Do Public Broadcasters Get It? (Stephen Hill)

Do Public Broadcasters Get It? (Stephen Hill)

Summary: Do Public Broadcasters Get It?...............................................Final version   10.

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Do Public Broadcasters Get It?

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Final version   10.18.05

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<description> Description </description>

During the doldrums of mid-August Steve Gillmor dropped a semi-cryptic post on his ZDNet blog to the effect that he'd been working with a group of people from public broadcasting as part of something called the Public Service Publisher Initiative (PSP) and had received a private email from one them that had prompted him to drop out of the group.

I'm the guy who wrote that email. I've been in public radio since the early 1970s and have produced a nationally syndicated ambient music program called Hearts of Space since 1983. From 1984 to 2001 we also operated an independent record label. I take a more than passing interest in new technologies that help me reach my audience and have been a new media activist in the public radio system since the early days of streaming. We currently run a paid streaming service based on our program archive and are developing a comprehensive Internet music service around our niche repertoire.

Steve went on to suggest that the issues raised in our private exchange be taken into the open so they can be hashed out between broadcasters and producers from the incumbent public service media and members of the tech and podcasting community. I readily agreed, and after some unrelated delays we further discussed the situation in a conference call in early September between Steve, me,  Dennis Haarsager of Northwest Public Radio and TV, and Rich Winefield and Tim Olson of San Francisco public station KQED. After more unrelated delays, here it is.

<item> What's the beef? </item>

The original issue that provoked this beef is not that important. I criticized a Gillmor Daily podcast Steve did with Doc Searls ("Broadband on the Run"); he reacted. Why should you care?  Because of the larger issues behind it, which I hope this will illuminate.

To slightly oversimplify the fairly intense discussion that followed, there were two issues. One had to do with quality, in particular the importance of production quality of podcasts compared to professionally produced media; the other with larger questions of the relationship between citizen-produced Internet media and professional, especially non-commercial, public service media. Steve was so frustrated by what he was hearing from me that he unleashed the ultimate early-adopter missile:  You guys just don't get it.

Respectfully to everyone involved, I think we get it just fine. I believe what we are really seeing is an understandable collision between values, which I try to explain here. You may disagree, in which case I hope you'll let me know. I'm doing my part to make it a public conversation.

<item> Back Story </item>

The events that led to Steve joining the PSP group and ultimately quitting it began at a conference in San Francisco in January 2005 produced by an organization called the IMA or Integrated Media Association. If netizens have never heard of it, that's because it was created by and functions entirely within the public radio and television community. It has an open website at http://www.integratedmedia.org.

IMA was chartered to represent the technically and conceptually progressive Internet wing of U.S. public media, and it played an important role in the gestation of the PSP Initiative. But from the moment the core of the activist PSP group hooked up with Steve at the IMA Conference, things started to develop in ways we had not forseen.

One the primary functions of the IMA is to build a case for a broad improvement in public radio/TV web services, while the PSP group was focused solely on Internet program distribution. IMA had to move more slowly than we felt necessary, and ultimately the PSP Group chose to operate on its own, outside of the IMA.  (The stations in the PSP remain IMA members.)  After a few months we discovered and quickly formed a working alliance with Mike Homer and his colleagues at the Open Media Network, who were over a year ahead of us in developing an online public media distribution service based on the Kontiki P2P engine.

I don't think you can fully appreciate the difference between the brutal techno-Darwinism-on-crystal-meth reality of the Internet space and the slow, polite, idealistic, chronically underfunded world of U.S. public broadcasting unless you've worked in both environments -- the difference is just too great. If you work in IT, the fact that you may support a local public broadcaster and listen to All Things Considered or Morning Edition or <yourFavoriteShow> will just confuse you.

Steve apparently put in some time at non-commercial WBAI-FM in New York in the 1970s, and I think that Doc Searls and Doug Kaye each have some experience in commercial broadcasting. All of them have abundant published perspectives on the issues of broadcasting and podcasting. From my vantage point, these are effectively two different worlds, with a potential wormhole connecting them along technical and idealistic/value lines that intersect somewhere in the middle of the Long Tail. Understanding that is what the rest of this piece is about.

Steve was far more aware of this potential connection than any of us from public broadcasting when we met. RSS had barely made a beachhead among public broadcasters and only a handful of the most technically astute public broadcast webmasters were aware of podcasting, even fewer of its disruptive potential.

Steve administered aggressive doses of "tough love" in the first few months of meeting with us and forced everyone to get up to speed on the big changes implicated by RSS, podcasting and citizen media, tagging, search, Web 2.0 applications and other trends from the leading edge of Internet evolution. At the time (early 2005) there were only a few scattered experiments with podcasting from the larger public stations, despite the fact that they were sitting on sizeable unused archives of legally downloadable material and ongoing series.

This was slightly surprising because public broadcasters had been much quicker to adopt streaming than commercial broadcasters. And public broadcasters had built their business on the niche content, small audiences and donation business models that mark the first generation of podcasting. A startup called Public Interactive was created in 1999 by a group of the largest public radio stations and one of the national program distributors to provide Internet services to station web sites. Part of their service was hosting continuous streams as extensions of station air signals. By 2005, all but the smallest public stations were streaming their air channel, and the larger ones were offering some on-demand content on their web sites.

Streaming was seen by public broadcasters as radio by other means, a way to fill in gaps in local coverage, reach ex-patriate listeners, and perhaps get a few out-of-town subscriptions. Static, non-interactive streams were like radio without the limitations of  transmitters, while on-demand streaming offered a whole new level of service. And all of it was completely outside the regulatory domain of the FCC, which was almost too much freedom to handle for people who'd been looking over their shoulders every day for 50 years.

<item> Time + Quality = Service </item>

The core of the long tail theory is that the Internet finally makes serving niche audiences efficient and economically viable, especially when aggregated. I take it as axiomatic that all niche audiences have been chronically underserved in the past, and will be better served in the future by both participatory and professional digital sources online.

But these niche audiences do not exist in a vacuum. The same people are also members of mass and medium size audiences. Consciously or not, their reference standard for radio and television content has been created by years of exposure to high production value commercial media and high quality non-commercial broadcast media in series like Nova, Frontline and All Things Considered, as well as Ken Burns specials and other documentaries. With their BBC DNA, these programs define a working standard.

Steve Gillmor has argued that "truth," relevance, and perhaps creativity are the key values in podcasting, and that technical production quality doesn't matter in long tail media. I disagree.

It's an arguable point for users in the heady days of realizing you are finally being programmed to, but in the medium to long run I don't believe that even niche audiences will sit still for extended doses of amateurish, inconsistent, self-indugent programming, no matter how vertically compelling the subject matter. For niche programs to attract new audiences and hold them over time, they will have to bear at least reasonable comparison to the production standards of mainstream media.

This is particularly true for audio, which cannot easily be scanned and almost always takes 1:1 hard time to consume. (There's a new feature on the iPod that allows you to listen to Audiobooks at faster than normal speed, so perhaps 2:1 time compression for speech will be normal someday.)  Unfortunately for entry level podcasters and notwithstanding the existence of amazing cheap tools for the job, working with audio and learning how to create a consistently listenable program takes several years to master.

This is just my opinion. For a more objective comparison, consider independent music, where the technical enabling revolution in home studios and cheap publishing on cassette, CD and now online -- has been going on for about 35 years. Today, production quality standards of indie music approach those of major label releases except for the most elaborate mainstream material. Once the 'shock of service' wears off for niche listeners, I believe it will apply to podcasters as well.

That doesn't mean that there isn't room for all kinds of innovative programming and more improvised, casual, creative, offbeat approaches to niche and public service content. Or that talk programmers, interviewers and documentarians can't develop more individual styles and voices.

But I think it implies that in the medium and long run, listeners will expect a dependable level of quality and consistency of video, sound, performance, information and entertainment value in their niche media. And if grassroots podcasting and webcasting are going to be monetized via subscription, PPV or advertising models as Podshow and others are proposing -- then listeners, viewers and advertisers will all want a return on their time and money investments.

An organization called the INA or International Nanocasting Alliance, has been formed around precisely these issues, to draw a line between the casual/hobbyist and professional levels of long tail media. I think they have a point.

<item> Business models </item>

In the U.S., public service media pioneered the model of user supported broadcasting. It's still around, providing an average of over 40% of the funding of public radio and television. This model is now being rolled over to long tail web sites, blogs and vertical  services via tip jars, PayPal donations and other attempts to secure voluntary support from users. Doug Kaye has instituted this method on IT Conversations, along with the use of volunteer producers (another public radio tradition) to edit and prepare the small waterfall of material he's releasing each week. It's often compared to the open source software development system, but there are also significant differences. 

Public radio and television have over 50 years experience with this model. It was born of necessity at KPFA in Berkeley in the 1950s, and was ahead of its time in recognizing the kind of direct producer/audience interaction and shared sense of purpose that the Internet now delivers in spades. 

But it also has serious disadvantages: even after 40 years of increasingly organized, skillful appeals for voluntary support, only about 10% of the audience actually pays. How podcasters expect a model that has barely worked in the context of full time professional broadcasting by licensed local monopolies to work for even smaller audiences is beyond me. Only a small fraction of programs and services will ever be able to sustain themselves this way. And if they do, most of them will pay a significant price by having to operate on a subsistence economy.

I also reject the idea that incumbent public broadcasters are doomed by their overhead and infrastructure. I think Doug Kaye's post about On the Media and WGBH in Blogarithms misunderstands both the issue and the context. 

It's not about big staffs and deluxe studios; WGBH and the major incumbent producers are exceptions. They all have multiple sources of funding that have been developed over many years.  Their production facilities are largely paid for. They can, and are, adapting rapidly to new technologies. They can leverage their infrastructure and produce shows that meet their traditional standards of quality for sound, writing, production and on-air talent, while simultaneously spinning off new shows that take advantage of new distribution and promotion opportunities. As has been said of the (far more conservative) Catholic church -- don't underestimate their ability to adapt.

But for the typical public radio station, voluntary support fails to provide a sustaining level of funding for their minimal staffs and physical plants, which results in a constant need for additional grant support, increasing amounts of soft advertising in the form of "expanded underwriting" spots (the commercializing of non-commerical broadcasting), and at its worst -- the descending spiral of pandering to audiences exemplified by the endless lifestyle fundraising specials that have sucked much of the integrity and quality out of public television along with the dollars of its aging audience -- a pathetic subversion of the original mission.

<item> Values </item>

Where the public service media incumbents and the leading edge of the podosphere can meet is on the level of values: truth, integrity, transparency, accuracy, relevance, compassion...add yours. 

I'm probably not the best person to articulate these values and standards on behalf of the public service media incumbents -- but I will defend them. For various reasons, my 30 years in the public radio system have been spent mostly as a maverick and outsider. When I couldn't make a decent living in public radio as a syndicator, I started related businesses, a strategy that worked financially but further distanced me from the conservative public service purists who still dominate the network.

To get a fuller sense of the value system that underlies the incumbent public service media system, the best place to look is the BBC, which is largely responsible for defining them. BBC researcher Alan Blumlein invented stereo in the 1930's. In addition to audio technology, the company also established all the major genres and standards for program content.

A fascinating history and summation of the BBC experience was given in August 2005 by JOHN BIRT, former Director General of the BBC, in a speech at the Edinburgh International Conference. His account is all the more cogent and timely because he is fully aware of the changes that will be wrought by digital distribution and the net, which he mentions at the end. (Fair warning -- it's long.)   

http://www.mgeitf.co.uk/MGEITF/pressoffice/news.asp?view=4&id=268&style=mgeitf&year=2005

<item> More about the beef </item>

My beef with Steve Gillmor was due to a collision between the values of conceptual quality, intellectual rigor and craft that form the foundation and working standard of the incumbent public media system, and the values of grassroots empowerment, free toolsets, open distribution, personal expression and improvisation that characterize the blog and podcasting world. 

More specifically, I was objecting to the Gillmor Daily show called "Broadband on the Run," where Steve ambushed Doc Searls in transit to a conference and dragged him into a rambling, off-the-cuff discussion of radio, podcasting and music copyrights -- a very complicated subject.
 
After 22 years of radio syndication and 17 years operating an indie record label, I know a lot more about this stuff than I'd like, and I found the discussion scattered, inaccurate in many places, misleading and unbalanced. 80 minutes of underwater Skype + cell phone audio didn't help my mood either. And Steve's willful demonstration of copyright infringment by playing a Beatles track in the background on this show struck me as adolescent, proved nothing important, and changed nothing about the challenges we face as far as I'm concerned. 

I should be clear that I'm a deep admirer of Steve's insights into the tech space and Doc's work since Cluetrain. I normally agree with Doc's point of view on almost every issue. He is one of the wisest and best informed commentators in this area, and he obviously knows what he's talking about. I am also a huge fan of the Gillmor Gang podcasts, most of which are reference quality as a source of leading edge information content about technology, media and the Internet.

But in the case of this particular Gillmor Daily show, Steve -- who often has an underlying techno-political, rather than journalistic, agenda -- was bent on provoking Doc into a polarized argument that I thought mostly misleading.  Doc, disappointingly to me, was playing the role of the oppressed Libertarian, beset by draconian copyright regimes that prevent free use and reuse of existing music and video. No attempt whatsoever was made to explain any of the reasons why these practices came to exist and are being so vigorously defended by the incumbents. Nor was there any attempt to discuss how these issues might be reconciled going forward. I'd put up with it in a bar after a conference, but not on a program that purports to be informative about media and technology.

So, I complained -- "viscerally" (Steve's word) -- but I did it privately because I know that for all his bluster and occasionally slanderous public persona, Steve is very sensitive to criticism of his own work. I later apologized to Steve for the tone of the note, but not about my strong feelings for the subject or my criticism of the program itself.

Examining those feelings, I realized that my colleagues and I value deeply the traditions of quality in media, which have produced not only high performance standards, but are founded on a copyright and IP regime that many in the tech community find incomprehensible, onerous and restrictive.

I am certainly not a defender of everything about existing copyright laws -- in fact I believe they are badly in need of a substantial overhaul for the network era -- but it still pains me to hear otherwise intelligent technology advocates openly gloating over the loss of control over copyright that has been created by new distribution technologies, or inversely, whining about the restrictions to which they are subject. It's particularly annoying when those doing the talking are not making a living from their creative output, but from tangential or unrelated jobs. They talk, but few (Cory Doctorow is a conspicuous exception) have actually walked the walk.

I consider the relationships between broadcasting, publishing, copyright and business models to be the single most important set of issues facing everyone who is serious about developing more open digital media. Chris Nolan was absolutely right in a recent Gillmor Gang show ("Municipal Gang") to pull Steve up short and call for separate program to discuss the copyright issue when it came up in the context of a discussion of telecom carrier politics. 

I'm not an expert on this area, but I did participate in a vigorous online discussion of all these issues for several years on the "Pho" email list -- an exhaustive, intelligent, mostly civilized conversation between copyright activists, academics, music business executives and lawyers, working musicians, and technologists. I suggested to Steve that there were at least a dozen people on Pho, particularly cofounder Jim Griffin, who would be more than qualified to do this discussion the right way, and I would be happy to make the necessary introductions. Steve chose not to pursue it and that's where the matter stands. I'd still like to hear that copyright show on Gillmor Gang.

<item> Conclusion </item>


"At the end of the day, the big difference between not-for-profit podcasting and commercial Nanocasting (i.e. commercialized long tail Internet audio programming) will be quality and professionalism."  -- INA (International Nanocasting Alliance)

I believe that time will bear out this statement. It's about meeting a standard of quality which a group of smart and dedicated people have developed over the course of the last 75 years, a standard which an educated audience, at least, has come to expect. It's already happening with blogs, where there are almost no production cost issues and editing is easy and fast compared to audio and video.

I also believe, as Steve Gillmor has said on several occasions, that the worlds of incumbent public service media and at least some types of podcasting have much more in common than at variance with each other. But just as pubcasters have a lot to learn from the libertarian values, open standards, transparency and interactive ethics of the best in the online community, so do podcasters and vlogcasters have a lot to learn from us. We have a developed set of standards for media presentation and journalism that are eminently worth preserving and protecting.

As Jeremy Allaire points out about new media activists, "it's important that we don't believe our own bull."  

Despite superior distribution  technology and the best efforts of evangelists and provocateurs like Steve Gillmor -- whose posts often end with some brilliant Rube Goldberg lash-up of what he calls the "burgeoning software-as-a-service architecture in waiting" -- it's obvious to me, to other commentators (including members of the Gillmor Gang) and to most public broadcasters, that the mass of educated listeners and viewers will be lagging considerably behind the most creative and motivated early adopters of the online and tech community in joining this party. Of course we all realize there is a new audience eager to be served who may care a lot less about these values, but it doesn't change the fact that the bulk of the educated audience does, and will continue to do so.

So I think that despite the occasionally grandiose claims of Steve, Doug Kaye, the very cogent Ron Bloom of Podshow and other podcasting promoters, I agree with Doc Searls' position in "Broadband on the Run" that this is going to be a case of "and logic," not "or logic" -- that new media will not fully displace older media, but take years to dilute its audience to one degree or another -- especially when skilled incumbents with resources, like NPR, KCRW, KQED, WNYC and WGBH -- are showing that they are agile enough to colonize the new distribution paradigms along with the early settlers. 

This is the downside of reducing barriers to entry. Once they get going, the pros can do it easier, faster, and generally better than all but the most organized and talented amateurs. They have greater experience and resources when it comes to creating quality programming --  particularly ongoing series. This accounts for the fact that professionally produced shows now account for over 90% of the iTunes top 100 podcast list, and the smutty charms of early podcast stars like Dawn and Drew are now off the list.

Every reasonable commentator predicts that we are heading toward a multi-layered media landscape where everything coexists at a new level of complexity. In my opinion there is too much audience inertia to overcome and too much new behavior to breed for this to happen as quickly as Steve Gillmor seems to think, at least for mainstream audiences. Early adopters are obviously the exception.  The oracular Andrew Odlyzko's 10 year diffusion estimates from the inception of new media innovations or distribution technology to dominance are probably still a good bet. And we'll need a hundred more Steve Jobs to make it all slick and easy enough to work for average users.

Even in the today's challenging media environment, conventional public radio broadcasters deliver over 12 BILLION listener hours every year in the U.S. -- several orders of magnitude more than podcasters will achieve for years to come. And when the aggregate of Internet delivered programming finally reaches this level of penetration, the incumbent program brands and production expertise of public broadcasters will benefit disproportionally, as will brands and personalities from commercial radio who will have established their franchises online by leveraging their on-air resources to promote their online services during the transition. They can also aggregate the best of the new players into their own services.

2005 will be remembered as the year the lid finally came off media distribution. Personally, I look forward to discovering the unique talents that will emerge from podcasting. I just want to see the standards kept up. Do ya feel me, Brother Gillmor?
 

:: Stephen Hill 

stephen.hill@hos.com

http://www.hos.com

Topic: Browser

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15 comments
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  • Mostly Agree

    Been listening to podCasts since the beginning but have found I
    now don't waste my time with drivel and poor quality. I to
    listened to the same Gillmor podcast and had the same reaction
    as you. A second was one by Dave Winer in his car with music
    and road noise so distracting it was painful and not worth the
    time.
    I think this will follow the same route as internet-1 where you
    had thousands of pure play eCommerce companies but it is the
    major "brick-n-mortar" brands that now dominate (except for
    Amazon). They had the knowledge, budgets, experience to do it
    right. Yes there are niche eCommerce sites but the ones that
    have survived/prospered have quality operations/presentation.
    The same will be true with podCasting.
    PXLated
  • affirmative

    I agree with Stephen, and wrote to Steve at the release of 'Broadband on the Run' with similar comments. I also like Gang podcasts very much for their lively debate, and would only ask for a bit less of the profanity. Don't think of it as prudishness, but rather 'production values'.
    williamc@...
  • A response of sorts

    First of all, well done Steve G. for posting an alternative view.

    As far as Stephen?s comments are concerned ? I'll be doing my best to stick to the main question, but no promises.

    First, let me say that I have no direct broadcasting industry experience other than supporting broadcasters and news organizations as a supplier, and as a technical consultant with a remit to advise on future technology and support services for nearly 15 years. So this is an outsider-looking-in perspective.

    All broadcasting, and all media, are operating on old business models. As Stephen linked to Clay Christensen?s Innovator?s Dilemma (via Doug Kaye's Weblog), let?s start there. This is, after all, about what current innovation will do, what it might change and, to a large extent, public broadcasting is caught up in a bigger wave.

    In my experience (always a dangerous qualification to quote) when it comes to innovation there are two types of people:
    - Those who resist it;
    - Those who embrace it, and carry it forward.

    Those who resist new technology, and the new options it provides, are always motivated by self-interest ? a complex set of drivers indeed, and many such interests are not obvious. Modern media magnates are nothing if not informed? They have, therefore, been building defenses against new technology ? and plotting the downfall of ?audience stealing? (as they see it) public broadcasting for at least a decade. Even though they could not have foreseen podcasting and Google, they could (and did, this part is an eye-witness report) foresee that the Net and PCs were going to remove the barriers of entry to their business. If you think these plans are simple, benign, and transparent, then you have a lot to learn about the high-voltage power-broking that such people indulge in ? on a daily basis. To believe that those who control public broadcasting do not enjoy similar purpose would be naive in the extreme. Lord Birt, in the speech Stephen cites, recalled the early BBC monopoly in Britain in glowing, even sentimental, terms?

    Stephen berates Steve G. for (as Stephen put it) ? [a] ?Gillmor Daily show called ?Broadband on the Run,? where Steve ambushed Doc Searls ? into a rambling, off-the-cuff discussion of radio, podcasting and music copyrights ? a very complicated subject.?

    Sorry Stephen, but I?m with Steve G. on this point. The All-Media-Change wave is both implicitly and explicitly rooted in the socio-political soil. In my book, by the way, socio-political includes economic. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and Big Media interest in the new idea of patenting software and business processes are specifically designed by media moguls to (at least) slow down the Net and either:
    - Preserve my media power and profits until I retire; or
    - At least give us a breathing space until we can work out how to leverage best advantage from the change.
    I regard these things to be self-evident.

    So my advice here is: To redefine public service broadcasting to best advantage in the Net age don?t over-simplify. The whole broadcasting system, the whole media system, needs a root and branch review. By allowing the media moguls to talk the ?We can?t eat the whole Elephant? talk you also allow them to fragment and compartmentalize the arguments ? a.k.a. divide and rule.

    As far as public broadcasting and the democratization of media through cheap tools and the Net is concerned, this is a part of the pressure to change the Media World. The Moguls have not been side-stepped by this feature of the Net ? they saw this coming. But the pressure is still on because it is taking them much longer than expected to come up with Net gateways (e.g. the set-top boxes of the kind Lord Birt talked about in the link Stephen provided) that re-apply lost power to obfuscate choice through filters (family-friendly, work-friendly, library control, charging schemes, etc.), skewed search (for commercial returns), and promotion (wow, cross-media conglomerates might actually be made to work!). Or, to put that another way, to regain their power to set the political agenda ? even to increase that power?

    The Moguls saw this coming because of the success of Amazon. Stephen implies that he regards Amazon as a kind of anomaly ? after all, he points out, most of the big names in on-line retail were big first in bricks and mortar. The Moguls learned from this the value of brands, to be sure, but they also saw that Amazon made all those big retail brands pull their socks up pretty sharp-ish.

    They also saw the Long Tail in action at Amazon. This term; Long Tail, is fairly new but, actually, the concept has been around on the Net for a very long time. I still tend to think of it as the Super-Catalogue. No matter that you are the only person in the last ten years to order a Bryan Adams CD for $5 (hey, it?s a classic, its worth at least that, no?). If we?ve got one in stock, it?s yours, and maintaining that page on my Net catalogue for ten years cost me 50 cents (okay I?m exaggerating).

    Stephen breaks down this angle in terms of quality. Public Broadcasters, he maintains, have a role in the future as the defenders of quality for public broadcasting. My advice on this aspect of the (heated?) Gang discussion is: Be careful what you wish for?

    The Moguls are chameleons, if they see an argument working for public broadcasting ? they will borrow it. Defense of quality broadcasting plays into their hands ? in the US they will own all the gateways. How will they pay for those gateways? There are more currencies than simple greenbacks ? particularly where politics is involved.

    Which brings me to Stephen?s comment: ?I realized that my colleagues and I value deeply the traditions of quality in media, which have produced not only high performance standards, but are founded on a copyright and IP regime that many in the tech community find incomprehensible, onerous and restrictive.?

    I found this comment extremely (yes really) disingenuous, given Stephen?s obvious knowledge of the leading edge of media re-invention (RSS, Podcasting, Nanocasting, the INA, and so forth).

    Before I really let rip (sorry, but this subject gets right under my skin) I must acknowledge Stephen?s additional comment: ?[I am] ?not a defender of everything about existing copyright laws ? in fact I believe they are badly in need of a substantial overhaul for the network era??

    Oh-kay? But why deny the link then? The link between new technology and new regulatory regimes is surely hard-wired? I have to say I am with Steve G. on this point too. If I had been in his shoes I would also have refused to countenance a separate discussion on copyright. As I mentioned above, dividing the subject into bite-sized pieces is not in the best interests of ensuring a role for public broadcasting in the Net era, or for open public access to the future Net. Take it from me, Steve G. is doing you a whopping big favour Stephen.

    If there is a role for Public Broadcasting in the future what does it look like? Stephen does not satisfactorily describe a vision ? though he frequently asserts that it has a future based on quality of output.

    There are two things wrong with Stephen?s description:
    - Assumptions; and
    - Hidebound belief in the public ethic.
    When I look at these factors I see someone digging in their heels. Stephen appears to be denying that the technology changes the overall picture? He is, in fact, in tune with the Moguls.

    The assumptions he makes are quite broad.

    The listening/viewing/reading/participating audience in Stephen?s World is static:
    "At the end of the day, the big difference between not-for-profit podcasting and commercial Nanocasting (i.e. commercialized long tail Internet audio programming) will be quality and professionalism."

    So too are the technology, and the content makers:
    ? ?we all realize there is a new audience eager to be served who may care a lot less about these values, but it doesn't change the fact that the bulk of the educated audience does, and will continue to do so.?

    The incumbents see no change:
    ? ?especially when skilled incumbents with resources, like NPR, KCRW, KQED, WNYC and WGBH ? are showing that they are agile enough to colonize the new distribution paradigms??

    But to really hear Stephen going out on a limb, hear him talk about why public broadcasters have an edge in New Media:
    ?This is the downside of reducing barriers to entry. Once they get going, the pros can do it easier, faster, and generally better than all but the most organized and talented amateurs. They have greater experience and resources when it comes to creating quality programming.?

    Resources, as we have already seen, are getting cheaper, easier to use, easier to access, and are approaching ubiquity ? already. As for experience; give me a break! I am a big defender of experience ? I trade on mine daily to put bread on my table. Even so, I have to be on my metal ? others are learning what I know every day.

    Having said all that, I?m ready to listen to more substantial arguments for public broadcasting. Unfortunately I have yet to hear any. My main concern today is that a slow transition gives the Moguls the opportunity to (ab?)use Nanocasting to undermine public service broadcasting to the point where their political voices are devalued ? even discounted ? in the push for a new regime that democratizes media production, distribution, and consumption. Nature abhors a vacuum ? in step the Moguls with a sop: We?ll provide a public service channel through our gateways? (okay, they probably won?t be that obvious but, I?m making a point here). When I see people like Stephen falling into this trap, I know I have to step into the breach ? and I see the same response in Steve G?s. actions.

    The tech community has to take up the baton now.

    So do I agree with Stephen on anything? Yes. ??the mass of educated listeners and viewers will be lagging considerably behind the most creative and motivated early adopters of the online and tech community in joining this party.? Dead right. It will take half a generation for New Media to really upset the apple cart (fifteen years, twenty years ? pick a number?) because, at the end of the day, it requires that the great unwashed get the big picture (pun intended).

    Said cart is already leaning at an obviously awkward angle ? today?s IP regime ?that many in the tech community find incomprehensible, onerous and restrictive? is doing what it was designed to do and is throwing obstacles into New Tech?s path (and Stephen wonders why the tech community find this onerous??).

    In the end, I believe, New Tech will have the last laugh. If we work on it now, the people will see ? they will follow. They will swear too.

    In the meantime ? Do Public Broadcasters Get It? If Stephen is their advocate ? no.
    Stephen Wheeler
    • A response to a response of Sorts

      (I'm posting this in the comments here and also on the <a
      href="http://technology360.typepad.com/psp/">PSP blog</a>
      and <a href="http://heartsofspace.typepad.com/
      spatialrelations/">my own blog</a>.)

      ....

      Stephen ??'s comments on my post are substantial and I take
      them seriously. This may be too late to advance the discussion,
      but for the record I'll try to clarify any misinterpretations he may
      have about my position and argue a few of his assertions.

      His broad assumption that "those who resist new technology,
      and the new options it provides are always motivated by self
      interest" is hard to disagree with. My point was that public
      broadcasters are not really resisting new technology, had been
      relatively progressive about adopting streaming, and are moving
      into podcasting at a rate limited only by staff, budget and rights
      limitations -- while trying to digest the realization that most of
      the old structural output limitations under which they have
      operated since their inception have been demolished by the net.

      Conspiracies

      Stephen testifies to first hand knowledge of some kind of high
      level conspiracy by commercial media companies to erect
      defenses against Internet broadcasting, and he speculates that
      the same is true by "those who control public broadcasting." I'm
      here to tell you from my own direct experience over the last 6 or
      7 years, that this was absolutely not the case.

      In fact, if anything, the power players in public broadcasting--
      PBS, NPR and the major syndicators PRI (Public Radio
      International) and APM (American Public Media) did not oppose,
      but were simply relatively slow to adopt new technologies.
      Again, due to staff, budget and rights limitations, but also to not
      having a tradition of being highly pro-active about adopting new
      technologies, since the last tech revolution in public
      broadcasting was in the 1980s. Public radio did take a early lead
      in satellite distribution and HD radio, but these initiatives have
      been very few and far between.

      The core of the problem is that it took over 25 years to build out
      the current "root and branch" distribution system for public
      radio and television, largely with public money. There is little of
      that money on the horizon today and the CPB (Corporation for
      Public Broadcasting) the government agency charged with this
      task, has been politicized and largely neutered by the
      Republican administration in a deliberate, politically motivated
      violation of its charter. Major CPB support for new technologies
      has been endlessly discussed but has not been forthcoming
      except in minor cases.

      The members of the IMA and the PSP group I describe, in
      addition to individual webmasters and a few progressive stations
      like KCRW, were the ones agitating to move faster and actually
      doing things, in Christiansen's terms a "disruption from within."

      The underlying reason for this is the difference between the
      financial orientation of commercial broadcasters and the service
      orientation of public broadcasters. New distribution technologies
      allow them to better achieve their mission of public service. It's
      another discussion, but in my view the biggest failure of public
      broadcasters so far has been to imagine and implement a
      business model that would benefit from the use of these new
      technologies.

      More Conspiracies

      Stephen's second major point is more serious. He implicates the
      Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and extension of
      patent law in a "self-evident" push to shore up the incumbent
      big media players and slow the rate of change that the Internet
      is bringing and to exert gating control over the ultimate IP-
      based media distribution system.

      With this I can agree in part. The point of the DMCA was to
      protect the existing music industry business model and wring
      the maximum profits out of its intellectual property. Slowing
      down the net was a secondary motive at best. Even the most
      conservative media executives realize that basic technology
      improvements cannot be stopped. This is about getting the
      maximum money out of those copyrights and positioning the
      rights holders favorably for the new digital world.

      I know for a fact that public broadcast institutions had nothing
      to do with the lobbying efforts that produced these laws. NPR
      did lobby against low power FM, which it saw as a direct threat
      to its distribution network. Again, the reasons for this are due to
      the fundamentally different missions of public service vs.
      commercial broadcasters.

      His next point is that the "pressure to change the Media World"
      by the net and the arrival of Long Tail commerce via Amazon
      somehow added to the conspiracy of the "media moguls" to
      disempower the potential of the net. I can't find the reference he
      makes to big bricks and mortar brands in my post. I made and
      meant no such implication.

      The Long Tail phenomenon is clearly a creature of the net,
      because providing it requires the combination of live database,
      search and recommendation technologies needed to overcome
      the capacity limitations and carrying costs of placing physical
      goods in retail stores, while incrementally advancing the
      problem of user orientation to unprecedented choice.

      The question ownership of gateways -- whether achieved by
      formats, platforms, DRM, or network supplied set-top boxes -- I
      see as an issue that in the absence of the liberal values and
      regulatory regime that created public broadcasting in the first
      place -- the market will wind up deciding by default.

      If Big Media succeeds in packaging and pricing attactive bundles
      of valued programming and offers them to the public with easy
      to use interfaces, in my (reluctant) view they will have earned
      their market dominance fair and square. It may not be optimal
      and it won't satisfy every conceivable need, but would be a net
      advance over the current system.

      In any case, the real public [Libertarian] issue is whether the
      politics attending the transition will foreclose on alternative
      media, formats, production and online distribution. So far, it's
      hard to argue that this has been the case.

      In general there is far more media being produced and
      distributed than ever before. Failure to provide timely
      alternatives, DRM and copyright restrictions have simply
      provoked the growth of the underground networks, while the
      rise of "podsafe" music and podcasting represent the creation of
      a separate and parallel music and broadcasting business based
      on the new technologies. There is absolutely nothing "the
      moguls" can do to stop this.

      It seems to me that the EFF, the ACLU and the technology
      community have been reasonably if not completely effective in
      opposing the most egregious losses to individual freedom and
      established consumer behavior, either by raising enough voices
      to get the big media servants in congress to back off, or by
      simply inventing and releasing new distribution technologies
      into the wild and letting them propagate virally. I guess we can
      take some perverse pleasure in the fact that a few dedicated
      programmers can still come up with a new distribution protocol
      that scares the smirk off the faces of the incumbents. (The
      question of whether the Supreme Court was correct in drawing a
      line at intent in the Grokster decision is another discussion.)

      RSS and podcasting are legal examples of this; BitTorrent and
      the long list of preceding P2P protocols (leaving aside their role
      in abuse of copyright) make me think that fears of Total Control
      by "the Moguls" are overblown. I agree that preventing further
      losses, regaining lost ground and remaining vigilant are all
      necessary going forward.

      Quality again

      Stephen criticizes my call to maintain quality standards by
      saying that if this strategy works, it will be co-opted by "the
      Moguls" and used to further extend their hegemony. Um, that's
      ridiculous.

      Again, it smacks of conspiracy thinking, while in fact the
      organized lobbies for the media industry -- the RIAA, the MPAA,
      the NCTA and the NAB all have well known public policy
      positions which frequently conflict with each other. Though they
      do not operate as unit, there are often at odds with the
      technology community and its lobbyists, which makes it look
      like the work of a cartel when it's really a series of separate value
      collisions. In general I don't like the effects of media industry
      lobbying any more than Stephen does, but that's our current
      system. If you agree, contribute to the EFF and the ACLU and
      vote for more enlightened congresspersons, write letters, etc.

      Second, Stephen seems to misunderstand my most basic point:
      quality is a Platonic ideal, a non-quantifiable virtue that cuts
      across all activities, politics and media. Theoretically quality will
      out; but that does not guarantee public support. And in fact in
      the U.S. we had to create an alternative, partly government-
      supported system for distribution and broadcasting of quality
      public service media with high levels of intellectual, artistic and
      cultural content. And let's not forget that the current public
      broadcasting system had to fight for many years, and it still
      fighting to retain even the small amount of tax support it
      receives.

      This indicts our <em>culture</em>, which is skewed toward
      commercial competition -- not our distribution system or its
      underlying technologies.

      Stephen is obviously worried about the big media moguls, but
      recall that Steve Gillmor's outreach was from the technology
      community to the small public service part of the incumbent
      media, not the giant commercial sector, who would have ignored
      him completely. Trust me, Steve does not like to be ignored.

      My experience with the non-commercial system has shown its
      moguls to be less than nefarious. Mostly they are conservative
      and slow on the draw because of the multiple pressures from
      stations, funders and the public under which they are obliged to
      operate.

      All of which leads me to conclude that beneath all the
      speculations about technology, adoption curves and
      professionalism more or less -- lies a thorny wall of cultural
      barriers.

      :: Stephen Hill
      Stephen Hill
      • Third Level Response

        Dear Stephen Hill,

        It is always interesting to read others views of one?s written comments ? if for no other reason than one realizes just how far it is possible to misinterpret. I apply no judgment ? I merely observe that for all its supposed objectivity (as a medium) the written word can often be a tricky customer. Not an argument to be taken up lightly with a religious fundamentalist?

        But I digress.

        You mention that I testified to first hand knowledge of some kind of high level conspiracy by commercial media companies to erect defenses against Internet broadcasting. I am entirely at fault here ? I did not make clear where my direct knowledge begins, industry study takes over, and speculation (by me and other commentators) takes over for the final phase of working towards the conclusions that I presented. Mea culpa.

        I said: ?Even though they could not have foreseen podcasting and Google, they could (and did, this part is an eye-witness report) foresee that the Net and PCs were going to remove the barriers of entry to their business.? In this context I meant all media businesses could see that barriers were evaporating ? and that was the limit of my eye-witness evidence; that some media companies have, since the mid-1990s, had a sharp appreciation of the Net?s capacity to fundamentally change their business and have been building their defenses. I learned this particular nugget while consulting on the future of the media industry (in the 1990s) with a major news media company who I cannot name for reasons of customer confidentiality. In addition, I added the comment: ?If you think these plans [of media moguls and major media companies] are simple, benign, and transparent, then you have a lot to learn about the high-voltage power-broking that such people indulge in ? on a daily basis.? Which is a reference to first and second hand knowledge of three directors of the media company I worked with, a great deal of industry research to support my consulting work over the last 15 years, and biographies that I have read of two media moguls ? the most instructive of which was on Rupert Murdoch who, in particular, has never been less than candid on his opinion of public broadcasters. I hope that does not constitute a conspiracy theory. However, I also hope that it constitutes evidence of a common set of wishes, and therefore a common agenda, among Privately Owned & Funded Media ? because that was what I was trying to say. A conspiracy would require evidence of substantive collusion. I certainly did not accuse anyone of that, because I have no such evidence.

        Thank goodness for Net anonymity ? those guys have a lot more money, and a lot more power, than I have.
        ?Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.?
        Napoleon Bonaparte

        You go on to say that I speculated: ?? that the same is true by ?those who control public broadcasting.?? This is perfectly true and, in the context of the above, I meant that public broadcasters share some goals with private broadcasters precisely because they compete with private broadcasters in one major respect:
        - They compete for the attention of the audience (readers, listeners, viewers, etc.); their time, their decision support base, their prejudices, their understanding of the World around them. By extension, they compete to create opinions ? wants and needs.
        - The succinct, marketing [another of my specialisms], phrase for this is: Perception = Reality.

        Knowledge of our neighbors, the global village, is only made possible by modern media. In this respect modern media is a highly politically charged environment. Even those who, ostensibly, run their media businesses for profit, or for the public good, are embroiled in this. You say, in response: ?I'm here to tell you from my own direct experience over the last 6 or 7 years, that this was absolutely not the case.? I?m very sorry that I have driven us into direct confrontation but: I just don?t believe you. It really is that fundamental an issue that I cannot believe that public broadcasting has not attracted its share of political power brokers. To believe otherwise seems to me to be so na?ve as to border on the absurd.


        Indeed, you go on to provide direct evidence of my assumption: ?There is little ? money on the horizon today and the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) the government agency charged with this
        task, has been politicized and largely neutered by the Republican administration in a deliberate, politically motivated violation of its charter.?

        What better motivation to castrate the CPB?s dependents - by removing support for new technologies - than because it undermines the efforts of Republicans? friends in Private Media ? and because they both (Reps and Moguls) gain power by neutering public broadcasters? Power brokers compete, and all?s fair ? etc..

        If the CPB did not support an alternative power structure, who would give a damn? You appear to want us to believe that public broadcasters remain aloof, untouched in their moral superiority? Uh-huh.

        That said, I began my original talkback with the comment: ?I have no direct broadcasting industry experience other than supporting [them] ? [mine] is an outsider-looking-in perspective?, which means I?m prepared to listen to supporting evidence of public broadcasters? purity of soul and purpose.

        In your response to my response (how many times can we respond? Perhaps as many times as we can include another Steve in the thread &#61514; ) you say that some public broadcasting authorities were slow to adopt the latest technologies. Privately funded media has done little better ? with many people saying that the aforementioned Mr. Murdoch (whom I mention only because he has already come up once ? his actions are symptomatic, not part of a systematic movement) has only just woken up to his conglomerate?s need to invest in Net companies. That is not because Mr. Murdoch is a slow thinker ? far from it. It is because the actual use of technology is a side issue. Many people, and I?m one of them, suffer from a poor education ? we confuse cause and effect with agenda, discovery, and consequences. To try to put that into context for you ? here is a small part of one of my workshops to help senior executives with little technology management experience come to terms with technology:
        1. Imagine, for the moment, that technology can do anything you want it to do. There are no limits on any idea you may have to move your organization forward.
        2. The consequence of this is that everyone else can also do whatever they want to do, right now.
        3. Why do your customers need you? Think about your value proposition in this World.
        4. What are your competitors doing?
        5. What are you going to do about all this?
        The reality is, of course, that information technology can almost achieve this for information ? and has been able to since 1994. The answers to question 5 obviously vary, but they have one common theme ? to work they must ignore technology?

        The Net?s has mostly been ignored by Private Media and, by extension, Public Media (who take their technical lead from their better funded private brethren) because it sets the scene ? but it does not write the script.

        All of which means that while ?disruption from within? is interesting ? it will never be more than a side show. The real battle for keeping at least some of the media free to public use and access (i.e. not putting all the power to set the agenda, and set political perceptions, into a minority of powerful hands) is not to be found in the technical field. The main (question 5) answers are in the legal, the regulatory, and the political.

        The differences between the financial orientation of commercial broadcasters and the service
        orientation of public broadcasters is only a problem if we rely on public broadcasters to defend the publics right not only to free speech ? but the right to a soap box to be heard from. Fortunately for free speech, public broadcasters are being replaced by quicker-thinking free citizens. Podcasting, and ?amateur? Net sites of all kinds are a rich vein of thought, activism, and opinion-forming that threaten to overpower the power brokers in media ? public and private. They are fighting back and, to the extent that both are threatened simultaneously, are uncomfortable bedfellows.

        New distribution technologies may allow public broadcasters to better achieve their mission of public service. In the current, interim, period they have a role ? to give access (a voice) to the uninitiated (technology-wise), and the very poor. However, if my eleven year old and her classmates are anything to go by this interim period has another 35 years to run at the very outside.

        You go on to claim that my second major point is also a conspiracy theory. Again, I have no substantive evidence, and never claimed that, as such. However it is perfectly clear, even to an outsider like myself, that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and recent software extensions of patent law play into the hands of Big Media ? at the very least ? and that I cannot remember reading even one balanced article, or hearing or seeing one balanced report, on the EU rejection of software patents in any mainstream media outlet. This is what I meant by a self-evident push to shore up the incumbent big media players and slow the rate of change that the Internet is bringing and to exert gating control over the ultimate IP-based media distribution system.

        Of course, I come to this subject better educated about Big Media ambitions than most. I also cannot claim to have read all media but, as someone who spent more than 12 months over the last two years setting up a small software development business, I can claim to have studied the issue rather more than most people ? and to have been interested enough to look out for such information with a trained eye.

        You go on to support my contention that basic technology is not the real issue (I shouldn?t complain too much): ?Even the most conservative media executives realize that basic technology improvements cannot be stopped.? And, yes, I agree with you too that: ?Slowing down the net was a secondary motive at best.? But, added to means and opportunity? ?

        You mention that: ?The point of the DMCA was to protect the existing [media library] businesses? (primarily music and film) industry models, and ?wring the maximum profits out of its intellectual property. This is about getting the maximum money out of those copyrights and positioning the rights holders favorably for the new digital world? as if this were a side issue. But the DMCA introduced new crimes for subverting technology designed to protect copyright ? and this is a killer (question 5) answer. The DMCA is a strategic holding pattern for Big Media while they try and choose the safest possible landing zone. Do you see? This is not a cause and effect situation, even though many media industry middle-managers thought it so at the time the DMCA passed into law.

        You say that you: ?? know for a fact that public broadcast institutions had nothing to do with the lobbying efforts that produced these laws.? Fair enough.

        My next point on the pressure to change the Media World by the net and the arrival of Long Tail commerce should not have been directed at you ? sorry, I got confused with another blog entry.

        However, you do go on to state your own position: ?The Long Tail phenomenon is clearly a creature of the net, because providing it requires the combination of live database, search and recommendation technologies needed to overcome the capacity limitations and carrying costs of placing physical goods in retail stores, while incrementally advancing the problem of user orientation to unprecedented choice.? If it is not too much of a leap to move away from your reference to physical goods sales ? to media sales ? then, again, I agree. For ?old? media the very richness of the Net appears to be an opportunity to sell the need for editorial control to the politicians. Politicians are, of course, implicit in any decision to award Big Media the ability to control Net access.

        In your comments on the question of ownership of gateways - whether achieved by formats, platforms, DRM, or network supplied set-top boxes ? you conclude that the market will wind up deciding what will happen next. I would agree with you except for two points. First, it is not a technology-driven decision (there is actually no such thing ? something that came out of my aforementioned workshop). The second reason is that; ?Men are more easily governed through their vices than through their virtues.? Napoleon Bonaparte again ? a man who knew a thing or two about building empires.

        Thus my comments on the possible success of Big Media in packaging and pricing attractive bundles of valued programming and offering them to the public with easy to use interfaces ? and the dangers therein. You respond (if I read you right): ?? in my (reluctant) view they will have earned their market dominance fair and square. It may not be optimal and it won't satisfy every conceivable need, but would be a net advance over the current system.?

        I?m not 100% clear which ?current system? are you referring to? But, ploughing on (as one must in a turn-based debate); In such a picture public broadcasting would be entirely shorn of its power. Once half a generation has lived with such a situation, it will die ? because no-one will see a reason to keep it alive. Now, I don?t happen to believe that Public Media has much of a future anyway, but even I can see that Public Broadcasters ought to be fighting the public?s corner until a better compromise can be thrashed out. I know I?ve been putting you on the spot (along with Steve G.), but don?t let us nay Sayers get you down ? you still have a hill to defend. Again, as Napoleon once said (sorry, last quote I promise): ?A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights.? That?s why countries have constitutions ? to set down some defenses against the interests of the powerful. Right now, Public Broadcasters could, at least, be helping to ensure that the Net remains truly open to the public ? even if Public Broadcasters are not, ultimately, a channel into the Net. We need you.

        You then say: ?In any case, the real public [Libertarian] issue is whether the politics attending the transition will foreclose on alternative media, formats, production and online distribution. So far, it's hard to argue that this has been the case.? and ?Failure to provide timely alternatives, DRM and copyright restrictions have simply provoked the growth of the underground networks, while the rise of "podsafe" music and podcasting represent the creation of a separate and parallel music and broadcasting business based on the new technologies. There is absolutely nothing ?the moguls? can do to stop this.? Oh dear, we?re back to technology-driven cause and effect here? I?m sorry, but I?m running out of time ? so I can?t address all your points on technology being an enabler of freedom that defies perversion. If only. Hey, would that be like micro-biology then?

        However, I will comment on quality issues. You dismiss my suggestion that identifying existing Public Broadcasting networks as defenders of quality plays into the hands of Big Media out of hand, saying it ?? smacks of conspiracy thinking.? Okay, the gloves have come off ? I think I must have touched a sensitive spot there?

        I did not, and I read my own talkback again very carefully to be sure, say anything that could be construed as the basis of a conspiracy. That said, you may not be the only one who is confused, so here it is again in a new format: Quality (whether technical fidelity, seniority and qualifications of participants, or time, skill, and resources applied to preparation) is like technology in his debate ? it is a sword that can be made to cut both ways. Public Broadcasters have a long and distinguished history of enriching our lives by pushing the boundaries of all these measures of quality. Those measures of quality are now redundant ? listen to podcasts for evidence. Existing broadcasters (Public or Private) can only re-apply those values if they are given new powers to ?edit? access to, or content of, the outpourings of the great unwashed. Only the Big Media companies will have the gateways. If quality becomes an issue Big Media would be delighted to step up to the plate?

        I won?t comment on current, apparent, disarray in Big Media?s lobby, except to say; If there presentation is your perception, good job, eh? I couldn?t resist that but, to be honest, a little disarray is great for the rest of us ? it ain?t over ?till it?s over.

        I really loved you next comment: ?Stephen seems to misunderstand my most basic point: quality is a Platonic ideal, a non-quantifiable virtue that cuts across all activities, politics and media.? Working in marketing, as I am currently, I can tell you that an awful lot of people spend an awful lot of time quantifying quality every day. Yes, a lot of what they do is redundant. Even so, that does not excuse you basing your argument on non-quantifiable metaphysics. I think I have already proved, here, that I am no stranger to a priori argument and perception, and that I lean toward the analytic rather than the synthetic when I try to make sense of the World around me. I would urge you to study Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism. Then come back and tell me that your reliance on your learned experience of quality is definitely not a barrier to your understanding of a changing World. I warn you now ? I will take some convincing, given what you have said so far.

        As I stated above I have no argument with Public Broadcasting?s past contribution to quality. I do, however, argue that this role is both redundant and unnecessary in the Net future. That does not mean that I see no future for quality. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is King. People will search out quality. This will be confusing at first, because most of us use our experiences to inform our future choices. It is early days for everyone.

        To be building a Net that is fair, of optimum use, of lowest cost (socially as well as in terms of resources) we need to be thinking about competition ? but not the commercial, and not technological (incl distribution). We need to start from the perspective that a quality Net will come from the people ? how do we enable them?

        Yes, I am worried about the big media moguls.

        I applaud Steve G. again for reaching out to the Public Media Community, and kicking off some debate ? even if it seems not to be going in quite the right direction, it is definitely an improvement on the nothing-much that was going on before. By the way Steve, if you read this, sorry if the arguments have moved on in the Gilmor Gang I can?t keep up. Ironically this is not for technical reasons, I am trying to switch broadband suppliers ? and finding just how difficult that can sometimes be? You see, barriers on the Net already.

        You reckon your experience with the non-commercial system has shown its moguls to be less than nefarious. Okay, I?m prepared to believe that. The number of truly evil people is obviously very small and, as fans of neuro-linguistics point out: Nothing is ever done for a bad reason.

        I think your scenario of a thorny wall of cultural barriers being at the core of the re-invention of media is a bit too easy ? nothing in my life has ever been that easy.

        Best Regards
        Stephen Wheeler
  • A response of sorts

    First of all, well done Steve G. for posting an alternative view.

    As far as Stephen?s comments are concerned ? doing my best to stick to the main question, but no promises.

    First, let me say that I have no direct broadcasting industry experience other than supporting broadcasters and news organizations as a supplier, and as a technical consultant with a remit to advise on future technology and support services. So this is an outsider-looking-in perspective.

    All broadcasting, and all media, are operating on old business models. As Stephen linked to Clay Christensen?s Innovator?s Dilemma (via Doug Kaye's Weblog), let?s start there. This is, after all, about what current innovation will do, what it might change and, to a large extent, public broadcasting is caught up in a bigger wave.

    In my experience (always a dangerous qualification to quote) when it comes to innovation there are two types of people:
    - Those who resist it;
    - Those who embrace it, and carry it forward.

    Those who resist new technology, and the new options it provides, are always motivated by self-interest ? a complex set of drivers indeed, and many such interests are not obvious. Modern media magnates are nothing if not informed? They have, therefore, been building defenses against new technology ? and plotting the downfall of ?audience stealing? (as they see it) public broadcasting for at least a decade. Even though they could not have foreseen podcasting and Google, they could (and did, this is an eye-witness report) foresee that the Net and PCs were going to remove the barriers of entry to their business. If you think these plans are simple, benign, and transparent, then you have a lot to learn about the high-voltage power-broking that such people indulge in ? on a daily basis. To believe that those who control public broadcasting do not enjoy similar purpose would be naive in the extreme. Lord Birt, in the speech Stephen cites, recalled the early BBC monopoly in Britain in glowing, even sentimental, terms?

    Stephen berates Steve G. for (as Stephen put it) ? [a] ?Gillmor Daily show called ?Broadband on the Run,? where Steve ambushed Doc Searls ? into a rambling, off-the-cuff discussion of radio, podcasting and music copyrights ? a very complicated subject.?

    Sorry Stephen, but I?m with Steve G. on this point. The All-Media-Change wave is both implicitly and explicitly rooted in the socio-political soil. In my book, by the way, socio-political includes economic. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and Big Media interest in the new idea of patenting software and business processes are specifically designed by media moguls to (at least) slow down the Net and either:
    - Preserve my media power and profits until I retire; or
    - At least give us a breathing space until we can work out how to leverage best advantage from the change.
    I regard these things to be self-evident.

    So my advice here is: To redefine public service broadcasting to best advantage in the Net age don?t over-simplify. The whole broadcasting system, the whole media system, needs a root and branch review. By allowing the media moguls to talk the ?We can?t eat the whole Elephant? talk you also allow them to fragment and compartmentalize the arguments ? a.k.a. divide and rule.

    As far as public broadcasting and the democratization of media through cheap tools and the Net is concerned, this is a part of the pressure to change the Media World. The Moguls have not been side-stepped by this feature of the Net ? they saw this coming. But the pressure is still on because it is taking them much longer than expected to come up with Net gateways (e.g. the set-top boxes of the kind Lord Birt talked about in the link Stephen provided) that re-apply lost power to obfuscate choice through filters (family-friendly, library control, charging schemes, etc.), skewed search (for commercial returns), and promotion (wow, cross-media conglomerates might actually be made to work!). Or, to put that another way, to regain their power to set the agenda ? even to increase that power?

    The Moguls saw this coming because of the success of Amazon. Stephen implies that he regards Amazon as a kind of anomaly ? after all, he points out, most of the big names in on-line retail were big first in bricks and mortar. The Moguls learned from this the value of brands, to be sure, but they also saw that Amazon made all those big retail brands pull their socks up sharp-ish.

    They also saw the Long Tail in action at Amazon. This term; Long Tail, is fairly new but, actually, the concept has been around on the Net for a very long time. I still tend to think of it as the Super-Catalogue. No matter that you are the only person in the last ten years to order a Bryan Adams CD for $5 (hey, it?s a classic, its worth at least that, no?). If we?ve got one in stock, it?s yours, and maintaining that page on my Net catalogue for ten years cost me 50 cents (okay I?m exaggerating).

    Stephen breaks down this angle in terms of quality. Public Broadcasters, he maintains, have a role in the future as the defenders of quality for public broadcasting. My advice on this aspect of the (heated?) Gang discussion is: Be careful what you wish for?

    The Moguls are chameleons, if they see an argument working for public broadcasting ? they will borrow it. Defense of quality broadcasting plays into their hands ? in the US they will own all the gateways. How will they pay for those gateways? There are more currencies than simple greenbacks ? particularly where politics is involved.

    Which brings me to Stephen?s comment: ?I realized that my colleagues and I value deeply the traditions of quality in media, which have produced not only high performance standards, but are founded on a copyright and IP regime that many in the tech community find incomprehensible, onerous and restrictive.?

    I found this comment extremely (yes really) disingenuous, given Stephen?s obvious knowledge of the leading edge of media re-invention (RSS, Podcasting, Nanocasting, the INA, and so forth).

    Before I really let rip (sorry, but this subject gets right under my skin) I must acknowledge Stephen?s additional comment: ?[I am] ?not a defender of everything about existing copyright laws ? in fact I believe they are badly in need of a substantial overhaul for the network era??

    Oh-kay? But why deny the link then? The link between new technology and new regulatory regimes is surely hard-wired? I have to say I am with Steve G. on this point too. If I had been in his shoes I would also have refused to countenance a separate discussion on copyright. As I mentioned above, dividing the subject into bite-sized pieces is not in the best interests of ensuring a role for public broadcasting in the Net era. Steve G. is doing you a whopping big favour Stephen.

    If there is a role for Public Broadcasting in the future what does it look like? Stephen does not satisfactorily describe a vision ? though he frequently asserts that it has a future based on quality of output.

    There are two things wrong with Stephen?s description:
    - Assumptions; and
    - Hidebound belief in the public ethic.
    When I look at these factors I see someone digging in their heels. Stephen appears to be denying that the technology changes the overall picture? He is, in fact, in tune with the Moguls.

    The assumptions he makes are quite broad.

    The listening/viewing/reading/participating audience in Stephen?s World is static:
    "At the end of the day, the big difference between not-for-profit podcasting and commercial Nanocasting (i.e. commercialized long tail Internet audio programming) will be quality and professionalism."

    So too are the technology, and the content makers:
    ? ?we all realize there is a new audience eager to be served who may care a lot less about these values, but it doesn't change the fact that the bulk of the educated audience does, and will continue to do so.?

    The incumbents see no change:
    ? ?especially when skilled incumbents with resources, like NPR, KCRW, KQED, WNYC and WGBH ? are showing that they are agile enough to colonize the new distribution paradigms??

    But to really hear Stephen going out on a limb, hear him talk about why public broadcasters have an edge in New Media:
    ?This is the downside of reducing barriers to entry. Once they get going, the pros can do it easier, faster, and generally better than all but the most organized and talented amateurs. They have greater experience and resources when it comes to creating quality programming.?

    Resources, as we have already seen, are getting cheaper, easier to use, easier to access, and are approaching ubiquity ? already. As for experience; give me a break! I am a big defender of experience ? I trade on mine daily to put bread on my table. Even so, I have to be on my metal ? others are learning what I know every day.

    Having said all that, I?m ready to listen to more substantial arguments for public broadcasting. Unfortunately I have yet to hear any. My main concern today is that a slow transition gives the Moguls the opportunity to (ab)use Nanocasting to undermine public service broadcasting to the point where their political voices are devalued ? even discounted ? in the push for a new regime that democratizes media production, distribution, and consumption. Nature abhors a vacuum ? in step the Moguls with a sop: We?ll provide a public service channel through our gateways? (okay, they probably won?t be that obvious but, I?m making a point here). When I see people like Stephen falling into this trap, I know I have to step into the breach ? and I see the same response in Steve G?s. actions.

    The tech community has to take up the baton now.

    So do I agree with Stephen on anything? Yes. ??the mass of educated listeners and viewers will be lagging considerably behind the most creative and motivated early adopters of the online and tech community in joining this party.? Dead right. It will take half a generation for New Media to really upset the apple cart (fifteen years, twenty years ? pick a number?) because, at the end of the day, it requires that the great unwashed get the big picture (pun intended).

    Said cart is already leaning at an obviously awkward angle ? today?s IP regime ?that many in the tech community find incomprehensible, onerous and restrictive? is doing what it was designed to do and is throwing obstacles into New Tech?s path (and Stephen wonders why the tech community find this onerous??).

    In the end, I believe, New Tech will have the last laugh. If we work on it now, the people will see ? they will follow. They will swear too.

    In the meantime ? Do Public Broadcasters Get It? If Stephen is their advocate ? no.
    Stephen Wheeler
    • Oops.

      Sorry for the double entry - I have reported the problem to ZDNet Tech Support.
      Stephen Wheeler
  • FYI

    > This accounts for the fact that professionally produced shows now account for over 90% of the iTunes top 100 podcast list, and the smutty charms of early podcast stars like Dawn and Drew are now off the list

    that's just not true... we're at #64 right now.
    drewdomkus
    • iTunes Top 100

      Drew: I checked for three weeks. It was in the mid 90's for two of
      them, and off the list the week I finished the post.

      I'm glad your show is doing well...really! but my point was that
      professionally produced shows now dominate the rankings, at least
      on iTunes.

      :: Stephen Hill
      Stephen Hill
      • Yes

        Let's look at something happening today, because it supports our cause, and pretend the future cannot change anything. That'll work.

        I recently did some extremely successful work in marketing consulting. If I looked at the future like you guys I'd never get another job.

        Get real. The World is changing and iTunes is a DRM-friendly niche. Okay, it's currently a big niche - never underestimate the power of a big marketing budget. But, the rest of the World is using guerilla marketing and word-of-mouth to pick up new musicians without recording contracts.

        The next step will be musicians who try to go it alone without a label. They will be trail-blazers so some will fail. You guys have your heads so deep in the sand that you will probably use them as examples of how a non-IPR World cannot work.

        Dream on.

        The only people you're kidding is yourselves. I can't hold your hand forever - sooner or later you'll wake up and find the World has left you behind.

        Sorry if this sounds harsh - but you guys SO need a wakeup call.
        Stephen Wheeler
        • Wake yourself first

          Stephen, I'm not sure what you are so steamed up about.

          I've worked in the independent music business for almost 30
          years. Indie musicians have been going it alone without labels
          for well over 50 years. This is nothing new. The success of indie
          bands on MySpace.com is just the latest iteration of it.

          No one -- least of all me -- is saying that this is not happening.

          In fact I see a fault line developing between the traditional way
          of doing things, and the new paradigms enabled by peer
          promotion, Creative Commons licenses, and the existence of
          product sales, fulfillment, licensing and other services online.
          This will expand the middle class of musicians substantially and
          allow many more of them to devote full time to music. The same
          thing will happen with radio and television producers because of
          podcasting.

          But my point remains: it will be a meritocracy and quality (on all
          levels) will matter.

          :: Stephen Hill
          Stephen Hill
          • Oh, Okay

            I seem to have mis-interpretted something somwhere.

            I'll shut up now.
            Stephen Wheeler
        • Wake yourself first

          Stephen, I'm not sure what you are so steamed up about.

          I've worked in the independent music business for almost 30
          years. Indie musicians have been going it alone without labels
          for well over 50 years. This is nothing new. The success of indie
          bands on MySpace.com is just the latest iteration of it.

          No one -- least of all me -- is saying that this is not happening.

          In fact I see a fault line developing between the traditional way
          of doing things, and the new paradigms enabled by peer
          promotion, Creative Commons licenses, and the existence of
          product sales, fulfillment, licensing and other services online.
          This will expand the middle class of musicians substantially and
          allow many more of them to devote full time to music. The same
          thing will happen with radio and television producers because of
          podcasting.

          But my point remains: it will be a meritocracy and quality (on all
          levels) will matter.

          :: Stephen Hill
          Stephen Hill
      • iTunes Top 100

        we did drop off for a week, but i blame the way itunes handles feeds and caching of data. i just wanted to make sure that when people read about us being used as an example, that they know that we're still hanging in there despite the "new" podcast crowd.
        drewdomkus
  • Quality

    I think quality is very important to podcasting, but I think it isn't the quality that public broadcasters think of. The reason why I listen to a lot of public radio broadcasts isn't because of their audio quality. It's because of the *conversaational* quality. A good interviewer can get an interviewee to stay on track and to summarize their ideas. A good producer can edit out the irrelevant crap that too often happens in an interview as well as juxtaposing ideas to the best effect.
    arny27@...