Monday, May 23, 2011

NPR Still Lacks Champions of Station Success

NPR now says that the station fees for its new digital services might not be mandatory. According to NPR Board Chair Dave Edwards, the presentation and emails calling the fees mandatory were poorly worded and the pricing model is open for discussion. The news was delivered directly to stations and reported by the industry news service Current.

Current also quotes NPR VP for Digital Services Kinsey Wilson as wanting stations to contribute to the development of new digital services “while they’re still strong in radio.” It is yet another indication that NPR’s senior management believes public radio is, or soon will be, in decline.

Stations deserve better than this. Station audiences and revenues have proved to be resilient, even robust, over the past few years in the face of tough economic times and growing competition from new distribution outlets. It could very well be that public radio terrestrial audiences will not suffer, but be enhanced by offering listeners more ways to find content.

This is the “Both/And” mentality. It looks for opportunity to grow in all possible markets, never conceding ground it owns. Instead, NPR management has adopted the “Either/Or” mentality. It is very limiting. It assumes that one action will cannibalize another. It assumes less market potential for public radio. It would be one thing if the data showed this happening to public radio. But it is not.

NPR is a membership organization. Stations send NPR around $70 million per year in membership fees and dues and directly help NPR raise another $30 million per year by creating audiences for national sponsorships. How can it be that there are no champions of station success at the executive level?

The fuss over NPR’s digital services proposal isn’t about poorly worded presentations or emails. It’s about NPR management lacking a passion for the success of its member stations. You don’t get these kinds of mistakes when that passion is there. In fact, you don’t need mandatory fees when that kind of passion is obvious to the membership.

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