BizLab picks six stations to experiment with revenue strategies

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BizLab, the innovation lab at WBUR in Boston, has chosen the six public radio stations it will work with to develop and test revenue ideas.

The stations will work with BizLab for six months to test new ways of raising revenue using “lean, user-centered design methodologies,” according to a press release.

The stations and projects:

  • WAMU in Washington, D.C., will create a digital membership program for its DCist news site;
  • Kentucky’s Louisville Public Media will explore an expansion of Do502, its local events site;
  • Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, Calif., will experiment with sponsored content;
  • WLRN in Miami plans to monetize a vertical or topic, like climate change;
  • Detroit’s WDET will explore ways to connect with local businesses to develop “local experiences”; and
  • Vermont Public Radio will conduct a statewide audience engagement project.

“These stations will be evaluating revenue models across a broad spectrum of ideas, looking at hyper-local versus state-wide engagement, small business partnerships versus corporate sponsorship arrangements, and digital-only membership versus in-person events,” the release said.

Results of the experiments will be shared with the public radio system.

BizLab received $750,000 from CPB and $250,000 from the Knight Foundation for the initiative.

This post has been updated with information about the stations’ experiments.

4 thoughts on “BizLab picks six stations to experiment with revenue strategies

  1. “Experiment with sponsored content”? I thought we’d already experimented with sponsored content, and found audiences hated it and that it was corrosive to the trust public media relies very heavily on?

    • Hi Brad, I think the only example I’m aware of in public media with sponsored content has been KPCC. We covered this when they were just in the planning stages: https://current.org/2014/07/possibility-of-native-ads-on-pubradio-sparks-concern/

      But we haven’t followed up and I haven’t heard anything since. Who in public media has tried it and found that “audiences hated it”? (We actually post occasional sponsored content on Current.)

      • Oh, whoops – I didn’t reply in the correct format, did I? Sorry about that. Well, what I said below is what I said. :)

        One other thing: there’s a big, big, BIG difference between sponsored content in print/visual and sponsored content in an audio-only medium. Both are problematic and easy to screw up, but at least when there’s a visual component, you can clearly mark a given link or story as “SPONSORED CONTENT”. I think a lot of places don’t do a good enough job of clearly identifying a piece as “sponsored” and I think that’s why it’s such a bad idea in general. You are inherently trying to trick the audience into thinking that a sponsored piece is a legit editorial piece. Otherwise you (and the sponsor) would have no problem slapping a giant label on the piece that says “SPONSORED CONTENT HERE”. Of course, both you and sponsor DO have a problem with that, because doing so tells the reader “ignore this content, it’s paid-for garbage”. There’s no way to resolve this logic problem; the two items are diametrically opposed. We just live in an uneasy gray area out of desperate necessity and readers decide to tolerate it or not….although the success of De Correspondent’s recent crowdfunding campaign may inspire enough copycats that the idea of sponsored content will become more toxic than sustainable.

        Anyways, the problems with sponsored content in print or TV are multiplied by a million for radio/audio because there is no way to positively identify sponsored content in a way that the listener always knows what they’re hearing. For the simple reason that radio/audio is a medium of the moment. Sure you can make an announcement before you read the spot, but what happens when someone tunes in after the announcement that such-and-such is a sponsor’s message?

        Or lets take a more likely example: the listener is listening but not too closely, and they ignore the sponsored content warning. Then they start paying attention because they hear the host’s voice and the host’ voice has credibility with them.

        IOW that’s exactly what sponsored content does: it tricks the listener into thinking what they’re hearing is legit editorial content when it’s not. It is intentional deception and for an industry that both prides itself on, and financially depends on, a trust relationship with its audience? This cannot be anything but a terrible idea.

        Or to put it in less moralistic terms, there is an antagonistic relationship between membership donations and sponsored content; the two cannot co-exist for very long. Enhancing one will inevitably reduce the effectiveness of the other.

  2. It was a topic at PMDMC 2018 and judging from the preso (I didn’t attend) there are a lot more places experimenting with it:

    https://www.pmdmc.org/schedule/1020/

    https://www.pmdmc.org/slides-materials/#slides-and-materials/session-files/5a9d68d04dc95825be22196c/

    While it doesn’t exactly speak to what we’re talking about, I think there’s enough overlap in this Ken Doctor article from 2016 to say that anyone in public media who fiddles with sponsored content does so explicitly at their peril. There’s a lot of ways to do it wrong, and very few…if any…to do it right. I don’t think that’s changed. If anything the dynamic has gotten stronger as audience trust has become more and more central to public broadcasting’s success in the “fake news” era.

    http://www.niemanlab.org/2016/09/and-now-a-word-from-our-sponsor-host-read-ads-and-the-play-between-niche-and-scale/

    And this piece from AirMedia from 2015 gets far more explicit about the problems with sponsored content.

    https://airmedia.org/audio-ethics-native-ads-podcasts/

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