The Haarsager Effect

I just had a look at Dale Hobson/NCPR’s listening post, one of the few, truly worthwhile e-newsletters. He distills in a wonderful way the real-life implications from a station POV the most recent news coming out of NPR…the acquisition of Public Interactive, and its decision to adopt Application Protocol Interface (API). The latter is revolutionary, not only because of the new gateways to listeners this decision will open up, but also from the standpoint that NPR is one of the first major news organization in the U.S. to make this move. Here’s what Hobson has to say:

Sometimes the clock just sits there, slowly grinding gravel into sand, and sometimes everything seems to happen at once. We’re heading into one of the latter times now. Stuff from the back burner, things we have been chipping away at month by month, all come to a head. A lot of the action is being driven by new projects and initiatives from our network partner, NPR.

The big news of the last few days was NPR’s acquisition of Public Interactive, the platform host of many public radio websites, and a service provider to many more, NCPR among them. The merger may save us some change in the long run, but it will help most in facilitating our use of content from public radio programs that originate with PI’s former parent, Public Radio International, and with other media services PI has under contract. It will beef up NPR’s digital shop and will help PI stations play more effectively on the national stage.

NPR is making a big investment in social networking for the public radio community and is set to roll out a platform on which stations can foster their own communities within Look for lots more on this in late September.

NPR has also jump-started stations into the arcanely-labeled field of mobilecasting, making a mix of station and network features available via cell phones and other mobile devices. NCPR expects to join them by November. For those of you who wish your cell phones had a cord and a dial, there will be a regular phone number you can call from any type of phone to get the latest NCPR and NPR news and features. This will make NCPR available for the first time in remoter parts of the region that don’t have broadband internet, or cell service, or even radio reception.

It seems to me that NPR’s moves, juxtaposed with another recent decision that’s made a lot of waves — cancelling The Bryant Park Project — add up to a picture of greater efficiency by choosing existing tools to extend and build value with it’s established content rather than investing millions to build a gleaming Taj Mahal. I was an occasional listener to Bryant Park, appreciated how the show had evolved, and sympathize with those like the excellent, hard thinking Rob Patterson who are upset at its demise.

*Keep in mind, too, that these decisions were all announced in the span of 17 days.*

From a business standpoint, what I see emerging seems smart: fiscally efficient at a time of downturn in audience and revenue, and putting exciting new tools into the hands of their most important client base, public radio stations. NPR is making tough, bold decisions and I say, right on. My gut says we’re experiencing The Haarsager Effect (for the uninitiated, Dennis is NPR’s Interim CEO).