Public Media in a Zero-Distance World

Public Broadcasters Opt for CC is the encouraging title for an informative and linky post by Michelle Thorne at

By subsuming all electronic media, and by placing every recording and playback device at zero functional distance from each other, the Net makes radio and TV transmitters obsolete the moment high-enough-bandwidth wireless connectivity becomes ubiquitous.

We’re one good UI away from the cell phone becoming a radio. (Thanks to the iPhone, it already serves as a TV.) And we’re one smart cell company away from radio- and TV-as-we-know-it from being replaced entirely — or from moving up the next step of the evolutionary ladder.

Public broadcasters know that. That’s one reason they now call themselves “public media”, a move that separates the category from its transport methods. It’s also why they’re thinking hard and long about the role their online transmissions and archives play in a world without physical borders. That’s what Michelle’s article is about.

After visiting positive moves made by a number of institutions, Michelle’s final paragraph makes clear that the challenge is only beginning to be met:

  However, despite many positive strides, creators working for public broadcasters still often find themselves at odds with their institutions’ more traditional copyright policies. In-house legal departments can be reluctant to embrace user-generated content, remixes, downloads, and third-party material, and at times, they may endorse restrictive DRM while resisting new and open media formats. As more and more publicly-funded content goes online, it is important enable and empower users, rather than leaving enriching material to digitally decay.

She could easily have put depressing links behind every one of those “howevers”. If I had more time, I’d do it myself.

Still, it’s good to see movement in a positive direction. I’ll be looking to see more when I attend the IMA‘s Public Media 08 conference in Los Angeles next month.


  1. Doug’s avatar

    I enjoy public television and radio here in the U.S., but I wonder how public broadcasters here will apply their fundraising models to programming delivered online.

    When I listen to my local NPR station during a pledge drive, I often hear 2-3 minutes of pitching before regular programming resumes, and I suspect that approach doesn’t work with “new” media.

  2. Jonathan Marks’s avatar

    Michelle is spot on. Infact in Europe, I would argue that public broadcasters are the guardian’s of the country’s electronic cultural heritage. As a former public broadcaster we wanted to use material by a famous Dutch band for a flashback documentary. We contacted the band, who then demanded 50,000 dollars for the rights to use the clip. I wrote back saying that unless they paid us 51,000 dollars for keeping the recordings, preserving it, adding the metadata, etc I was going to put the tape into the bulk erase machine personally. They may have thought it was a piece of cultural heritage, but for that price I didn’t agree. If we couldn’t use it, it had no value, so I was planning to throw it out. Of course we talked and the tape was not only digitised but used to great effect in the documentary. DRM is dead in the water. Artists have to fight for our attention and that has value too.

    I advise broadcasters who are commissioning works to spend 80% on production, 10% on advertising and putting the series into a context and 10% on preserving the content properly. 80% of the archives in the world are rotting because we’re not taking tagging seriously.

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Doug, you’re right that the pledge drive is poorly suited to the online environment, where making the programming scarce for ten days is unlikely to have the same coercive effect on listeners. In the case of podcasts it makes no sense at all.

    We’ve been thinking and talking about this at ProjectVRM for the last year. A couple pieces to look at are An open source approach to fixing public media funding, Toward a new ecology of journalism, In other words, be more public and Do Public Broadcasters Get It? That last one makes clear that some of them do, but that the culture clashes going on inside the business are a Major Problem that won’t be easy to work out.

    Anyway, stay tuned.

Comments are now closed.