Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kickstarting Radio

 Today Janko Roettgers at Bloomberg Businessweek suggested that websites like Kickstarter might change the way public radio raises money. I instinctively rejected the idea but then I remembered I was wrong about facebook, twitter and tablet computers so I took another look. Roettgers used a couple notable examples to drive home his point such as Blank on Blank and 99% invisible.
"Some radio producers have already begun to turn to Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and similar sites to raise funds for their shows. This week Blank on Blank successfully closed a Kickstarter campaign, raising a modest $11,337 in the process. The show, which resurfaces “lost interviews” with such celebrities as Bono, Martin Scorsese, and Tim Gunn, wants to use that money to produce 30 new radio show episodes... Design show 99% Invisible is another Kickstarter success story in the making: It was able to achieve its $42,000 funding goal within 24 hours. Listeners have since pledged more than $74,000 at the time of writing, with 24 days to go. Producer Roman Mars now wants to raise money from a total of 5,000 backers."
But these aren't amateur hour programs, they're distributed by PRX.  Audiences have been migrating away from the meatspace of the FM dial and toward podcasts and mobile apps. This is something that I find depressing, but I have to concede is very real. I recently recommended that WRVU peruse broadcast alternatives rather than expending effort and money chasing the ghost of their old space on the FM dial. This state of affairs was predicted by former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller back in June of 2010:
"In the next five to 10 years, Internet radio will take [radio's] place, and there's no reason why we should be fearful about it. In fact we should embrace it, especially on mobile. Mobile is the second coming of radio. It has been a godsend for us, because mobile devices are so easy to take with you, and you can listen to any stream you want"
So looking just now on Kickstarter,  there are a slew of radio documentaries, and radio plays but there are some novelties too. Roundup Radio on WNMC is looking to buy some new modern equipment. A community group is raising money to build their own radio station in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, Guatemala. CHIRP is raising money to launch an internet radio station. KRBX 89.9 raised money to move from internet radio to become a licensed station. There are many more, but the most compelling tale is of  KHOI 89.9 raising money to sign on by the August 2012 deadline on their CP. They are running it down to the wire. 

Of course with all change comes consequences. The web is more democratized than the radio dial. The immediate problem for radio is that with modern digital tools anyone can make a podcast. When both parties have talent, all public radio can fall back on is branding and local programming, something that many affiliates have sacrificed in favor of syndicated programming. On that more level playing field Public radio might even be at a disadvantage. They certainly have some popular programs, but they have much greater operating costs. The ultimate question is whether it will be easier for them to raise $50,000 than for a small community group to raise $5,000. The total expenses at NPR last year were $187,674,195 [source]. A lean and mean operation like KHOI could live off of Gary Knell's pocket change.  If Public radio doesn't see that as a threat, they need to bring back Vivian Schiller.