a more comprehensive context — historically, financially and 'ecologically' in terms of today's media and interactive media environment.
You and I have talked about these issues in the past. Since 2004 I've been calling for exactly the kind of fearless, grounded, strategic and business innovation you ask for. Perhaps it is my liminal position in the public media system, but my questions and observations on this subject have mostly been greeted with silence or denial. That tells me I'm close to the core of the problem: people are too threatened by this kind of change even to talk about it.
I too am impressed by what Kinsey Wilson is doing at NPR to move things forward on a technical and collaborative level. He is doing everything he can, but as a technology executive he is not able to address the underlying structural and political issues. Stating them falls somewhere between seditious and heretical:
Critically, what is required to move forward is an across-the-board revenue sharing business model that welds the financial and organizational objectives of stations, networks and producers into a common goal: engagement and impact on local, national, and global scales, and a sustainable revenue stream to support public media long term. This is exactly the area you identify as problematic. Avoiding the issue isn't going to fix it.
The business relationship between stations (a 20th century broadcast artifact), networks (a larger, overarching, expanding concept of information systems), and producers (now 'content providers,' programmers and 'interaction designers'') MUST be redefined for the 21st century network era.
You mention 'online aggregation' in your opening sentence, and indeed this is the other crux of the matter: to be successful online you have to aggregate something into a comprehensible, easy-to-use, valuable service.
Public media's timid, partial, and largely disorganized approach to its online presence is not only unsustainable on a cost over revenue basis: strategically it is a recipe for failure in both the short and the long term. You and a few others excluded, public media executives handicapped by history and the legacy structure of the industry have simply been incapable of thinking comprehensively and organizing to address the problem.
As an outsider with insider knowledge who has already made the transition from 20th century broadcast syndicator to 21st century online music service provider, I can make the following prescription:
Public Radio (and the rest of public media) needs to —
- recognize that the native online format is interactive mixed media, not "radio" or "television"
- offer 'end users' an integrated multi-platform service with massive aggregation of local, national, international, cultural
and public service content, and relevant social network features
- create a national membership program with free and paid tiers of service.
Structurally, it must create —
- a platform for underwriters, national funders, content producers, and end users
- a business model which shares revenue equitably between the principal stakeholders: producers, stations, and networks — thereby eliminating the political stalemate that has inhibited effective change thus far.
You will know something significant is happening when all the stakeholders I've mentioned are sitting in a room together ready to re-invent, re-design and re-negotiate the prevailing business models of public media and commit to a new system.
Yes, it's a big deal, but anything less than this is just more inspirational/aspirational rhetoric. The real work is building sustainable services with business rules that incentivize all the participants, offer the public a higher level of service, and result in new revenues for public media.
Regards :: SH