Monday, July 11, 2011

Miscellaneous Thoughts on NPR Digital

It’s difficult to find anyone who disagrees with the notion that public radio listeners would benefit from a truly collaborative NPR/Member Station digital network. At issue is how that network comes together.

I've written that this is a significant membership issue and more work needs to go into this before the NPR Board decides how to fund Digital Services. Mandatory fees are generally bad policy and implementing such a policy without a permanent President/CEO in place is a bad idea.

Here are some additional thoughts on the situation.

Mandatory fees don’t mean universal participation. Even if economies of scale can be realized on the NPR expense side of the ledger, NPR Digital Services could still fail to generate enough station participation to leverage significant revenue opportunities. We’ve already heard that several major market stations will opt out of some revenue options.

nce NPR starts collecting mandatory fees from stations, there is no going back. Even if the service fails to live up to its promise, future NPR Boards will never vote to give up at least $5 million per year in station revenues. Stations will be stuck giving this money to NPR pretty much forever.

If it chooses to collect mandatory Digital Services fees from Member Stations, then isn’t this NPR Board obligated to do so with a policy that requires management and future Boards to protect the best interests of the stations? For example, it is very likely that the cost delivering digital services will go up and the Board will be asked to tax the stations even further. How will the Board protect stations from being asked to pony up another $1,000,000 in the fourth or fifth year of this?

The revenue discussion has been woefully inadequate. It’s hard to believe that NPR, with access to the best minds in digital media including the folks at the Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, haven’t been able to put forward even one hypothetical revenue model showing station income potential by revenue stream over the next 3 to 5 years.

More on the revenue piece of the equation in the next posting.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

NPR Digital: After All These Years, What's the Hurry?

A recent article published by Harvard University's Nieman Journalism Lab touted the great potential of NPR's Digital Service plan, saying the time is right for NPR to create a massive digital network with its stations. The author, Ken Doctor, gets it half right.

NPR and stations should collaborate on a digital network. Public radio’s success is built on the economies of scale created by NPR/station relationship. Mr. Doctor contends the time for such collaboration is now. Well, yes, but not necessarily this month or in the next few months.

The time was really several years ago, but NPR President Vivian Schiller and NPR VP for Digital Services Kinsey Wilson weren’t interested in collaboration when they first arrived at NPR. In fact, they made a concerted effort to separate NPR and stations in the digital space. So stations started coming up with their own digital solutions.

NPR’s executive leadership is now sounding an alarm about this fracturing of the system, as though it could not have been anticipated. It is, in fact, a circumstance largely of NPR’s own making. The solution on the table is also of NPR’s own making. Stations weren’t consulted in the creation of the plan and it shows. There is so much missing from the plan, conceptually and operationally, that could make it stronger for stations and NPR.

Collaboration on a digital network is a great idea, but it has to be true collaboration and not NPR forcing a top-down plan on stations.

It’s worth noting, as Kinsey Wilson has during NPR’s road shows, the current Digital Services plan was conceived under Vivian Schiller's leadership. It really begs the question, why would the NPR Board potentially saddle its next President with a plan that was conceived by a past-President who never really understood the NPR/station relationship?

The Great NPR/Station Digital Network has waited years to happen. It can wait a little longer for a better plan than current one.

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