The “broadcaster” mindset is a tough nut to crack

A good time was had by all at the Public Broadcasting Showcase 2006 in Orlando. I was made to feel quite welcome and especially enjoyed presenting the realities of unbundled media to the folks responsible for marketing PBS stations.

At the general manager’s meeting, my fellow panelist Robert X. Cringely offered an idea that is very interesting. “Why not,” he proposed, “place your video streaming server with the local cable company or telephone company?” The idea is that these two businesses in any community have virtually unlimited bandwidth from their house to yours, and if you really are interested in providing quality video to internet users in YOUR market, why not do a deal with these providers? Bob is a technical guru, so I assume he’s thought through the technology and that this is at least technically possible (what’s in it for the cable company is a good question).

Of course, I did my “don’t paint yourself into a purely content provider corner” thing, and what was interesting was the response from the general managers. The vast majority of the questions went to Bob about this cable company/telephone company thing. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised, for it’s hard to move broadcasters to a model that’s outside, well, broadcasting. They like his idea so much, because streaming is easy to understanding from a one-to-many mindset. I should add that Bob suggested that running your streaming from the cable company would producer a higher “quality” user experience, and that that would mean more viewers.

Sorry, Bob, but I disagree with that one. It’s not the quality of the video; it’s what’s ON the video that determines more users online.

The reality for public broadcasters is the same for commercial broadcasters. Nothing you can do from a broadcasting perspective will stop the disruption of personal technology, and downstream profitability lies in embracing the disruption, not moving your business model to the web. That means leaving your comfort zone — an area that’s going to become much more like the Twilight Zone in the next few years.

Meanwhile, I’m beginning to hear more talk about February 18, 2009 and what that means for broadcasters, and none of it’s good. Cringely said that this whole High Definition digital thing was a waste of time and money. “Move on,” he advised the GMs. Amen to that.

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