Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shorty 3: Local on the 8s.

Could The Weather Channel's Local on the 8s feature inform a PBS strategy for delivering local content? In a universal broadband world, this could work. Any problem-solving traffic pros want to chime in regarding the technical issues/solutions? What are the programming issues? Perhaps more common carriage, but easier promotion. Plus, who doesn't love light jazz?

We have our own ideas, but we'd like to hear yours.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shorty 2: Patricia Harrison Wants $604 mil for FY2013

Read Patricia Harrison's statement before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations below.


Sound off as to whether you think these are appropriate appropriations.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Lonely Island

Over the last couple of days, we've received excellent comments from John Proffitt, David Thiel and Colin Powers. Thank you all for your engagement. We welcome readers to see them below.

We will try to address some of the concerns, though too many worthwhile questions have been raised to tackle all of them in one post. In this post, we will try to expand our vision for local "offices" as opposed to stations and explain why this change should occur.

David writes:
While I know that many see the network of local stations as a problem, I've always seen it as a net positive. That so-called inefficiency is also a breeding ground for innovation, with the best ideas getting passed around.

RevolutionPBS agrees with this philosophy, but we break with the current PBS model in our vision for local presence. We believe in a model we will call The Lonely Island.

Last night we watched Saturday Night Live's retrospective on the decade of 2000-10. In the show, cast member Andy Samberg recounted the production of the short film "Lazy Sunday." For those unfamiliar, "Lazy Sunday" is a rap video about a day in the life of two guys who go see The Chronicles of Narnia. The project was created by Andy and two writer friends (Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone). Though they were all employed by NBC, the three of them had been making short films on their own since high school, calling their "production unit" The Lonely Island. "Lazy Sunday" was the first film idea they submitted to Lorne Michaels.

Based on an audio track created on a Macbook, Lorne greenlighted the project. The Lonely Island team shot the footage around Brooklyn and in the theater of improv group The Upright Citizens Brigade. The shoot took five hours. When "Lazy Sunday" aired that weekend it was a huge success, and the film became an overnight YouTube smash.

What can PBS learn from this example? We believe smaller production offices, or "Lonely Islands," can be leaner than, but just as successful as, local stations. They can use less expensive technology (Macbook audio). They can partner to achieve efficiency (use the Upright Citizens Brigade theater). They can innovate (no mainstream television outlet was taking YouTube-style video seriously before "Lazy Sunday").

The Lonely Island group has gone on to make numerous popular films for SNL. Certainly, with their success, SNL is throwing more money their way for production costs (could this be an increase in CPB support in the PBS model?). The group has explored other ways to engage its audience with a CD of its songs called Incredibad (local PBS production units could still pursue grants for educational outreach based on their own and PBS programs). But even with all their success, NBC wouldn't consider building The Lonely Island team their own studios, master control, and soundstage.

We believe PBS can have the innovation without the inefficiency of the member station model. With advances in technology it will only become easier and less expensive to produce and deliver content. Cloud computing, the National Broadband Plan and easier web distribution, exploding receiving devices for content...the only way through these changes is to be smaller and more agile.

In another part of his comment David mentions boots on the ground. This should always be a vital part of public media. A public media unit must be embedded in its community. It must be fluent in its history and culture. We believe local production units can establish the same presence in a community without the station infrastructure. We argue smaller units can be even more responsive to their community's needs without the worry of studio, transmitter, and master control overhead.

Viewing the situation from 30,000 feet, PBS real estate is shrinking, as is the footprint of many established media organizations (networks and newspapers being two of the most obvious examples), as media choice expands exponentially and distribution changes. To deny the fragmentation and shifting patterns of its audience would be as perilous for PBS as for any other media provider. RevPBS isn't breaking any new ground here. Anyone familiar with Media Theory knows this.

We believe PBS must put resources toward its brand, not its real estate. While brand may not be a favorite focus of a service organization, it is a vital focus for a media organization. What sets PBS apart is its storytelling, its reporting, quality educational programs, its level of trust among viewers...in short, its content.

A brief aside about PBS and brand. If you go to The Lonely Island website, you recognize the group's connection to SNL and to a lesser degree NBC. Go to the Sesame Workshop website and look for references to PBS or Sprout. They aren't exactly front and center. This is a problem. Could Sesame Street realize there will come a day when they will no longer need PBS to deliver their content? Any of you who scoff are in for a rude awakening.

Our proposed change might take some careful steps to educate viewers. It would be nice for them to understand how the new model would work. It would be nice for communities to have a better understanding of the engagement these offices will provide. But let's be honest, is this critical? RevPBS knows enough about member stations to know that many viewers don't understand the role their local station plays in distributing content, programming the schedule, teaching literacy, providing health care outreach. After hours of pledge pitches and mailbags full of direct mail efforts, member stations would like to think they have communicated these things, but the truth is too few people understand PBS's full value, a value that wouldn't be diminished with a new model.

This is not a call for all member stations to fold tomorrow, but shifting as many resources as possible to engaging communities and producing stellar content should be the goal of everyone in the system. We can argue about when the time will come, but there can be little doubt that the on demand world will make local transmissions and local programming decisions redundant and irrelevant. People will be using devices that receive the content they want, when they want it. The infrastructure will be obsolete, but the content will be more vital than ever.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shorty 1

Excellent work by the Sesame Workshop marketing team: http://tinyurl.com/y27ry9x

Cookie Monster like viral video.

Shorties: Yes, Call 911!

Due to the popular response to our shorter posts, we're making "Shorties" an official blog feature. Some will be fun. Some will make you think. We promise to maintain our high standards of communication and refrain from getting "low," though we make no promises about apple bottom jeans and boots with the fur. Especially on the weekends.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NPR Is On Your iPad

That's right. It's Robert Siegel, in app form. What about some video with that radio star? Why that might look like PBS, distributed in a whole new way....


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Than TV

Check out this NYT article. You can watch PBS on Facebook. No remote control needed.