The Future of Public Media

There’s an interesting discussion underway on the web site of the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), hosted by Stephen Hill. Great questions/comments in particular by Barry Rueger of My most recent post to the discussion:

Barry’s questions and the implicit answers are right on target. I believe this is a classic case of Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma in that the established players can only perceive the change from their own perspective. Stations and networks still (and may always) see the Internet as something that is happening to them or as a new opportunity to extend what they do today. Christensen suggests they can’t escape this perspective.

Listeners and viewers, on the other hand, aren’t limited to that perspective. They see public media as just one of the many types of content they can reach using their preferred access technology. It’s not so much “How can I hear my favorite program?” as much as it’s “What is there to hear on the Internet?” Substitute “on my iPod” or “on my TiVo” or anything else. The audience is picking the platform first and the content second.

The long-tail phenomenon means that listeners/viewers have access to content that is much more interesting to them than what can economically be delivered by ‘broadcast’ transmitters. The economics of media are shifting rapidly from the fat head (my term) to the long tail. The size of the audience is relatively constant, but there will be more choices and a smaller audience for each program. We can’t fight this; we must embrace it. Lower production budgets and profits are an unavoidable consequence. Success will come to those who recognize this and can find ways to produce and distribute programs at a much lower cost. The Citizen Journalism movement is the extreme end of this spectrum.

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