I read Doc Searls’ commentary about the news that NPR will not be renewing their contract with Audible. This line of thinking kind of fits in with what Doug Kaye as saying about the future of public radio. As Doc points out, the weird thing about this new world order is the “channel conflict”, where NPR or PRI is on one hand distributing the shows via the stations and also via podcast. Here’s my proposal for avoiding that weirdness (a little disorganized as I’m writing it in a big rush).
NPR and PRI should not podcast their shows. Instead, they should adjust their contract to allow any station that airs the program to podcast the shows if they so desire and to archive any episodes as long as they want, as long as the carriage contract remains paid up. This way, NPR is never competing with the individual stations for the attentions of the listeners. If an individual station wants to be a badass, pony up for lots of storage and bandwidth and maintain serious archives and do serious podcasting, they are contractually allowed to do that. If they want to use their podcast feed as a venue for underwriting and/or getting membership pledges, more power to them. Much like the way many stations precede their streams with announcements about how you can support the station, put those in the podcast. Use this as a resource. Let the stations serve as a decentralized, loosely affiliated set of podcast feeds for the same shows they air.
In this scenario, there is no channel conflict. NPR and PRI don’t have to have big enough iron to serve the whole world, just a directory of stations that podcast the shows. The stations get to keep their relationship with the listeners and use this as another mechanism to serve their constituents. Any underwriting inside the programming (national or local) gets propagated that much further. If they are smart, they would use the podcast feeds of the national shows to help promote feeds of their locally produced programming. Because of the time-shifted nature and the fact that everyone doesn’t need to connect at the same time, the station can server orders of magnitudes more listeners via podcast than streaming with the same resources (because the load can be shifted to off-peak times instead of simultaneously during the program). Everyone wins in a variety of ways, up and down the chain. No one is turning off the transmitters, so this is not a “death of radio” situation but the opposite, an “expansion of radio”.
I already capture the streams from a number of radio stations, including the local Cajun and Zyedeco programming from KRVS FM in Lafayette LA, and if they were to podcast those shows, I’d switch over to the feed in a heartbeat. Currently, if my cable modem is out during the show, I miss it. In a podcast world, if I can’t download it gets retried and I still get to hear the show. There’s another win. Unlike Doug’s scenario where podcasting eliminates the need for the stations, in my scenario podcasting is just another way the stations get the programming to their members. Cool stuff to think about, no?