May 16, 2006

SOME ADVICE TO PUBLIC BROADCASTERS:

The universe of public broadcasting today is “an embarrassment of niches.”

This topic statement, uttered by Jake Shapiro of the Public Radio Exchange, launched a torrent of speculation and anxiety over both the future and funding of public media — whether radio, television or otherwise. . . .

“The challenges and the problems that public media face are not at all different from what private or commercial media faces,” said Diane Mermigas of the Hollywood Reporter. “You could be Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone from Viacom or Ted Turner, and they’re asking the same questions you are. I know because I sit down with them all the time.”

The trick, said Terry Heaton of media consulting firm Donata Communications, is to meaningfully tap the expertise of one’s audience. Whether a program’s subject is antiques, history, baseball or brewing, the advice is the same.

“You’re setting yourselves up for problems in the future if you’re going to be only a content provider,” he said. “That to me is suicide, because the real value is at the opposite end.”

That’s probably right.

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