Localism emphasis poses risk

Of all the complex and potentially fateful decisions faced by public radio program directors as they navigate the emergence of multiplatform distribution, one of the most significant is the drive to “go local” and produce more local programs, especially news and information. This push signals a strategic shift for public radio, with potentially enormous consequences for growth or decline. Audience 2010, one of a series of landmark research reports on programming trends published in the previous decade, reported that much of the credit for the growth of public radio listenership could be traced to a shift “away from local production toward network production, away from music-based content toward news, information and entertainment.” That shift was extraordinarily successful, representing two decades of impressive audience expansion and financial growth at a time when other parts of the radio industry struggled. Now, it appears that program decision-makers are changing course. But why would dozens of stations move off the path that worked so well and choose another approach that, viewed through the lens of audience research, would seem to be both more costly and less powerful in attracting listenership?

Consultants advise spending shift to strengthen national PTV programs

A bold strategic study for public TV, commissioned by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, recommends that stations spend less on local program production and more on achieving high quality in national and instructional programs.If PTV fails to “invest fully in national programming,” it will see a “downward spiral” in program quality, audience and revenues, according to the report by Boston Consulting Group, a business strategy firm. The study, whose earlier drafts have been discussed for months in high-level meetings, was presented publicly for the first time at public TV’s Pacific Mountain Network and Central Educational Network annual meetings earlier this month. “Most of the managers say, ‘It’s terrible news, but I’ve known it’s there — I’ve felt it,”‘ says Joseph Zesbaugh, president of PMN, who devoted a day and a half of his annual conference to discussions related to the study. Despite the bad news, the consultants’ presentation won “far and away the highest marks” given by attendees in their evaluations of the PMN meeting, Zesbaugh said. The consultants gave public broadcasters an unfamiliar profit/loss sketch of their major functions.