I conducted a programming study 10 years ago that showed the gatekeepers of public radio were, on average, 45-year-old white males. This generation of architects — whose passion and commitment have given us a strong institution that is now in the midst of change — is beginning a 5- to 7-year peel-off — another aspect to the phase of change we’ve all been talking about for nearly 10 years.
Physics tells us that chaos is a time that’s sensitive to influence. The shift in leadership across the industry, the generation of new and diverse producers hungry for a shot and with a passion for public service media, and the continuing advancement in technology — all conspire to make for a year of unprecedented opportunity.
So where are the tides pushing us, and what cues should we pay attention to?
- A golden age of talent. The Serial podcast from This American Life is the latest demonstration of what happens when you use a strong brand as a platform for talent. The demand for high profile talent, and investment in promising new talent, will increase.
- Diversity on the move. Speaking of new talent, more organizations will walk the talk of welcoming minorities into the production and management ranks. We’ll see new appointments at the networks and national organizations and more aggressive recruitment by stations and other nonprofits to attract minority talent. And the definition of minority will become more commonly understood, and meaningful, too. We like Ben Smith’s operating principle: “enough people of a particular group that no one person has to represent the supposed viewpoint of their group — whether ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, socioeconomic background, or disability.”
- The birth of distributed innovation networks. Big and exciting changes are under way for the legacy distribution model. For nearly 45 years, public media has pushed programming out and across the interconnected system of 1,200 radio and television stations, first via satellite and more recently via digital technologies. We’ll see new networks fashioned around knowledge sharing and complex, carefully coordinated collaborations. (Keep your eye on Curious Nation, iSeeChange, and Frontline.)
- A broadcast renaissance. The old saw, broadcast, is ripe for innovation. We’ll begin to finesse our understanding of how traditional platforms drive a holistic media experience. Fresh eyes, fresh ears will consider how to shake up what is still the largest converged audience in public media. I have my fingers crossed on this one.
We are in a finite cycle of change. We need (and will create) measures for that which is now unmeasurable — how many people who download a podcast actually listen to it? What emotional response compels a viewer to action after seeing/hearing/interacting with a documentary? Why and when are listeners crossing over from a mobile experience to a broadcast? Once we have more of a grasp, we’ll slip out of the chaos and back into a predictive cycle.
For now, everything’s moving fast. It’s an unsettled time. The best attitude for navigating the next year is one of receptivity — understanding that so many things are opening and expanding in ways we can’t perceive. Our strategic mantra for 2015 is “Yes.” Just say yes.