Pubmedia to launch universal sign-on platform by early next year

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Within six months, public broadcasters will be able to use a universal sign-on platform that aims to help them better understand and engage with their digital audiences.

Representatives of a group of organizations working on the platform shared an update on their progress Oct. 25 at the Public Radio Super Regional conference. The Digital Infrastructure Group is a collaboration among PBS, NPR, CPB, KQED in San Francisco and WGBH in Boston that seeks to coordinate shared digital services throughout public media.

Maja Mrkoci, CPB’s SVP for television content and innovation, told Current that PBS and NPR plan to replace their current registration systems with the universal platform. Stations will be able to use the system on platforms managed by NPR and PBS, such as Bento.

A universal sign-on would allow a user to log into PBS’ digital platforms, for example, and use the same credentials to log into other online public media platforms, said Bob Kempf, VP for digital services at WGBH and a member of the DIG, during the panel.

Public media’s digital technology is “fragmented,” Kempf said. There has been “tremendous investment in public media in supporting broadcast infrastructure, to the tune of several million dollars a year and an appropriation from Congress,” he said. “It’s well-formed, it’s evolving, we’ve got this down. But when you think about, comparatively, investments made in digital, [it’s] really not so much.”

A universal sign-on platform would help public media organizations gain more insight into the habits of their digital users, such as the content they consume, and would allow organizations to engage audiences more strategically, Mrkoci said during the session.

WGBH and WNYC in New York City are also committed to using the platform, and “a number of the major market stations have expressed interest in participating in the implementation phase once a vendor is selected,” Mrkoci told Current.

CPB has invested $1.5 million in the initiative. The DIG is looking to raise another $500,000 from foundations.

The group is choosing between two vendors — Janrain and Gigya — to develop the sign-on platform. It is also testing user-experience models and developing a privacy policy, Mrkoci said.

The universal sign-on is the first part of a larger effort by the group to improve and integrate public media’s digital infrastructure over the next three to five years. Consultants commissioned by CPB made recommendations for the project that would cost $50 million if fully implemented.

The Station Resource Group and the Public Television Major Market Group announced last month that they have convened a group of public media leaders to consider future governance and financing of the digital infrastructure plan. The working group will help “lead system discussion and planning for the governance of a shared public media digital ‘backbone’ and approaches to financing the initial creation and ongoing operation of such systems,” the announcement said.

Kevin Martin, GM at ideastream in Cleveland and a member of the working group, said the universal sign-on platform provides a useful starting point for the larger digital infrastructure project because “it’s something we can visualize and we can rally behind and focus on.” In the long run, single sign-on will benefit dual licensee stations such as ideastream because it will help ideastream users access content.

“I think the single sign-on will make national content more seamless across the way,” he said. “So if you want to stream Victoria or The Miniaturist and you also want to listen to an NPR podcast next, then you can do all that in one seamless service, signing on once.”

It will also help fundraising staff by providing a single identity for a user of TV and radio content, he said. But Martin said he does fear that stations that are only radio or TV “may not see the ultimate value or the urgency of a single sign-on experience.”

Martin added that in markets with multiple stations, “your primary concern and focus is to differentiate from that other station, so a single sign-on may be perceived as something that takes away their biggest differentiator in that market. So that’s going to have to be worked out. And I think those things can be worked out, ultimately.”

A larger goal of the DIG’s effort is to create digital tools and systems in public media to “improve the digital giving experience, understand the data that’s coming back from that, and be able to not only optimize content delivery but also optimize marketing to audiences on digital platforms,” Kempf said.

“The fact that we have PBS, NPR, and NPR and PBS stations sitting at the table together trying to solve for this — for me, that’s a huge success and really a recognition of the importance everyone sees in the digital future of public media,” Mrkoci said.

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