In today’s rapidly shifting media environment, public broadcasting, like all of “traditional media,” needs to look to the future. Public broadcasting has been a valued part of American culture and society for decades, and has many strengths to build on in this digital future. As Wikipedia’s S. J. Klein said, “Public media possesses a powerful trade... If you look at 100 million people in the U.S. throwing stuff onto the Internet, there is a need for curation. They sometimes look for advice. People in this room represent the best skills in that, and you already have the respect of those communities.”
The conference on “Open Content and Public Broadcasting” successfully drew together a large and diverse group to explore open access models for public broadcasting production and distribution. In pre-conference background materials and in lively discussions over three days, the group examined the unique barriers that public broadcasting faces in an Open Content environment and offered ideas for overcoming those obstacles.
The WGBH conference planners believe the conference built awareness and knowledge about Open Content among the public broadcasting leadership, and encouraged the development of new initiatives that will move the public broadcasting system towards significant Open Content projects. We offer the following three recommendations for next steps in creating Open Content services in public broadcasting.
1. Public broadcasting should encourage further discussions within the system about Open Content. To this end, WGBH is uploading audio from the September conference to the WGBH Forum Network site, where it will be available to all Web users. We will share this conference report widely with colleagues at other stations and public broadcasting entities, and solicit responses that will help uncover the needs and concerns of all. Top leaders at PBS and CPB spoke at the conference about including Open Content in upcoming system gatherings, which would also encourage discourse.
2. Public broadcasting should develop and support pilot initiatives and experiments in Open Content and social media. School-based projects may be the easiest to focus on and are important to public broadcasting’s mission; public broadcasting is proud to be a critical resource for teachers and will continue its efforts to serve them. But public broadcasting’s educational mission also encompasses “lifelong learning,” and we recommend that some of our pilot projects go beyond the classroom to offer creative and educational opportunities to the broader public. Some initial projects have been started (Radio Open Source, WGBH Lab Sandbox), but there is a need for further experimentation, with clear metrics, to establish successful models.
3. Viable economic models, for both the short- and long-term, will be critical. During the first period of pilots and experimentation, public broadcasting should look to partner with foundations and others engaged in Open Content for initial support and to develop sustainable models for the future. Participants at the conference noted that foundation support had been critical to the development of Open Content in education venues, and we recommend looking for similar partnerships for public broadcasting’s efforts.