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16 September 2010


John Proffitt

The commentary coming out of the PUBRADIO list is indicative of the overall management and vision capacity of the public radio system and public media generally.

Presented with simple facts and trend lines in usage of alternative modes of media distribution, much of this group falls back on the tired old saws of "radio is better because..." rather than engaging with a changing world.

This *could* be an exciting time for leaders in public media. The opportunities to reach new audiences and fulfill the original mission of public media (now largely lost to 40 years of professionalization) are staggering and wonderful.

Yet managers spend their time bitching about costs, denigrating the interests of the next generation of potential members and pimping a business model started 50+ years ago that's now falling apart, piece by piece.

It's no wonder the NAB recently proposed making FM receiver chipsets mandatory in all new mobile electronics. That's just how "professionals" in the broadcasting field think. But, as noted in a response from the Consumer Electronics Association, an FM chipset law would make as much sense as requiring every car to include its own quarter horse.

This industry needs better management and better leadership. NPR is showing that leadership. PRX is showing it. Parts of MPR/APM are showing it. Even hidden parts of the CPB are showing it, in their own special way. But the bulk of stations and other corporations are loaded down with last-generation managers with a view of budgets, but not missions.

Fred Jacobs

It IS about the consumer experience. Not "What's in it for public radio?" But "What's it in for the consumer?" Media and technology companies, the automakers, and other brands that are serious about connecting with people in meaninngful ways see the world in this way. But in radio, we continue to look inward, analyzing whether there's an ROI benefit to what we do.

The consumer doesn't care. You're either where she is or she'll find other entertainment or information when and where she wants to. And know that the consumer's patience is waning. It's either there - on her mobile phone, on her laptop, on her iPad - or it's not. Radio's brands are still the envy of many other media outlets - and public radio leads in loyalty - but ignoring the consumer in place of our own agenda will surely cause brand erosion.

I can tell you that after developing 425+ radio apps, including "Car Talk," WUOM, OPB, KUT, and others, the joy and satisfaction they bring core listeners is immeasurable. Going mobile is a way of validating where the consumer is moving - it's an understanding of where the puck has gone. It is about giving her the content she loves whenever and wherever she wants.

It is all about the consumer experience.

Steve Crowley

Regarding the issue of mobile broadband streaming capacity, part of that works out by the trend toward offloading large streams to Wi-Fi. We're indoors most of the time, and increasingly within range of an accessible Wi-Fi hotspot. The recent adoption of tiered rate plans by all major US operators is partly an attempt to drive us to offload large content. With newer mobile broadband standards, the handover between 4G and Wi-Fi can be seamless. If one is on the move, however, and relying solely on 4G, that's more of a problem. It's also a problem for the video folks; one solution being looked at there is caching content by sending it to the phone over 4G overnight when it doesn't affect the network as much. Does public radio audio need to be received at the highest quality in real-time all the time, or could 4G real-time use be directed toward lower bit rate audio, such as news and talk, and higher-quality content supplied some other way?

Stephen Hill

Fred, I agree 110% with your observation about serving the listener's needs on all practical platforms, fixed and mobile. Hearts of Space has prioritized this and invested in native apps for both iPhone and Android.

Not only have they satified our user's (can't quite bring myself to say 'consumers') directly expressed desires, but it has improved our marketing outreach and provided a healthy bump in our subscription base.

Steve C: During the transition to fast, pervasive 4G wireless networks I think we'll see all kinds of technically sophisticated content caching and alternative connection strategies to save bandwidth and to improve quality of service for the user.

For example, the European music service Spotify uses a combination of conventional origin servers and a P2P network of users to serve streams and also caches substantial amounts of popular content on the mobile device to support service when there is no network connection available.

Public radio audio is already streamed at several different bit rates and formats depending on the need for quality. There is even one station streaming linear WAV files (CD format) at 1.4Mbps! In time I think we will see use of lossless formats for high-quality music services as premium subscription tiers.

But for most users on most existing networks, 128Kbps streams are more than adequate and not beyond the capacity of existing 3G networks except where individual cell towers are overloaded.

:: SH

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  • Gerd Leonhard
    'media futurist' and entrepreneur
  • Dennis L. Haarsager
    I'm a university administrator responsible for public broadcasting and educational technology.