This morning, I gave the keynote speech to 800 or so broadcasters from both PBS and NPR stations across the country as they kicked off their Media 2007 Conference in Boston.
It might seem odd to have both PBS television and NPR radio people in the same room. They exist in completely different worlds. But this is no longer the case. They share a common goal, to reinvent themselves for the world of the Internet. This is not so strange, it is the same goal that Mark Thompson, the Director General for The BBC has announced, as has pretty much ever other medium with whom we have met, from newspapers to magazines. The web is now paramount.
And for good reason: It reaches everyone in the world for almost no cost. Where it once took a massive investment in buildings, desks, equipment and transmitters; not to mention the oppressive legal costs of dealing with a myriad of FCC licenses; now all it takes to get ‘on the air’ is a server and a connection to the web. Not too expensive. As Mike Sechrist, GM for WKRN in Nashville noted to me this morning, ‘I bought a server for $16,000, put it online, and in a matter of minutes I had another 24 hour TV station at my disposal”.
This, of course, completely rewrites the basic economics of television stations around the world. No one in their right mind would today construct the massive kind of infrastructure that a conventional local (or network) TV station required only a few years ago. You don’t even need the building. And you can see this collapse in value in the prices that companies like The New York Times are selling their convential local tv stations for – a mere fraction of their valuation only a few years go. The better video online gets, the less those assets are worth.
But let’s get back to PBS and NPR. What do those two have in common (besides umbrellas and tote bags… and a very intelligent listener/viewership?).
The move to the web for any broadcaster or publisher is absolutely inescapable. The economics of it are simply too attractive. Next to no cost to get on, you get an instant global audience.
But once you move to the web, the architecture of the web itself suddenly dictates a radical change in how you work and what your product looks like. Up until now, we have been living in a world of a broadcasting model. One signal to many people. Whether we were publishing newspapers, magazines, radio shows or TV, the model remained pretty much the same.
But the Internet is different. The Internet is about connecting communities. Ebay, one of the most successful sites on the web, is about connecting a community of sellers with a community of buyers, one strand at a time. Amazon, another success story, is also about connecting a community of sellers – bookstores, warehouses or small shops, with a community of buyers, all over the world. Google if you think about it, is also about connecting a massive ‘community’ of content with a community of users.
In a broadcasting model, you want to be at the pinnacle, delivering the message to the masses below. The CBS Evening News. But in the Internet Model, you want to be in the middle, connecting the vast army of suppliers above with the vast army of users below.
We have figured out how to do this with books and junk from the attic. The challenge for PBS and NPR and everyone else will be to figure out how to do this with news and information.
One thing is clear however: there are now vast armies of news and information ‘providers’ as there are of people with junk in their attic or bookstores. How many Iraqis do you think have video cameras? 10,000? 100,000? In the four years since the US went into Iraq, how much of their work have you ever seen? How many US soldiers going into combat have video cameras with them in the field? In the past four years, how much of their work have you ever seen?
Finally there is the medium itself. Once newspapers, magazines, radio and TV all move to a web that supports video, which of them will not be, in some degree, in video? Take a look at NYTimes.com or Washingtonpost.com. Increasing amounts of video share the space with text and photos. Can NPR.org afford not to have some video capacity when it tells stories on the web? Can Time Magazine obviate video when it tells stories on the web? In truth, we have moved from a world of discrete print, radio and television journalism to an increasingly integrated world of digital online journalism. The distinctions go away. We are all in the same business now.
The material is there – we just have to figure out an architecture to ‘connect’ it up.