Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Tangled Web We Weave

There's a new and growing obstacle in the effort to shorten station pledge drives -- underwriting and major donor revenues.

An increasing number of stations are using pledge drives as leverage for closing underwriting and major donor deals. It's a win-win when those deals result in challenges, premiums, or giveaways that generate more pledges, faster.

The downside is that stations are closing more of these deals in order to boost major donor and underwriting revenues. Shortening pledge drives mean fewer deals can be made. In essence, shortening pledge drives reduces the inventory of value-added selling opportunities. That isn't sitting well with some. For example:

- A station exceeded its 14-day pledge drive goal two days early. Programming and membership wanted to end the drive after 12 days but couldn't because of promises to let station underwriters come on the air and pitch.

- A station trying to plan a 1-Day pledge drive (it usually does 5 or 6 day drives) gets internal resistance because there are no challenge grant opportunities for underwriters or major donors.

These problems aren't so great that they can't be solved over time, but they do present an interesting question.

Are stations putting future underwriting and major donor revenues at risk by linking them too closely to pledge drives?

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Can Public Media Survive the Death of Listener Support?

Radio is dead. TV is dead. The Public Radio Membership model is dead. All have been declared dead is recent months by various Web 2.0 bloggers.

What's up with the whole "dead" thing anyway? It seems that declaring something dead is a rite of passage for freshman Web 2.0 gurus.

While the death of all these institutions is far from certain, let's play out these dire predictions.

Imagine a world where most public media is consumed via the web instead of over broadcast spectrum designated for educational purposes. Federal funding will go away.

Imagine a world where listeners are no longer the primary source of income for public media. Corporate and business support will rule.

Public media will morph into commercial media. Some entities will remain non-profit, but they will be dependent on commerce to succeed.

The industry is already well on its way to this commercial, non-profit status. Evidence of this is found in radio and TV underwriting credits and in pledge drive promotions designed more to satisfy business supporters than to generate listener contributions.

In this new environment, any content provider, commercial or non-profit, could adopt the "public media" label. This is already happening. XM has XM Public Radio. Many public broadcasting producers are for-profit entities. Most of the lines that distinguish today's public broadcasting from commercial media will blur and eventually go away.

Today's public radio listeners value what they hear because they know they can trust what they hear. That trust is built in large part on public radio's funding model. It's a cliche but listeners trust the content because "they are the public in public radio." Remove them from the equation down the road and "public media" will just be media.

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