110 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02116

Public Media 2007
February 20-24, 2007
at the Marriott Copley Place, Boston, Massachusetts

Pre-Conference Seminars
for CEO's: Feb 20-21
for Tech and Corporate Support Staff: Feb. 21
General Sessions: Feb 22-23

Beyond Broadcast Sessions: Feb 24

Save $100 with Early Registration
expires December 1

The Conference in Perspective

As we reach the end of 2006, the "Echo-Boom" in online service continues unabated--and from what we can see, the processes may actually be accelerating.

Most of the expansion can be traced directly to four basic factors:

First, the continuing roll-out of broadband connections, allowing increased use of complex online applications;
Second, improvements in applications: many things online, especially web-based programs, are easier to use and work better;
Third, increasing acceptance of and confidence in online financial transactions; and
Finally, the emergence of massive communities, involving both interaction and individual expression.

Most of these advances are closely connected to a development philosophy called "Web 2.0," which views "The Web [as] a platform, a foundation upon which thousands of new forms of business would emerge." This change in thinking focused practitioners on the inherent power of networks where radical decentralization and "the wisdom of the masses" could produce impressive results--like Wikipedia and open source software--that rival the services created within traditional proprietary, centralized systems. (For more on this see Ellyssa Kroski's excellent analysis of the "Hype and Hullabaloo of Web 2.0".)

The combination of all these factors have profound implications for the management and conduct of all forms of digital media, including public broadcasting as we have known it.

For one thing, all media is taking a digital form and "public service publishing" has expanded dramatically--if you extend the definition of public media to any individual or organization creating and distributing media "in the public interest." Technical advances and innovations have eliminated barriers to entry. The cost of audio and video production has spiraled downward. Podcasting and media aggregation sites, where you don't need a license to distribute audio and video, now reach millions of desktops and iPods. With ubiquitous blogging software, everybody can be a journalist, a critic, a pundit at a cost of no more than $20 a month.

The speed of this change has been nothing short of revolutionary.

For example, blogging hardly existed in 2003; yet, by January 2005, Technorati was reporting 27 million blogs. By mid-October 2006, that number hit 55 million, with the number of blogs doubling every five months.

How about podcasting? Who even heard of podcasting in 2004? (Actually, Business Week found 212 syndicated podcasts in Nov. 2004.) By May 2005, when podcasting started getting real public attention, there were 5,500 podcasts. By December, "podcasting" had been discussed so widely that the word "podcast" became word of the year in the New Oxford American Dictionary. By the spring of 2006 the number of podcasts managed by a single company, FeedBurner,exceeded the number of radio stations in the entire world (over 44,000).

The story of YouTube is even more impressive. The graph at the left shows the "popularity"--the relative use--of PBS.org and NPR.org as measuerd by the activity of people using the Alexa toolbar. After ten years of service, NPR.org and PBS.org rank about 1000 to 1200: that is, on a scale of "which sites are visited most," they rank somewhere between 1000 to 1200 out of the hundreds of thousands of sites with measureable traffic. In contrast, YouTube launched in mid-2005 is the 6th most popular website in the world (as of mid-October) and, as you know, sold for $1.6 billon to Google.

The secret to YouTube's success? Aggregating content. Aggregating content, generated traffic. And where did the content come from? Principally, from regular Joes and Janes, the "end-users." That's a very far cry from the producer focused, high-production standards and highly centralized organizations that dominate broadcasting.

Knowing this, should we in public media ignore all of this or find a way to harness this enormous power for public service?

The cumulative effect of these innovations, events and results provide the backdrop for what we will now call The Public Media Conference.

Public Broadcasting to Public Media

This new landscape offers a cornucopia of opportunity--and danger. Obviously, it offers the promise of awesome popularity and financial rewards to a few creative individuals and entrepreneurs. It also offers unprecedented access for tens of thousands of new producers to hundreds of millions of potential listeners or viewers. But, as in all media markets, we need to ask: what part of this is "public service"?

Clearly some bloggers, all of Wikipedia, even parts of Craig's List would probably meet the public service test of many traditionalists. Lectures from the Library of Congress, streamed online, and screen savers from National Geographic also fit well within the traditional definitions of public service media, as do podcasts from the Wharton School or online film festivals. The videos populating YouTube are much less clear. Even passionate advocates of user-generated content agree that most of YouTube is, well, just fun, rather than art.

Still, we need to ask: How much of this new wave of content has social value beyond amusement? How much of this new functionality is supporting the life of the nation, as opposed to a new kind of diversion? Is the online citizen any better informed after being hit by a tidal wave of information on demand 24-hours a day? The jury's still out on that one.

Are citizens viewing online media as a critical form of personal and social expression that will over time take a place with literature, drama, and film? We would guess that most people reading this short essay think that the web is an important artisitic and social communication medium that is in the earliest stage of its evolution. Morevoer, it seems to us that many people who are studying media history sense that digital, online publishing may become the dominant medium of the next half-century or more. If so, shouldn't we be adjusting our "public media" policies appropriately to support, direct and harness this new force?

These are some of the questions we will take up in Boston.

Official Website: http://integratedmedia.org/nav.cfm?cat=15&subcat=116&subsub=126

Added by rekha6 on November 14, 2006