Last week media consultant, blogger and media scholar Mark Ramsey posted a fascinating item on his blog about the popularity of This American Life’s spinoff podcast Serial. I urge you to read Mark’s post at [link].
[Disclosure: Mark Ramsey is a friend who inspired me to start this blog. I don’t always agree with his opinions, but I always consider what he is saying.]
Ramsey examines TAL’s strategy and how it disrupts public radio’s traditional funding model. Serial was created by, and introduced to listeners via broadcasts of TAL. Once their appetite was wetted, Serial moved listeners to another platform: their podcast. Ramsey describes it this way:
[When you listen to a podcast of a show on public radio, that show is] hijacking its own audience to a different platform. Serial hijacked somebody else's audience on somebody else's platform and attached to somebody else's financial support ecosystem.
I should point out that Ramsey uses the terms “disrupt” and “hijack” without implying a value judgment. He is describing changes in consumer behavior that are observable trends, like them or not.
PUBIC RADIO’S FUNDING MODEL
Public radio as we know it began with the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (“CPB”) in the early 1970s. CPB supported NPR directly during the early years. Then in the early 1980’s (thanks in part to Bill Kling and American Public Radio – “APR”) the funding mechanism was changed. CPB began sending the bulk of their money to stations, not to NPR. This created a “program market economy” where stations “shopped” with NPR, APR and other providers. This process continues today.
BYPASSING PUBLIC RADIO STATIONS
Listeners are asked to support public radio stations, not NPR or other producers. Serial bypasses stations and goes directly to listeners, in a sense competing with the stations that introduced Serial to their listeners via TAL. Ramsey describes it this way:
You don’t support the station you may have heard the first episode on, you support Serial, the podcast (technically you support WBEZ in Chicago, but that fact is underplayed in the fine print).
So here’s what Serial has achieved:
1.The show hijacked the attention, time, and listening of public radio fans and moved a portion of it off public radio per se
2. The show hijacked the relationships that exist between local public radio stations and their listeners by gathering emails for fans of Serial, thus launching new – and direct – relationships off the public radio grid (I can’t do that for Fresh Air, can I?)
3. The show circumvented the “you support the station, the station supports the show” business model by linking support directly (superficially at least) to Serial, the show.
Again, let me stress, Ramsey is not saying this good or bad. It is a trend – reality, so to speak.
WHY LISTEN TO MARK RAMSEY?
I call Ramsey “The King of All Media – Platforms.” He looks at commercial and noncommercial radio, podcasting, online streaming, mobile, etc. from the end user’s point of view. Consider this: Ramsey has spoken several times at PRPD conferences. This year he is the keynote speaker at Momentum – the annual conference of Contemporary Christian Broadcasters.
His observations are valued by The God Squad and public radio programmers alike because they are based on the fundamental (no pun intended) reasons why certain messages appeal to people and others do not.
Here are some basics of Ramsey’s philosophy in his own words:
• “You don’t fall in love with distribution channels. You fall in love with content.”
• “In many cases radio continues to be obsessed by short-term priorities and minimizing risks… If we banish experiments, we extinguish our future.”
• “Don’t pigeonhole content so that it’s tied to one particular platform…[to do so] is to diminish and restrain potential.
In other words, be in the world as it is, not how it once was or how you wish it could. The key is HOT CONTENT no matter what platforms you use. Terrestrial radio still reaches large audiences -- a reality TAL used to its advantage getting the word out about Serial:
Never underestimate the power of launching a program on a hugely popular stage. Just ask the TV show that follows the Superbowl.
COMING SOON: hivio – THE AUDIO FUTURE FESTIVAL
Mark Ramsey is one of the organizers of hivio, now in its third year. hivio brings together broadcasters, online radio providers, music streaming services and digital entrepreneurs. It is June 4th & 5th in LA at the legendary Hollywood Improv. Learn more at [link].