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Key Findings

1. The broadcasters were very interested in the whole field of digital access, focusing closely on the examples that were presented, including Open Education Resources, presented by Marshall Smith and Ann Margulies; BBC Creative Archive, presented by Paul Gerhardt; Internet Archives, presented by Rick Prelinger; Radio Open Source, presented by Mary McGrath; PRX, presented by Jake Shapiro; and WGBH Lab Sandbox, presented by Jon Abbott.

Paul Gerhardt, Project Director of BBC Creative Archive, framed the issues raised by these examples in his keynote address.

Our message to all content owners, including all the rights owners in our programs, is uncompromising. We’re saying that the greatest danger today to their property is not piracy. It’s obscurity. It’s being locked up.

(Paul Gerhardt, BBC)


2. The group agreed that public broadcasting’s mission is well aligned with the values of Open Content as a way to make knowledge “available throughout the world in a way that it hasn’t been in the past” (Marshall Smith, Hewlett). Participants referred to public broadcasting’s focus on “lifelong learning and qualities of craft” (Maria Thomas, NPR), and Paul Gerhardt discussed “public value” as another core concept for public broadcasting, in the U.S. and the U.K.

In simple terms, for us, this means: How can we provide more social and individual value to each member of the public in return for their payment of our licensing? We believe that access to our television and radio archives, which contain nearly one million program items can support a number of objectives, including stimulating creativity in our audience. It would also promote education training, a more sustained citizenship, and civil society.

(Paul Gerhardt, BBC)

There were concerns expressed, however, that we needed to be clear what “free” and “open” access meant – as Dennis Haarsager (Washington State University) pointed out, there’s “free as in free beer” and “free as in free speech.” And, as James Boyle (Duke University) pointed out, it’s not easy to envision a smooth transition to a full Open Content model for public broadcasting: the system’s past experiences and cognitive biases don’t push it towards openness, and there are substantial real-world obstacles, such as copyright laws, that are problematic.


3. The issue of how Open Content might impact the trust that is essential between journalists and sources was debated in the Editorial session:

In the long run, perhaps not immediately, I think if Open Content is applied to interviewees in controversial and sensitive situations, many would simply say no, not only to the use of their material for that purpose, but to the whole interview. And in the end, there could be less powerful content, or no content at all. We ask those who we film to trust us. We can keep this trust only if we take care of the materials that we produce. We take reasonable precautions to see that they’re not misused or abused. So, I implore you to think hard about practical effects of embracing Open Content as a mantra to be applied to all content.

(Louis Wiley, WGBH)

I’m not minimizing that your sources are going to get queasy at times... And maybe people, individuals, certainly most will not create stuff that’s anywhere near the quality of what you do... But they’re going to do things that make them more media literate, that they learn more from than others may learn from, themselves, and they will create things that we don’t expect. And to me, the ceding of control to others for the uses that we don’t anticipate are where we get the really interesting stuff.

(Dan Gillmor, Center for Citizen Media)

Both these panelists agreed that there were cases in which full Open Content – allowing viewers to download, edit, and re-distribute materials – might have ethical or practical problems. An example was the deeply personal interview with the mother in Frontline’s “The Taking of Logan Marr.” On the other hand, some of the panelists felt that any materials of public figures should be fully open.


4. The role of member stations was repeatedly raised, as participants considered the ways in which Open Content would re-shape community relations in the member-based public broadcasting system. While some argued that stations will remain highly relevant in an Open Content environment, others suggested that the universality of the Web might mean that technically there wouldn’t be a local role for stations.

Just because technology allows you to bypass local sources, that doesn’t mean that’s what people will want to do. Would they prefer to interact in a geographically-defined area? On Netflix you can find out what’s most popular in the world. Maybe people would like to know what’s most popular in their zip code.

(John Boland, PBS)

A significant consideration for PBS is that it can’t just be about producers and PBS engaging with end users. We must also facilitate the engagement of stations with their local communities and support their own media work. To that, we have been exploring how, in an Open Content world, PBS’s backend system and tools for stations can be significantly expanded to provide a hub of aggregated access to Open Content, produced in relation to the properties PBS is distributing, and potentially other Open Content from within the system. This would allow all member stations to access a one-stop shop, to find Open Content assets that could be downloaded and used locally, and it would allow us some measure of aggregated tracking and usage of this Open Content.

(Dave Johnston, PBS)

We’ve done some audience research, and public ownership is important and linked to local institutions. The term is customer care, and it needs to be built up at the local level. As stations are working through local strategies, they’re working on their content role. Their privileged position is not going to be there for long (as sole distribution outlets) so curatorial and community partners are important.

(Andrew Russell, CPB)

Paul Gerhardt mentioned this local/national issue as one that Creative Archive also saw as important. He discussed their regional initiative to place copies of BBC archivals in local libraries and communities, where citizens could have easiest access: “They can start to put their memories, their photographs, their stories, and interleave them with content that’s being collected by a public service broadcaster over many years.”


5. Legal issues were a big concern for all of the participants, especially after the Legal session’s presenters laid out the constraints that the law currently imposes. But as one speaker pointed out, these are issues that public broadcasting must get beyond because impediments like rights costs are irrelevant to audiences:

If I’m sitting in my living room, does it really matter how that content got to me, whether it came on my PDA, whether it came on cable, whether it came through satellite, whether it came through over-the-air broadcast? Does it matter? Why should it matter? And why should I pay separately for each one of those things, which is exactly what we now have to do? So, if I’m sitting in my living room, all I know at the end of the day is that I’m sitting in my living room watching television. It’s only for my own personal consumption. I’m not selling it. I’m not engaging in any kind of commerce around that relationship with that content.

(Sue Kantrowitz, WGBH)

Eric Saltzman (Creative Commons) framed it as a simple question: “What can you use, and is there a way to connect these people who are interested in using the work with people who had made it? “ There was discussion of the Creative Commons licensing system, and how it might be good to develop a special Creative Commons license for public television’s Open Content productions. Other suggestions for dealing with legal restrictions were a more robust assertion of Fair Use and efforts to change the restrictive laws by extending the public broadcasting exemption and compulsory licenses.

Leave the system as open as you can until your fear of openness positively screams, and then adjust downward to deal with particular dangers. Once you get the first problem, start ratcheting down. When Creative Commons was founded, we sat around, about four years ago, in a basement in Harvard having nightmares about the problems that Creative Commons would face. Almost all of the things we fantasized as dangers didn’t come to pass.

(James Boyle)


6. The discussion on business models was one of the most eagerly-awaited by public broadcasters, who felt they were already operating in a financially precarious universe. None of the panelists had complete business plans ready, but Jake Shapiro and Rick Prelinger offered their projects, PRX and Internet Archives, as models to consider:

“What we’re doing here is using the free tier to promote the paid tier, and to some extent, the other way around as well, because when people see something in a paid context, they’ll also search for it. “

(Rick Prelinger)

Prelinger also urged public broadcasters to “Experiment! You can always go back if you have to,” and Mitch Kapor of the Mozilla Foundation suggested that it might be possible even to look at commercial advertising as a revenue source, citing his foundation’s funding model: “The Mozilla Foundation is an advertiser-supported medium, although people don’t think of it that way, and when they do, they’ve generally found it non-objectionable.” In the same panel, however, Kapor suggested that public broadcasting might take a somewhat more cautious approach:

“You don’t have to be a first mover. There’s a lot of literature and innovation that suggests being a fast follower is as good or better than a first mover. There’s a very high mortality rate to first movers. But fast followers who watch what’s succeeding and pick up on it and build, typically for established institutions, do the best.”

(Mitch Kapor)

Partnerships and sustainability were discussed, with Peter Kaufman (Intelligent Television) urging the public broadcasters to “explore conversations, joint ventures, coproductions with other educational and cultural institutions that are grappling with the same challenges. Some of those institutions are experimenting in the same space and have significant funding.” John Boland pointed out that there might be new opportunities for embedded underwriting credits in programs that are streamed, although not necessarily if they are also shared and edited.

I think it’s really important to devise a strategy which carries all of the stakeholders in this process with you. Our experience has been that even the most trenchantly opposed commercial players in the marketplace can be won over. We were candid with them. We say, no, we didn’t have all the answers to the concerns of rights holders. We didn’t know what the impact on the market would be, but we wanted to find out, and we wanted to do it in partnership.

(Paul Gerhardt)


7. With its limited resources, public broadcasting monitors its initiatives carefully, and the increasing disaggregation of audiences (through broadcast, podcast, streaming, on demand, etc.) have made this more difficult. Jon Abbott identified the problem: “As we move into these new initiatives, how will we measure our success? Our metrics are all built on point-in-time metrics that show the reach for the event of the broadcast... How are we adequately valuing the new metrics, the sense of being interconnected as a public media resource over time, compared to the old metrics we had of how many people we reached at a moment in time?”

We have a legacy of measuring consumptions only. The new dimensions [for metrics] are, one, the degree to which we stimulate creative activity, and two, the amount we stimulate engagement or participation.

(Andrew Russell)

We need to track everything we can think of (visitors, stories created by users, etc.) and have that data so when we understand what’s accepted as success or impact we have the data.

(John Boland)

This was another area in which participants suggested that partnering might be helpful. Anne Zeiser (WGBH) pointed out that the advertising and corporate worlds were deeply focused on social engagement at this time. She suggested that partnerships might mean that “others can carry some of the weight.”


8. Understanding online communities and technology is critical to our ability to reach the new audiences that will come with Open Content initiatives.

Have the geeks in the room when you discuss the policy thing... Make stuff findable.

(James Boyle)

We need to understand who is online and what are they doing there. We need to buy that data... Whatever we build has to have concrete plans to reach them, so they find us in Google and so our projects show up, like Evolution.

(Lisa Cerqueira, WGBH)

NEXT: Next Steps