Is NPR Making a Mistake?July 30th, 2009
Author: John Ratcliffe-Lee
On the internet, any media outlet can overcome its single-dimension status offline. Print outlets can excel in video, local TV stations can add text and stills, radio can get visual. When NPR.org relaunches overnight, it will add all kinds of features to enhance and extend its audio, including improved search, embedding and transcripts, and more multimedia. But at a time when others are pushing ahead with video, National Public Radio is standing still.
I’ve felt this way about NPR’s approach to video for quite some time. In April of 2008, I heard a great new band on the now-defunct Bryant Park Project. They were a new indie rock band called Smoosh. A big fan of one of the songs they played, I promptly embedded the video into my personal blog after it was available online. Fast forward to March of this year, when I felt like listening to the song again only to see that the video embed had been disabled. Now, this isn’t uncommon. Content providers do this all the time, in fact. Pageviews are pageviews and revenue is revenue. I don’t blame them.
However, to me, this is antithetical to NPR’s culture and without the focus on video within this new direction – probably a shot in the foot to a very influential media brand. They’ve always been scrappy; embracing new technology to spread the word about their great content and programming. New audiences are using new technologies – embracing that tech helps get content (and subsequently “culture”) in front of new people. In this case, it worked exactly the way it should for me. I don’t often listen to the radio, but I heard this segment and was able to share it with my friends. Quickly and easily. What’s not to love?
Ben McConnell says it straight: Word of mouth is a byproduct of a remarkable culture.
Why, then, make the decision to cut-off an integral vehicle in spreading that culture and, consequently, lose out on word of mouth capital? This is a big issue staring not just media outlets but brands as well, straight in the face. Content can be expensive to produce but how do you create life-long loyal fans and generate tangible social captial without providing something valuable and interesting upfront? Ultimately, it has to come from somehwere and you can’t (NPR included) lose sight of the big picture.
What’s more valuable? Saving money now or building exemplary passion through culture-sharing? Odds are, the choice to put yourself out there will translate better to an invigorated base of supporters whom can carry you though the rough patches for years to come. Walking away from video’s “unproven” value when new, vibrant audiences are certainly reachable through it hopefully won’t prove to be a mistake for NPR in years to come.