What about us? What about our economic future as stations? I can see that we, by working on this project, may be learning how to answer that question. We may be discovering our new business model that will offer us our own sustainable future.
Jeff Jarvis has fired the opening shot in what I think will be the most productive discussion so far in the media wars.
But I think Owens hit on it when he wrote this: “I realized I needed to flip the expense/revenue picture upside down. Instead of thinking about how to generate more cash, I needed to figure out how to create a news operation that could exist profitably based on a reasonable expectation for local online revenue.”
Everyone that I have talked to recently in senior pub media roles worries that they cannot find the gross from their web operations that they need to replace their 1.0 gross.
I think they are right – it seems clear now that the web revenues cannot be grown fast enough. So the costs are out of synch. Many are reluctantly finding themselves in the same kind of death spiral that the newspapers are in. So what to do?
I don’t think the Holy Grail is an attempt only to grow web based revenue. I think it is to use a new business model. The good news is that enough of this new model is now here. Our challenge is to “see” it and having “seen” it to build upon it.
So let’s “see” where we are now – “see” what is emerging and “see” what can be done to implement it. Please follow me after the Jump:
Where we are now.
If we look at ourselves with outsiders eyes, we will see that we face the same problems as the papers do. Today a Public TV or radio station is a single purpose organization with dedicated staff organized to do one thing – to keep a TV/Radio station on the air. It gets its revenue by using a transactional appeal based on its content. All its costs are based on supporting this approach.
Each station is an island to itself. It has transactional relationships with other stations and with producers. It has transactional relationship with its staff as well.
As with newspapers – all of this needs to be unpacked and reassembled in a more personal way. So that it can release the power of the network effect.
What we can “see” emerging?
I observe many of the stations in the Facing the Mortgage Crisis Project, I can “see” that:
The best stations are using their reputation and trust to facilitate the strengthening of a powerful community network of partners who are all working to help the citizens of the city get through the economic crisis.
It has been the trust built up as a public broadcaster that gives them this ability. They a new role as a consequence and a new value that has NO DIRECT LINK TO its traditional CONTENT. Thousands of people who would never watch the traditional content are now attached to the station.
The relationship has expanded beyond content to include true public service.
Expanding from Content to Context – A vital aspect of this public service is to help co create the best Context for issues. Nearly all the debate in America today is lost in wrangling or in sound bites. Pub Media has come into its own with the financial crisis by not only doing a much better job of explaining what is going on but also in engaging with people where they live – in helping them help each other get through this.
Reinvention? – America will have to reinvent itself – we can all see how the health care debate is subject to the same forces that made the financial debate so fruitless. Soon energy, food, education will all come onto the table. The only way through the morass is to help people work through these issues on the ground with how they affect their lives and their communities.
What service? They are using their ability to tell stories and their ability to offer a powerful megaphone to the public. Again this ability has arisen as a product of their history as a public broadcaster. Their new relationship with the public extends therefore beyond showing them content but in showcasing the public’s content about issues that are vital to them.
Part of their new value is to give voice to the voiceless - when a station does this, it attaches those people to it.
It is the web that gives the stations the space to do this and gives the people the cheap and easy tools to use to have their say.
Over time the content mix can shift from 100% professionally produced content to maybe 15% professionally produced content with most of the new being on the web. Over all a major increase in content for much less cost. Most of the new content being for and about people who are New to the Station – a much broader “audience”
They are learning to use the web to support and enhance their offering on Air – the web has given them more flexibility, more real estate and better equity – content lasts for a long time there. The web is no longer just a new form of banner advertising but is not integrated into this new Public Role. The web offers an infinite amount of choice to the public – using an invitation and curation, the station has all but limitless space to fill and can fill it at very low cost. The core new skills – Curation and Facilitation.
They are starting to see signs of the impact of this work that can be used to make the case for this new value. A new way of measuring that goes beyond eyeballs to impact. It will be a stronger case to monetize impact than only content. Using the web and a much broader view of context and content, the station can offer any supporter a precise demographic that was impossible when only the air was measured. People whose lives have been affected will attach their own identity to the station. People who have been able to contribute to issues that are vital to them because of the station will attach their identity to the station.
Being part of true “Public Service” therefore expands and deepens the connection way beyond that great content alone could ever achieve.
Their non profit status has been essential in enabling it to have this role. Being a non profit seems to have a major influence on how much you can be trusted. Many are beginning to see that much of what is news and on the media has been shaped by those that pay the bills. When the public pay the bills the fears of conflicts of interest are mitigated and trust is enhanced. Trust is the most scarce of anything today and so in the end will have the most value.
It is hard for purely commercial media organizations to compete for the hearts and minds of people in thus way – this space of True Public Service is open to Pub Media.
Most important of all they have been learning how to run themselves internally as a network and also how to facilitate groups of outside partners. This – even more than the web tools themselves is the real new value.
Group Forming will be the most valuable skill that any station will have.
We have positioned ourselves to move beyond content – beyond members – to groups that we form. Group Forming is an exponential activity that drives out the value of the Network Effect.
So what next?
Here are a number of steps that they can take that will release the value in the Network Effect:
- Help the leading institutions in their community learn what they have learned. Many important institutions in every city need to use the power of the 2.0 world to improve their ROI as well. Museums, Universities, Performing Artists etc all have to extend beyond their physical walls and a 5 day a week 9-5 time slot. Who can help them do this best? Make a real business out of this. Become the social media/relationships tutor to the institutions of your community. Help them engage their community. Help them expand their “Real Estate” beyond time and space. Help them learn how to Form Groups and realize the Network Effect.
The old Underwriting relationship is transformed to a much deeper and ongoing relationship based on working directly with each other. They become us and we them.
- Expand the Community Partnerships so that more can be done to reinvent the community. Health, Energy, Local Food, Education are all going to move into prominence. There are community partners that exist already in these areas just as they did in the Mortgage Crisis. Again help them learn and do what we are doing.
This will enable us to continue to expand our relationships with and so support from with people that normally would never watch our conventional content.
- Become the “School” for the networked world in their community – The most important new literacy and skill set of our time will be how to use the web and how to facilitate rather than direct. Who better than Pub Media Station to set up such a learning centre?
Tie the young (hence their parents too) of the community into both the station and to our other relationships. We become a vital new factor in the lives of families
- Build a web alternative to on air delivery – Many of the parts for this are ready right now. Here is a case for how and why
In effect set out deliberately to learn build and operate an off ramp where the bulk of the offering is available on the web – where public, local and national content and community involvement all take place
- Create a real Network with other nodes in pub media – Public media itself can shift from a series of entirely independent and single purpose stations in TV and Radio into a real network where many assets can be truly shared and the real power of the network effect realized. Work as a true partner with the local stations and with many other stations and producers across the system. Here the web enables much better curation and sharing of content. Here space can be leveraged as can support services.
Create regional support hubs where common services can be centred and offered out to members. Reduce overhead systemically not piece meal.
I will post more soon on a number of practical steps that flow out of these principles.