I’m finally back home from the IMA 2008 conference (2,300 miles later). I’m tired, I’m Twittered out, and I’m facing both a mound of catch-up work as well as one of the busiest weeks of the year. But I wanted to capture my impressions from the conference, much as Todd Mundt and Tim Eby have done.
Overall, it was a good conference as usual. Interesting projects were profiled from all over the system, but nothing was truly game-changing at a macro level. There were exhortations that we need to do more, reserve more of our budgets, boost traffic and so on. Palpable fear ran through the conference about TV, partially due to DTV in 2009, partially sparked by the universally-hated NY Times article. Radio, while considered at risk eventually, is firing on all cylinders for the moment and doesn’t yet show fear.
But here are, in my opinion, the truly interesting items, borne from meta-issues swirling around the conference but not directly addressed:
- The IMA and Mark Fuerst (one of the IMA’s originators and the de facto CEO for many years) have changed the nature of their relationship. They now have a formal (or more formal) contractual relationship, and will pursue full 501(c)(3) status for the organization. The implications of this change are unclear to me, but it might signal a real sea change in how IMA operates and what goals it pursues. The way it was presented left me with lingering concerns, given Fuerst’s strong advocacy for online service. If he’s not pushing as hard in the future as he has in the past, what becomes of IMA?
- Fuerst ended the conference with comments that were strongly (and accurately) critical of the system’s lack of development in the online space, pointing out one stat showing that in 2005 the PubTV system invested just 0.66% of spending in online work. Naturally, this paucity of investment has resulted in pathetic web traffic systemwide. Fuerst seemed almost angry in his closing comments. Rightly so, but it was the first time I’d experienced a conclusion that was negative in tone.
- The IMA members meeting and one of the sessions focused on the questions, “Can we / should we bring more nonprofit public service media entities into the IMA fold?” Reactions were positive to the idea, though I don’t think anyone could imagine what this would mean to the IMA in the long run. The most obvious nonprofit pure-play web entity that might partner with IMA was Wikipedia, represented at the conference by their Executive Director, the former interactive manager for cbc.ca.
In my (current) view, IMA appears to be at an impasse. We seem to have reached a point where integrated media advocacy has given out, where recommendations and demonstrations fail to move our organizations to meaningful action.
To date, IMA has been effective at putting the online services question on the table within public broadcasting and has done so eloquently and repeatedly. But for all the work completed, no significant sea change has yet arrived. Meanwhile, the house of public TV is on fire, we’re losing audience to a fracturing media world across the board and new players (like Wikipedia and others) have stolen “our” web traffic and possibly our raison d’etre.
I’ve been to IMA for the past four years straight. I’ve been excited by the projects and keep feeling like there’s so much opportunity in front of us. But in those four years, not much has changed in my shop nor in the system at large.
I’m left wondering… what now?