June 04, 2010
NPR's Vivian Schiller on the Future of MediaPresident and CEO of NPR Vivian Schiller, the only female interview on the D Conference stage (D: All Things Digital Conference) this year, was both articulate and refreshing about her views on where the media industry is heading. She says that the broadcast side of the house at NPR isn't being cannibalized - digital content is all supplemental for them and it's obviously growing.
NPR has been tapping into the developer community more and more and plans to expand their API in the near future. They apparently get over a billion requests for the API and the hope is that by extending it, it will lead to more creative forms of expression and distribution.
Says Vivian, "The sky is the limit. You can imagine combining stories from NPR with information from stations who have data and then creating some kind of news product that tracks trends, such as the flu epidemic or the oil spill. We don't know what will be created but we know that mashups will lead to more innovation and creative content for consumers.
There are guidelines of course. For example, they don't want their content to be used to support a cause nor do they want the meaning of their content to be fundamentally changed. What they do want however, is to harness the intelligence of their audience.
Vivian says, "Our fundamental business is audio and programming and making the migration to other platforms. The broadcast tower will be gone in the next 5-10 years. Internet Radio will replace it. Mobile is the second coming of radio. On your mobile devices, you can listen to anything you want."
"The power of what we have is the combination of national and local. And, we are free. As web traffic becomes more substantial, then we can figure out a business model that makes sense such as a licensing fee," adds Vivian.
She reinforces that they don't plan on charging the end-consumer. She feels that it's important to separate the issues of whether people in large numbers are willing to pay and whether publishers need to make money from a fee.
Kara Swisher who is interviewing Schiller asks, "How do you look at the overall news business right now and the challenges they face?" "We're in the midst of creative destruction," responds Schiller, who says she loves that phrase. "All the new online organizations are sprouting up. Traditional journalists are starting start-ups, such as the Texas Tribune and San Diego Tribune. They're now online and some of them are not-for-profits."
The biggest problem is aggregating the content. She says, "we have a huge megaphone so its critical to have even more content than ever before." Because of that, the notion of partnering with others is the way to go for NPR right now. They're not trying to create a mega-portal but a mega-network, a community. She makes an important distinction that the partnerships she is referring to are not acquisitions but arrangements with regional sites so they can provide really great local content to their audience.
"Is this where journalism is going?" asks Kara.
Schiller feels that the business model for public radio is more suited to commercial media than traditional media today. She says, "we have five revenue streams. When we get hit with one, the other revenue streams can sustain us so, even when we had a blow, it wasn't a failed blow."
"Where will people be consuming information?" asks Kara. Schiller touches on both the iTouch (which she wonders if it will be obsolete very soon) and the iPad, which she claims has been extremely successful for them.
They have had about 300,000 downloads on the iPad. She says, "what we have on the iPad is suited for that form factor - it doesn't look anything like what you'll from us find online. You can listen to it, you can touch content, you can be moved by it from interactive text -- whatever the best form of media is right to share the story is what we offer." She adds with conviction, "our purpose is to serve our audience." Love that word serve when it comes to customer service. People who 'get' that always succeed in the long run.
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