New NPR CEO Got It

New NPR CEO Got It

National Public Radio (NPR) has a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) from the New York Times (NYT) who is not “out-to-lunch” (OTL).  Vivian Schiller, new President and CEO of NPR, ran NYT’s digital side, the website and blogs. She seems to understand a few things her public radio predecessors didn’t:

Top-down organization is fine for conventional networks and direct satellite broadcasters, but it is not appropriate in an organization funded by member stations.

Distributing audio content to the stations that finance it while also offering it directly to listeners as free podcasts and circumventing terrestrial stations by offering the same shows on SatRadio’s XM-Sirius-Telstar (whatever) is an awkward business model.

Content IS king. Repeat: Content really, truly is king. How did the NYT website become the #1 news site on the Web? Look at it. The paid firewall is long gone; the high-quality, free content is well-indexed; blogs abound and are easy to find; print-edition content is supplemented by updates, unique web content (including well-produced videos), and blogs; search functions integrate print, web, and blog content; ads are present but not intrusive; and NYT editors (unlike those at WaPo) have such faith in the quality of their product that hyperlinks actually lead to locations outside the NYT website.

Sending identical shows to local radio stations while other media are racing to “go local” is a strategy 180 degrees out-of-phase with market reality and the future.

Under Vivian Schiller’s leadership, NPR will undoubtedly stop pursuing self-defeating practices like competing with its own member stations. Here are a few places to start :

Make NPR the global aggregator for content from all member stations instead of a one-way street. Way back in the 20th century, public radio actually was the diverse, locally-aware medium it was meant to be, with indvidual stations serving niche audiences with locally-produced programming (music, including local and regional genres), “talking professor” shows from local universities, and discussion of local issues if not actual local news-gathering. Today, NPR’s website can make unique local station content (audio and web) easily available anywhere in the globe at any time, through time (with an archival database). Right now the NPR website is all about NPR; the few exceptions include a “member station locator” (yawn). 

Reconsider pimping for HD Radio ™. The NAB backs this technology because it delays adoption of true digital radio broadcasting; true digital radio will increase competition by adding new stations in every broadcast area. HD Radio ™  is a tradename; it does not  stand for “high-definition.” NPR’s participation in this absurd profit-making enterprise allows the FCC the pretense that locking in this monopoly is really a “public good.” NPR knows this technology is a loser — peek in the NPR Labs and see.

Interlock station and network recorded music sales. NPR now competes with some local stations for recorded music sales by running NPR sales point promos in content broadcast by all stations, content those stations financed. This is unsporting if not unethical, and a truly poisonous business model. NPR should showcase good recordings local music stations have found in their broadcast areas and aggregate these on the NPR Shop website through links to the originating station, and take a percentage on the sales made by member stations (better than a “hat tip“).

Ditch the automated music service. NPR provides turnkey automated music programmng so local stations everywhere can add one or two sideband broadcast streams (“HD Radio [tm]”) without using actual human beings. When commerical radio does this, people scream about media consolidation.

Act locally. Why do vitually all NPR stations sound the same? During the last century, CPB funded consultants to convince public stations to homogenize their sound and content. Don’t let CPB send the same consultants to NPR member stations across the country to instruct them how to reverse that damage and develop new local programming. Consider direct NPR resident consultancies at member stations. If CPB won’t fund this, bring in national funders who seek a positive presence in areas where particular stations are located. This will help stations develop new corporate funding without compromising NPR funding streams, and will compliment NPR’s promo efforts on behalf of annual station “listener beg-a-thons.”

America’s print and broadcast media are scrambling to develop “hyper-local” capacity. There are SatRadio channels devoted to traffic and weather on the ground in major cities; suburban newspapers multiply while big city papers and national magazines lose readers.

Talk about local: Every terrestrial broadcast station in the US is required to give an actual transmitter map to the FCC. How cool is that?

Ask Vivian Schiller.

Full disclosure: NotionsCapital writer/editor Mike Licht worked for NPR member station KUT-FM way back in the last century.

Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com.

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