The human rationale for Web 2.0

Tech writer David Pogue has a great little piece up today explaining why using Web 2.0 (interactive) technologies and methods are important for any company. Public media is no different, of course, and if we are supposedly community-focused, then it means even more sense that we open the doors to the public. (It’s always surprised me how little the “public” appears in public media.)

He has a particularly funny example from an internal — yet open-to-the-public — disussion at Microsoft regarding whether the game Minesweeper should be included with Windows.

Bottom line?

Yes, you’ll have to moderate this stuff. Yes, it means spending money with no immediately visible return on investment. Yes, it’s more work for everyone.

But you’ll gain trust, goodwill and positive attention. You’ll put a human face on your company. And you’ll learn stuff about your customers that you wouldn’t have discovered any other way.

Funny how trust comes up first in his list of benefits. Sound familiar?

Good reading.

Update on NPR / Ken Stern

Current published an in-depth article on the NPR / Ken Stern story this week. I’ve updated my list of articles to include it, and it’s a great read on its own. It summarizes a large swath of the Stern history at NPR and points to several core reasons why things just didn’t work out.

I actually came away from this profile liking Ken Stern quite a bit. Did he fit well into the CEO slot? Perhaps not. But he did some great work for NPR. And to everyone’s credit — except a sour-grapes Bob Edwards — the comments from board members and others were incredibly even-handed.

Why traditional TV production is dead

TV stations and professional staffs — commercial and noncommercial alike — have been around for more than a generation. Television started in the middle of the last century and since then thousands of people across the country have built careers upon the technologies, processes and the advertising dollars that flowed freely for decades. A complex art and science, TV demanded workers develop expertise with an arcane and complex set of tools for their unique work. Creating a high-quality TV show was impossible without armies of specialists to turn all the required knobs and punch all the required buttons at synchronized moments.

Money from national and local advertisers flowed easily to television stations — the mass medium of choice that gave advertisers access to an impossibly huge audience; an audience bigger than the daily newspapers; an audience bigger than any single radio station. Advertising money built the industry, dollar by dollar, viewer by viewer. It’s been a great ride.

But those days are coming to an end. Actually, they’ve already ended. Advertisers and TV execs have simply been slow to realize it and are only now starting to act. (Think of it as the music industry, circa 1995.)

Why? What’s happened in the TV market to make stations swing from cash-rich to cash-poor in just the last 10 years? What’s bankrupting the system? And is this a permanent trend or just a temporary blip? Here’s the answer in less than 5 minutes:

The economic model of traditional TV has imploded as the viewing options have exploded (not to mention all the competing technologies that have emerged in the last 10 years, exacerbating the problem). And as the money for TV broadcasting goes away, the ability to produce programming similarly dries up.

For small and midsize public television stations (not the rich behemoths like WGBH) that want to produce original programs of public value, the path ahead is actually pretty clear and comprises two primary modes:

  1. Big TV. Large-scale high-end TV productions will be few and far between. They will be funded as independent projects, will mostly involve outside contractors rather than inside employees, and will draw most of their funding from external one-off granting sources. Public media companies might manage or “host” these projects, but we won’t fund them from operating cash. When 1 or 2 hours of “PBS quality” video costs $250,000+ to produce, it’s clear the economics are beyond the meager budgets of smaller stations.
  2. Small video. Ongoing local productions must scale back to one person + camera + laptop, in variations of the VJ (video journalist) model, as espoused by Michael Rosenblum and others. These small productions must be aimed at multiplatform niche distribution rather than mass entertainment. Plus — an important second fact — we won’t produce all this content by ourselves. We’ll curate and collaborate in ways that will make the traditionalists scoff and sputter. In the end, “TV” folks will either become multifunctional “video” folks or will have to leave for production jobs at specialty video houses.

And that’s just the short-term transformational model (up to 5 years), focused on video content production. It’s quite possible that owning an actual television station (the licenses, the towers, the impossibly heavy technical infrastructure) will become economically unsustainable rather quickly as new technologies chip away at TV’s traditional dominance. Indeed, owning a local over-the-air TV station is likely to be financially dangerous to all but the most efficient regional or national network owner-operators by 2015.

If we in public media believe it’s our mission to serve the public interest using digital media, then video must be part of the equation. But does “TV” have to be in the mix? In the short term, definitely. In the long term, maybe, but probably with significant strategic changes.

For now, we may not know the fate of local TV stations, but traditional TV production models are already dead. The revolution is underway. Click below for another 90-second forehead slap:

So these are the market realities. It’s up to us to decide whether these are exciting or threatening developments. Should we engage and evolve or should we hunker down and hope for a different future?

I know my answer. What’s yours?

links for 2008-03-25

Don't miss the comments feed

This site has gathered a few comments in its first month on the scene. Some really, really good comments — and I don’t mean mine!

The most recent comments are briefly highlighted on the sidebar so you can check them out, but if you really want to keep up, you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the comments.

What I’m finding is that the comments are often longer — sometimes much longer — than the main pieces. And, no surprise, they’re so much more fun than my own posts!

Thanks to everyone that’s commented so far. I’m hoping we can continue the conversation.

XM + Sirius = Meh

If anyone in public media hasn’t figured it out yet, the merger of the two satellite radio providers — which just got antitrust approval by the Justice Department — is not a big deal. It was inevitable, but it shouldn’t affect your core strategies going forward.

Internet radio, in various forms, was, is and will be bigger than satellite radio. That’s where the action is — the threats and the opportunities.

If you haven’t seen the Bridge Ratings chart before (linked above), be sure to study it at least a little. The satradio providers are just bulking up in the hopes they can eliminate duplicative overhead costs and, together, get a bigger audience. After that, there’s no more “there” there than there was before. And without direct competitors, the merged company is more likely to enter into a period of strategy decay.

So good luck, guys.

UPDATE: Just found Mark Ramsey’s take on the news.

It's high time for real-time community engagement

Geeks out there probably know Leo Laporte, the long-time commercial radio and TV host, made especially well-known via the now-defunct TechTV cable channel. He continues to develop media, having built the TWiT podcast “network” over the past couple of years, including the flagship This Week in Tech podcast, drawing some 200,000 listeners a week.

In a blog post this weekend, Laporte describes several changes he’s bringing to the core show, centered on live video streaming. I’m recommending the post because he describes both some Media 1.0 troubles he’s had lately and then describes the changes he’s about to make in his Media 2.0 company.

Why should public media folks care?

Because Laporte is doing what many of us in public media are not, and his strategy is especially well-suited to the Media 2.0 economy:

  • he’s engaging with his community in a two-way and multi-way fashion that’s meaningful, open and authentic
  • he’s increasing his real-time contact hours across multiple digital platforms (he doesn’t limit himself to one platform)
  • he’s doing it all himself, on the cheap — there’s no network or corporation pushing him forward or holding him back

Laporte’s example is inspiring. Imagine what a public service media company with a true local engagement mission could do, using similar methods and the same low-cost, low-risk, rapidly-developing technologies. Engaging your community, communicating with your “true fans” is not a matter of holding public meetings or taking pledge calls. I’m hoping to steal some of this TWiT model for use in my shop (assuming we can get past our difficult strategic planning process).

But we’d better move fast.

Because in a world where Content is a commodity with a value approaching zero (or as Robert Paterson described content recently: noise), all we have left is Contact and Context. PBS and NPR can provide content on a national scale and with unrivaled quality. They can even distribute it and gather financial support for it directly. So we, the locals, must do what they cannot: provide authentic contact and develop a contextual service in tune with our local communities.

Take a look again at Laporte’s example. He’s building out in service of his “tribe,” his community. He’s co-creating value with volunteers in his “TWiT army.” He’s using two-way platforms authentically. He’s got real-time contact with his audience. He’s doing it without transmitters or other oppressively heavy engineering costs. We should be so lucky.

We can be so lucky.

Why innovation must be part of public media's DNA

If it seems like the world moves faster, technologically, with each passing year, you’re not imagining things.

Consider this chart:

Starting from its introduction, the simple telephone took 71 years to arrive in just 50% of American homes. Think about that. An entire generation was born, lived and died waiting for a telephone to arrive in their home, and only half of them got it!

Even electricity took 52 years to reach 50% of homes. Cell phones — that ubiquitous device most of us take for granted — took 14 years, but the MP3 player took less than half that time.

Basic Internet access — the new omnimedia connection — took 10 years to reach 50%, and in the early days it wasn’t even that much to talk about. Today, high-speed Internet access is in well over 50% of homes in the U.S. and average speeds are rising (though not fast enough for me).

There are two lessons here I can see:

  1. We cannot be transmitter companies (and indeed, we never were — we just thought we were because it was easier that way). Technology is a tool, not a purpose.
  2. The public naturally innovates as better tools arrive for information gathering, sharing and entertainment. We must innovate with them to serve them; innovation must be built into our DNA.

What other lessons can you see in this chart?

A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be. –Wayne Gretzky

IMA 2008 Audio: Sat, Feb 23

Here are the conference sessions recorded on the last day of Public Media 08 in Los Angeles — February 23, 2008. All available audio files are listed. Missing sessions either were not recorded or encountered technical problems. You can get more information about the sessions and speakers at the IMA wiki or the IMA web site.

IMA 2008 Audio: Fri, Feb 22

Here are the conference sessions recorded on the second official day of Public Media 08 in Los Angeles — February 22, 2008. All available audio files are listed. Missing sessions either were not recorded or encountered technical problems. You can get more information about the sessions and speakers at the IMA wiki or the IMA web site.