One thought on “Q&A: Bob Kempf on the digital “front door” for public media

  1. Great interview, Adam!

    I don’t know if it was discussed elsewhere in the show, but the elephant in the room here is not just a question of whether should exist at all because of branding…but rather that the current funding structure for NPR is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of NPR being the central clearinghouse for individual member stations, because that idea greatly degrades the ability of the member stations to pay the hefty member/program fees that comprise a huge portion of NPR’s budget.

    I don’t mean to say that NPR shouldn’t do things like NPR One or expand on the concept of a shared website platform like NPR:DS. Well, not per se, anyways. But I do think that there is nowhere near enough discussion about the funding structure when the online strategy is talked about. NPR cannot, to cite just one example, keep expecting to charge annual fees for NPR:DS (regardless of whether or not a station uses the platform) and simultaneously leverage NPR:DS to degrade the branding that allows local stations to fundraise effectively. Besides being patently unfair, sooner or later it just simply won’t work anymore as the station’s fundraising degrades to the point where they can’t afford the fees. (or to stay in business)

    (SIDE NOTE: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: eat your own dog food. It’s ridiculous that NPR has its own web platform and member stations have a different one. Either make run on NPR:DS’s platform, or make the platform that runs on the platform that NPR:DS provides to member stations.)

    This may be why these discussions are always interesting to me but are usually unsatisfying. We’re not tackling the core issue of the revenue model. A better discussion…albeit a terrifyingly huge one…might be to ask whether we should be moving to a model where NPR O&O its signals in the Top X number of markets (maybe 50, maybe 100, I don’t know) and centralizes operations as much as is appropriate, but maintains local staff for sales, fundraising, news, etc. Logically this would make far more sense…it’s not dissimilar to how most of network TV functions…but obviously it has big, big, scary-big change implications to all parties involved. (and that includes valid and relevant entities like APM. PRI and PRX)

    (note: I’m only suggesting a cutoff of Top X markets for ownership because it might be too unwieldy to own them all…but it’s just a suggestion, I have no inherent approval/disapproval of NPR owning all its member stations vs only some.)

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