It’s not about ‘dominating the industry’ — it’s about cooperation

“As the audience for on-demand content surges, and as technologies and new markets better enable its production, we have a radical opportunity to democratize media.”

I was asked recently how I got into nonprofit work. I heard myself say it always starts with rebellion, followed by dissatisfaction, which gives way to hope. I am looking at a media future knowing we need to be master jugglers of all three.

Rebellion provides valuable fuel — innovation, creativity, and democracy itself depends on it. A refusal to conduct business as usual is where seeds of change are planted. As we emerge from the confines of the pandemic, where will our rebellious spirit lead? Will fear and uncertainty keep us close to familiar comforts? Will we lock arms with strangers to make the world a better place? Will the business of media and politics be upended by rebellious upstarts who see things differently?

As the energy of rebellion loses steam, dissatisfaction can provide needed clarity as we look ahead. At PRX, we are focused on a healthy public media and podcasting ecosystem. And we are dissatisfied with the current realities:

  • Big media platforms continue to undermine traditional revenue models while raising concerns about privacy, truth, and civic dialogue.
  • Major for-profit outlets will continue to extract value rather than nourish a vibrant information ecosystem, using language like “dominate the industry.”
  • Public trust has eroded due to the proliferation of disinformation, fake, and hyperpartisan news.
  • More high-quality content will disappear behind paywalls, widening the disconnect between the informative haves and have-nots. Revenue demands will continue to win over reaching underserved audiences.
  • The ability to collect, process, and use data effectively will be a competitive differentiator favoring highly capitalized, privacy-averse, digital-savvy companies.

While its audience remains large and influential, public media struggles to connect with younger and more representative audiences — in both content and form.

  • A divided political climate means that funding for public media will remain under threat, inhibiting bold choices.
  • The millionaire culture in media, driven by consolidation, favors the already successful.

So where does hope come in?

Major platforms such as Apple and Spotify, which nonprofit, independent, and commercial podcasters alike use and collaborate with to reach established and new audiences, created new subscription options expanding options for show monetization.

Podcasts have moved from niche to mainstream — recognized with prestigious journalism awards and exponential audience growth. Multiple popular podcasts are being adapted for television, including the PBS Kids show Molly of Denali, which was introduced to audiences as a podcast prequel. NPR recently announced the distribution of the How I Built This podcast to a broadcaster based in Japan.

The demand for what public media does best — provide free access to high quality, substantive reporting and exploration of themes that go beyond the realm of commercial media — remains great.

Beyond a narrow network of institutions, we see public media as a more dynamic, expansive community of independent producers and organizations working to create media in the public interest — one that serves the public beyond commercial incentives. As the audience for on-demand content surges, and as technologies and new markets better enable its production, we have a radical opportunity to democratize media — opening a frequently closed system to new voices, ideas, technologies, and audiences.

A revitalized public media — more representative and relevant — may not be able to compete with commercial media on access to capital, but it can win on trust, quality, empathy, and engagement.

Hope can link our past, present, and future. A few years ago, when American public broadcasting was celebrating 50 years, one detail in the early history stuck with me. Back in 1967, commercial broadcasters stepped up. Instead of treating the emerging public system as a competitor, Frank Stanton, then the president of CBS, pledged $1 million and said: “With [this $1 million check] go CBS’s best wishes for the immediate and lasting success…in fulfilling the great promise public broadcasting holds for this nation.”

Innovation can be a rebellious approach to solving the right problem. It can also come from partnerships connected by shared values. Hope isn’t tied to a particular outcome. In some ways, it is a signal of movement, the belief, and the trust that we can do better.

Kerri Hoffman is CEO of PRX.

I was asked recently how I got into nonprofit work. I heard myself say it always starts with rebellion, followed by dissatisfaction, which gives way to hope. I am looking at a media future knowing we need to be master jugglers of all three.

Rebellion provides valuable fuel — innovation, creativity, and democracy itself depends on it. A refusal to conduct business as usual is where seeds of change are planted. As we emerge from the confines of the pandemic, where will our rebellious spirit lead? Will fear and uncertainty keep us close to familiar comforts? Will we lock arms with strangers to make the world a better place? Will the business of media and politics be upended by rebellious upstarts who see things differently?

As the energy of rebellion loses steam, dissatisfaction can provide needed clarity as we look ahead. At PRX, we are focused on a healthy public media and podcasting ecosystem. And we are dissatisfied with the current realities:

  • Big media platforms continue to undermine traditional revenue models while raising concerns about privacy, truth, and civic dialogue.
  • Major for-profit outlets will continue to extract value rather than nourish a vibrant information ecosystem, using language like “dominate the industry.”
  • Public trust has eroded due to the proliferation of disinformation, fake, and hyperpartisan news.
  • More high-quality content will disappear behind paywalls, widening the disconnect between the informative haves and have-nots. Revenue demands will continue to win over reaching underserved audiences.
  • The ability to collect, process, and use data effectively will be a competitive differentiator favoring highly capitalized, privacy-averse, digital-savvy companies.

While its audience remains large and influential, public media struggles to connect with younger and more representative audiences — in both content and form.

  • A divided political climate means that funding for public media will remain under threat, inhibiting bold choices.
  • The millionaire culture in media, driven by consolidation, favors the already successful.

So where does hope come in?

Major platforms such as Apple and Spotify, which nonprofit, independent, and commercial podcasters alike use and collaborate with to reach established and new audiences, created new subscription options expanding options for show monetization.

Podcasts have moved from niche to mainstream — recognized with prestigious journalism awards and exponential audience growth. Multiple popular podcasts are being adapted for television, including the PBS Kids show Molly of Denali, which was introduced to audiences as a podcast prequel. NPR recently announced the distribution of the How I Built This podcast to a broadcaster based in Japan.

The demand for what public media does best — provide free access to high quality, substantive reporting and exploration of themes that go beyond the realm of commercial media — remains great.

Beyond a narrow network of institutions, we see public media as a more dynamic, expansive community of independent producers and organizations working to create media in the public interest — one that serves the public beyond commercial incentives. As the audience for on-demand content surges, and as technologies and new markets better enable its production, we have a radical opportunity to democratize media — opening a frequently closed system to new voices, ideas, technologies, and audiences.

A revitalized public media — more representative and relevant — may not be able to compete with commercial media on access to capital, but it can win on trust, quality, empathy, and engagement.

Hope can link our past, present, and future. A few years ago, when American public broadcasting was celebrating 50 years, one detail in the early history stuck with me. Back in 1967, commercial broadcasters stepped up. Instead of treating the emerging public system as a competitor, Frank Stanton, then the president of CBS, pledged $1 million and said: “With [this $1 million check] go CBS’s best wishes for the immediate and lasting success…in fulfilling the great promise public broadcasting holds for this nation.”

Innovation can be a rebellious approach to solving the right problem. It can also come from partnerships connected by shared values. Hope isn’t tied to a particular outcome. In some ways, it is a signal of movement, the belief, and the trust that we can do better.

Kerri Hoffman is CEO of PRX.

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