Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Voluntary Giving for Web-Content: Part Two

The last post on Web-content and The Stairway to Given generated some very interesting and productive conversations over the past 48 hours. What sticks out the most is the tendency for people to co-mingle listener issues with public radio industry issues.

The whole point behind the Stairway to Given post was to put a listener (or user) focus on the question of voluntary support. It's a simple question, can a listener come to rely on podcasts, streams, and other web services to the point that he would voluntarily pay for them? I think the answer is yes.

To whom that listener gives money is an entirely separate question.

Let's take the most extreme example, a listener who gets all of her content from podcasts, archives, and streams provided by NPR and PRI. While she manages to completely bypass stations, she also meets the criteria of the Stairway to Given. She's a listener. She relies on public radio by listening to it more than any other source of audio. For the past three years she has listened 12 to 15 times per week to different types of programs. She finds the service personally important and would miss it if it went away.

Should she be told that public radio depends on listener contributions and asked to donate? If not, why?

If so, to whom should she give her money?


Anonymous Works at a station said...

This is a very tricky question!
I believe the answer is yes. She should contribute--and to whom? Well, to the source that created the content, no? That would mean a check to NPR and another to PRI or AMP or Pacifica, or all of the above. And so the slippery slope here is--will stations become irrelevant, unless they are content producers?

Presumably this model would still exist alongside the current "I listen to my local station model." And so contributions to local stations would still exist based on that useage, while this new model evolves.

It makes me think of a recent scenario where I was speaking with a retired man who told me he lives on the cusp of two different stations. He hears both of their pledge drives-- with one station asking for $200,000, another asking for $70,000 (or something like that). His question--why the redundancy? Get rid of the middle man and just provide an "NPR Franchise," save a LOT of money on the local level.

Of course MANY of "us" have an objection to this, and try to demonstrate our worth to the public through our localized, unique, programming. But this web model presented makes a similar argument. If we're not providing content, what are we doing? Will we be doing it in the changing media environment?

4:18 PM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

Thanks for the comment. I think it would be a mistake to have two different brands of public radio --one listener support and one not. Letting networks raise money from listeners is scary, but it could solve many problems and increase the size of the revenue pie if it is handled with a high level of trust, transparency, and accountability.

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Works at a station said...

I wasn't suggesting having two brands, as in, one listener supported, one not. Simply different places where listeners have the option of making their contribution. I think your comment about transparancy and accountability in revenue would be crucial if this ever comes to pass. Don't we HAVE to consider such a scenario with podcasts, online sources now allowing listeners to go directly to "the source?"

Retired guy I was talking to was hypothetically proposing that stations had no purpose altogether, and NPR should just create one menu for every stick all over the country... like I said--a pretty offensive idea to most people who work at stations. But interesting, as one very serious opinion, from a guy who loves public radio.

Thanks for keeping these ideas out here to discuss!

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Man Who's a Public Radio Fan said...

Retired guy is also probably touching on something that I have always thought was strange; competing NPR stations in the same market that air the same shows at the same time. THAT gets back to market exclusivity, another interesting concept that was discussed on this blog not long ago.

Getting back to the topic at hand, my initial thought is that sooner or later NPR and all the affiliate stations are going to have to have a cozier fiscal relationship. Otherwise this problem of "who does the listener give the money to?" is really going to get nasty. My guess is that the only solution is for a more tightly integrated fiscal model so that there's a distinct set of rules to govern a system of revenue sharing at ALL levels.

The problem, of course, is that this will be "easy" to implement at "big" stations like KQED, KUOW, WBUR, WAMU, WNYC, etc...because they have significant resources and many of them already have staff structures, fiscal structures, and programming structures, that align fairly well with NPR's own structures. But for smaller stations, like KALW or WUMB...stations that only air a little bit of NPR programming (or PRI, or APM...I'm using the term "NPR" somewhat generically here). Those stations will have a VERY hard time adapting to that new concept.

My god, just look at all the troubles integrating all those smaller stations with ContentDepot. I shudder to think what it'd take to do all their fiscal issues, too.

11:20 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

"Works at a station" -- wasn't disagreeing with you at all. I'm concerned that not asking "network-only" listeners to give *will* create two brands of public radio. The industry needs to market to all consumers of our content that giving is essential.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Works at a station said...

Yes- I hearily concur about ways to communicate that giving is essential. Maybe a testimonial from Tiger Woods, as he decides to arrange to have a monthly contribution withdrawn from his bank account ;-)

But do we currently have more than one brand of public radio anyway- since stations can program and sound vastly different from each other? And some contributors give to more than one station? Do multiple contributions for multiple uses set up the beginnings of a "fee for service" mentality? At our station we put a request for funds at the top of every audio stream, but I don't think we can know if that ask has prompted anyone to make a contribution.

I find the idea of placing the same giving criteria on web usage as radio listening pretty basic but important. I guess I'm wondering 1) are we still too early into streaming/podcasting for users to feel that bond of it being a crucial part of their daily/weekly experience to want to pay for it voluntarily 2)Is there a way to measure knowing if people are giving us money BECAUSE of the web services. (Maybe this is a basic one that has a clear cut answer, I just am not aware of how that works...) 3) Is there an expectation for web entertainment to be free (in spite of fees now becoming commonplace at places like ITunes, etc)

11:12 AM  

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