Thanks to Chris Anderson
NPR has doubled its listener baser over the last 10 years to over 30 million. In the same period commercial radio has struggled. What is going on?
I had an aha the other day and I hope that you can help me out as this idea grows in my own mind.
My aha is that basing a media business on advertising and hence ratings drives content to the left hand side of the power curve. So in 1970 CBC News still sees itself as a public trust. But after the appointment of Roone Arledge at ABC, major network news has to find the ratings or die. News now had to entertain the masses - that was where the ratings were. So News moves to become a mixture of Entertainment Tonight or the Dogma according to Fox. Why? Because the mass market does not want insight. It wants either to escape into trivia or to wallow in its own dogma.
If I am right, then as the major media moved to the left hand side of Chris's power curve leaving a huge vacuum of a certain demographic. NPR's listeners are not all professors at Princeton. They share one common characteristic - they tend to be either generally curious or knowledgeable. In many cases they are both. Kathy Sierra posted this definition today.
Learning music changes music. Learning about wine changes wine. Learning about Buddhism changes Buddhism. And learning Excel changes Excel. If we want passionate users, we might not have to change our products--we have to change how our users experience them. And that change does not necessarily come from product design, development, and especially marketing. It comes from helping users learn.
Learning adds resolution to what you offer. And the change happens not within the product, but between the user's ears. The more you help your users learn and improve, the greater the chance that they'll become passionate.
What does it mean to say that someone is passionate about something? It's a lot like discussing porn--there's no clear definition, but you know it when you see it. Nobody refers to the guy who knows just two types of wine--red or white--as "passionate about wine." But the movie Sideways was about people who were passionate about wine. The point was not that they drank a lot of wine (although in the movie, they definitely did), but that they knew so much about it. They knew enough to appreciate and enjoy subtleties that are virtually inaccessible to everyone else.
It's the same way with classical or jazz music--learning about the music changes the music. What the music expert hears has more notes, more instruments, more syncopation... than what I hear when I listen to the same piece. Of course I don't mean the music technically changes, but if the way we experience it shifts, it is AS IF the music itself shifts.
I wonder. Is this why there are so many channels on TV but so little to watch? Is this why the Discovery Channel is now filled with biker programs or the Learning Channel with house reno programs? Is it inevitable that a media structure driven by ratings has to move to bread and circuses?
If I am right then how the media is funded will be the most important aspect of whether we still have a media that we can trust and a media that offers the voice of civic community.