Public Broadcasting in the Digital Age

Almost hidden over at Russell Brown’s Hard News was a link to a seriously good discussion paper on public broadcasting futures and the wider implications.

The paper was commissioned by a government arts funding agency- so many of the conclusions are pointed at them. However there are wonderful little gems everywhere – try this understatement from the Exec Summary.

“The entire idea of public broadcasting may change in future, with its core concepts becoming more at home on the internet, with its low barriers to entry, interactive potential and increasing reach.”

As expected the authors work through summary comment from the background survey which quantifies and qualifies some of the changes that we are seeing. The document is about 40 pages long and easy to read. It also chronicles the shift from broadcasters presentation mode towards greater engagement via websites and other media outlets.

It discusses the much greater needs for brand extension in all directions, especially by broadcasters. It also indicates a huge need for reinvention by “NZOnAir” of its policies and strategies. NZ On Air needs to be able to fund internet content which requires a change to the broadcasting Act (see conclusions on p.39)

Note: There is a separate New Zealand Digital Content Strategy which is referred to in this document and was only released in September ‘07.

It also confirms that RadioNZ (for example) with 165,000 audio on demand items and more than 100,000 podcasts (in July) + live audio streams and much greater website traffic has been relatively successful in making this kind of transition.

Other topics include the music industry, copyright and the ongoing impacts of all types of digital content that has been unbundled from the physical distribution food chains of days gone past.

The discovery of music (and other content) has been dramatically expanded as the reach and ability of digital formats to transform outcomes is infinitely more flexible than the business models, businesses and thinking of the historical business foodchains that were once the market makers.

The new “taste makers” are very active participants and consumers of online life as supported by the survey.

“A survey of more than 800 regular internet users conducted for this paper found that nearly three-quarters said their TV viewing had declined, with 90% of those saying they had put the additional free time into “general internet use”. Nearly all viewed internet video, in a wide range of settings.”

As the discussion paper notes

“The same technologies that helped turn the public into surprisingly sophisticated producers of news also make them more demanding, and vocal, consumers.“

The comments refer to the huge changes at the BBC and that is also where the we’re all in this together” line comes from, not a song from a current musical but that doesn’t hurt.

Russell’s original post is below

“NZ On Air has posted We’re All in This Together: Public Broadcasting in the Digital Age, a discussion paper I wrote with the assistance of Andrew Dubber. It’s big — 17,000 words in a 235KB PDF — and it took a long time to finish, but

I’m quite pleased with it.

As part of the research (and the deliverables), you may recall that I ran a survey to gather ideas about the future of public broadcasting. More than 800 people, from Scoop and Thing, but mostly from Public Address, participated, and there are some great comments on it. Just click the “view” button to read them.

You can find the survey results here.”

The comments are worth investing some time on and some are included in the main report or in the appendix. The survey itself came from 3 high profile websites – Throng, Public Address and Scoop.

“The intention was not to create a survey representative of the general population, but to capture the habits and views of the most active new media consumers.”

Besides the survey participants and Russell it is worth highlighting the other author- Andrew Dubber. He is the Degree Leader for Music Industries at UCE Birmingham, UK. He is a senior lecturer and researcher with a particular interest in online music, radio and new media technology; and an engaging writer and communicator.

He is also responsible for The 20 things You Must Know About Music Online which is useful for all businesses not just music ones. Many of the “20 things”* are also directly relevant to this Broadcasting discussion paper. (*21 now)

For example here are 5 that I find particularly useful.

6. Web 2.0: Forget being a destination — become an environment. Let your customers tag and sort your catalogue. Open up for user-generated content. Your website is not a brochure — it’s a place where people gather and connect with you and with each other.

7. Connect: Learn how to tell a story, and learn how to tell it in an appropriate fashion for web communication. Think about how that could be translated for both new media and mainstream PR outlets.

12. Distributed Identity: From a PR perspective, you are better off scattering yourself right across the internet, rather than staying put in one place. Memberships, profiles, comments, and networks are incredibly helpful.

15. RSS: Provide it, use it and teach it. Relying on people to come back to visit your website is ultimately soul destroying. So is always making more content all the time. RSS is the single most important aspect of your site. Treat it as such – but remember it’s still new for most people. Help your audience come to grips with it.

20. Forget product — sell relationship: The old model of music business is dominated by the sale of an individual artefact for a set sum of money. iTunes is still completely old school. The new model is about starting an ongoing economic relationship with a community of fans.

It is well worth reading the whole series. Andrew has since published the 20 different posts which made up the series in a downloadable booklet New Music Strategy – 20 Things You Must Know 1063Kb PDF.

The Public Broadcasting paper seeks to help a government agency re-invent itself and to remain relevant. Dubbers “20 things” paper is ostensibly focussed on the music industry however both papers offer useful insights for all of us.