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.
Once 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.