Thursday, June 03, 2010

Vivian Schiller: Public Radio Over in a Decade

NPR President Vivian Schiller must know that the 34 million people who tune to NPR stations each week do so by listening to radio waves. She must know that the 27 million people who hear NPR programming each week are not really a single "national" audience but an aggregation of local station audiences. She must know that the $68 million in station revenue NPR receives annually is dependent on the quality of station broadcasts and fundraising. She must know all of these things.

And Vivian Schiller believes all of that will be gone in 10 years.

Yesterday at the D8, the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital conference, Vivian Schiller stated that radio towers will be gone in the next decade and that listening will move on-line, with mobile playing a key role. She also said that stations' roles will be to do what NPR can't -- provide local, regional and state coverage.

It's an incredible statement given that Schiller also said NPR is not trying to do an end run on stations.

How can that be?

NPR's strategic thinking clearly does not include radio audiences or radio revenues in 10 years. It can't. Not if the towers are gone. So what replaces the $68 million NPR now gets in station revenues? It's not all business support.

That kind of money comes from listener contributions.

With member stations out of the way, NPR has to be thinking about direct listener fundraising. There's no other model.

The implications for strategic planning are incredible. Most stations believe they still have a few good decades left in them. Vivian Schiller is betting against that.

It will be interesting to see how the NPR Board balances the interests of NPR's member stations against a corporate vision that financially requires the near-extinction of those stations and the migration of their listeners to NPR platforms.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Brad said...

Is this post a polite way of saying you think Schiller just signed her own death warrant? ;-)

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your logic assumes that radio stations can only distribute programming via terrestrial broadcast. If stations don't have (or more accurately, do not take) a beachhead in new technologies, then "a few good decades" is probably an overstatement.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I think the local stations that add value to NPR content will be fine in a digital world. But if you're not doing great local news and/or music programming, and just passing along the NPR signal, your days are numbered.

7:44 PM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

We've dealt with the new platform issue elsewhere on the blog and will probably do so again soon. Of course stations have to make themselves relevant in a digital world.

The issue here, and the point behind this posting, is that NPR is *planning* on stations being out of the terrestrial business within 10 years.


If you're an NPR station and you have a different vision for the future, one that extends beyond 2020, then NPR's plans are working against you.

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The New York Times however just reported that fees for those with unlimited data access on their cell phones are going to rise because of spectrum squeeze. I have a friend who pays about$100/mo to have that unlimited data option on his Iphone and he has the apps which let him use it has an internet radio. Now he is going to pay even more. How many of us will follow that trend? And if we did is there enough spectrum space to accommodate this--even if all the broadcast spectrum were vacated? I'm skeptical--It's an old story that new media will obsolete existing media--except it never seems to happen. Just more media and more pipes.

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Music is fast becoming a pointless attribute for a public radio station online. The million options for listening to music, the new personalized way you can listen to it, makes a music format online just one more in the multitude- there's absolutely no compelling reason to support it over any of the others. So Schiller suggests local stations become local news operations-- which is cost prohibitive for most small and medium stations. NPR sees the future and it's a direct line to listeners. And, forgive me, but public RADIO is just that, "radio"---- audiostreamsutton just doesn't have the same ring does it?

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate to read such insight five years after I initially raised this issue in front of a room packed full of NPR stations at a PRDMC meeting in 2005. When NPR chose to make their content non-exclusive (back in '05) delivering content to satellite radio bypassing the very audience - its local affiliates -that built the "enterprise" (no pun intended), I could see the writing on the wall.

I now ask the question, when did NPR - National Public Radio - become private in its aspirations and its business model?

It is a sad day. The very leader of the organization affiliate stations helped build, has declared its aspirations for a "new world order". And yes, plans are in the works, I am sure, where listeners to NPR's content, will have the ability to directly support the network's endeavors.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is doubtful the NPR board will lift a finger. The vetting process for candidates assures heavy news/talk GM representation at the cost of other stations and formats. Until the elections are a truely open process where the board does not pick its successors, NPR will march forward to its own drum.
We are being groomed by NPR and its board for direct fundraising at the expense of traditional stations.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, for one, am glad that NPR is planning for the day when online listening overtakes terrestrial broadcasts -- whether that's in ten years or 50.

That doesn't mean they're planning to abandon the member stations when that happens. It would be financial suicide for them. (See what's happening to AP, which tried to make money online without its member newspapers, and now is suffering.) NPR would only do it as a last resort -- if the member stations can't get their act together and invest in real journalism.

I've seen too many stations that aren't making the sacrifices needed to do great local journalism. We need to partner with other media. We need to cut bloated middle management. We need to talk about partnering with other public media stations. And we need to bust our butts to raise more money in new and different ways.

Member stations really need to step up to the plate and report on the issues that make themselves relevant to a local audience. They need to do this regardless of what NPR does -- I can just as easily lose an online listener to another member station as to NPR.org or satellite radio.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vivian cites no research to support her claims. No trend lines, no focus group findings, no surveying.

This is disturbing.

The President of NPR is essentially stating her thoughts as policy without a clear analysis of how in car internet can, will, or won't happen. The homework needs to be done before putting statements out in public--including a significant consultation period with member stations.

Otherwise, just shooting from the hip in public will continue to foster an atmosphere of uncertainty that divides NPR and the stations who pay for its programs and services and ultimately own the organization.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Jose Fritz said...

What she stated, is that she is no longer qualified for her position.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Bryan said...

My personal feeling has been from the beginning that Vivian has no interest, much less passion, for radio.



It’s all about the content. It doesn’t matter how cutting edge your delivery system is if you don’t have demand for the programming these applications carry.

Where’s the content going to come from? Who is going to take the place (in the near future) of Diane Rehm, Car Talk, APHC, Fresh Air, etc?
What are we going to program on HD2 and HD3?



Vivian said she is most excited about programmers taking NPR’s apps and enhancing them!?

She rarely shows any excitement for the award-winning programming that National Public Radio… excuse me, “NPR” produces.

We are the most trusted source of journalism on the radio. That should be our mantra and what we shout from the mountain tops and what we are most proud of.

“300,000 people have downloaded the NPR app for ipad.”

Great… but we have 30+ million listeners each week.



There is a lack of focus and attention on NPR’s core business.



There are other problems with Vivian’s vision for “no transmitters…”



1 – NPR is a member organization. The bulk of their revenue comes from member stations.
If there is no need for transmitters, will there be a need for these local stations? If not, where will NPR get that $300+ Million?



2 – Unless there are new technologies that we aren’t aware of, it is impossible for 30 million people to listen to internet radio. There isn’t enough bandwidth.

It’s also very expensive for both the user and the provider.

3:41 PM  

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