Network 23.

I mentioned in an earlier post that our company operates networks that provide statewide news to radio stations (Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska). The thing we do best is covering state government, with an emphasis on the legislature. And because our medium is radio, we do a lot of sound. Here’s the way it worked in 1975:

Our reporter covered some event at the state capitol. Debate, a hearing, news conference…whatever. They recorded the event, asked some questions and returned to the newsroom where they wrote their stories and edited the audio. Once an hour, they produced a five minute newscast and “fed” it to affiliated radio stations over phone lines (later, via satellite).

We provide stations with programming (we’ve started calling it content) and they “pay” us with commercials on their stations which we, in turn, sell to advertisers. It’s been a good business model. It’s still a good model. But I wonder how current technology might affect that model. As silly and pointless as it sounds, let’s forget the economics for a moment and think about how this process might work in a broad-band, wirelessly networked world.

Our reporter (we’ll call her Lois Lane) is sitting in the back of a hearing room at the state capitol where a heated discussion on same-sex marriage is underway. She’s connected to the Net and posting almost-real-time updates on what’s happening to her network’s weblog. When a fight breaks out between two of the state senators, she snaps a picture with her Treo 600 and posts it to the weblog. Things heat up, security is called. Lois IM’s the webmaster and says she wants to stream live. Takes only a few minutes to get the encoders going. Order is restored and the hearing adjourned. In the hallway, Lois interviews the participants and records it on her small, hand-held video camera. She Blue Tooth’s it over to her laptop…does a quick edit…and zaps it straight to the website. Scattered across the country (and in a couple of other countries)…a few thousand folks receive a fresh RSS feed on their news aggregators. Holy shit! A gay activist kicked the shit out of a state senator in Missouri. And there’s video!

I’m not sure, but I think all of the technology for the above exists. We’re just not there on the business model. Yet. Oh, and there were no radio stations in my scenerio. Will there ever be a time when people can receive text, audio and video on some mobile device that is not a transistor radio? Uh, yeah. We call it a mobile phone or PDA today. I’m not sure what we call it tomorrow but it probably won’t be a radio. Before you start looking for a rope and a limb, know that I love radio. I grew up in a radio family. But I don’t believe the essence of radio is transmitters and towers and FCC licenses. It’s music and news and sports and interesting people with interesting things to say. How it gets from A to Z is less important every day.

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