Managing the Public Media Relationship

How can a public radio listener take greater control of their relationship with public media?

This was (more or less) the question posed to a public media-savvy group last week at Harvard’s Berkman Center. Led by Doc Searls, our ad hoc team explored how to equip the public media audience with a VRM tool to better drive their relationship with existing broadcasters, distributors, and shows.

Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is the reciprocal to Customer Relationship Management (CRM). VRM explores the idea that individuals could create more value if they had better control over their vendor relationships rather than the other way around (my definition). The rise of participatory culture and its subsequent impact on vendors suggests an environment where this is not only possible, but highly desirable for everyone. Perhaps the long-term outcome of VRM will be to facilitate the dissolution of traditional consumer and vendor roles. Identity will be managed by the individual, but value production will happen across a spectrum of participants in a variety of capacities. In this environment, it will be difficult to define the meaningful boundaries of an organization, and what exactly constitutes an employee, vendor, consumer or producer.

A whole new generation of creative consumer has the potential to rediscover public broadcasting and co-opt it for its potential

But why public media?
Well, it feels like a good testing ground for something like VRM. If you are exploring the boundaries between organizations and the public, what better environment than one that is mission-driven to engage and serve the public?

There also seems to be a compelling overlap between what’s going on in participatory culture and what already exists surrounding public broadcasting. A whole new generation of creative consumer has the potential to rediscover public broadcasting and co-opt it for its potential as a non-commercial, open network designed explicitly to serve the public. I would ask, how can we encourage this?

...triggering more questions on engaging with public media in a participatory environment:

  • If we were to reinvent public radio in an end-to-end environment like the internet, what would it look like? How would it compare to what exists, and what important differences might emerge? What can we do to fill those gaps?
  • What does the long tail of public media look like? What are the democratized production tools, potential aggregators, and filters that drive demand down the tail?
  • As a creative consumer, what is it that I want to do with public media? What are my Lego building blocks, and what would motivate me to play?

In trying to answer these questions, one particularly promising idea that emerged was a model for a new type of public radio station - one that is not centered on broadcast. Such a station could have many of the traits of a participatory, web-based environment while leveraging the existing broadcast audience and media. In this way, we would have a transitional strategy of sorts – understood and embraced by traditional participants (both the audience and infrastructure), but able to transcend boundaries by reinventing itself from scratch, online, and with the public itself to steer its direction. These unique characteristics would drive important differences on how to fund, program, create, and manage its media. Without too much wild-eyed thinking, you could imagine an encouraging and experimental mix of user and collaboratively-programmed media, integrated online conversation, multiple device support, and a breadth of media types, alternative funding methods, etc.

Rethinking public media from a new, more participatory direction reveals an opportunity to redefine people-oriented broadcasting. And what’s more people-oriented than public media?