Like an episode of the “Public Radio Dating Game” (or “Pubcast Bachelor” if you prefer a more contemporary reference), five distributors vied for the hand of This American Life. But after all the wining and dining, questions and answers, and slow, slow dances, Ira Glass and company have chosen the Public Radio Exchange.
According to the New York Times, SiriusXM and NPR were amongst the five distributors competing for TAL’s affections. Given that there aren’t so many public radio distributors out there, it shouldn’t be hard to fill out the list. Interestingly, SiriusXM was hoping Glass would follow in Howard Stern’s footsteps, abandoning broadcast for the wilder environs of satellite radio, uninhibited by FCC content rules.
Glass told the Times that distributors told him that his program should be charging stations more to carry the program, but that isn’t a concern for the show.
When news broke that TAL was leaving long-time distributor Public Radio International, Chicago media reporter Robert Feder reported that TAL was in talks with PRX. Glass contacted him to correct, saying that the show had yet to begin negotiations with anyone, leading Feder to retract the report.
Today Feder writes that he spoke to Glass to get clarification. Glass told him, “We hadn’t spoken with them or any of the other distributors at the time. It was still wide open.”
Feder concludes, “Guess I just got really, really lucky.”
PRX is a much more DIY platform than a network like NPR or PRI. It provides producers the ability to distribute programming on the internet and collect fees, but generally does not get involved in marketing shows, soliciting underwriters or direct funding. This allows TAL to retain control over most aspects of the show, without having to rebuild the wheel with regard to distribution.
One big change is that stations won’t necessarily be receiving TAL via the Public Radio Satellite System which integrates directly with the Content Depot content management system. This is much less of an issue that it might have been even five years ago. But given that TAL is a weekly program, downloading episodes from PRX shouldn’t be a hassle for any station. Many stations are already doing so for plenty of other PRX shows and other independent productions.
In the end this a big win for PRX, which is demonstrating an ability to loosen up the otherwise tightly controlled public radio distribution system. I expect this will further legitimize PRX in the eyes of conservative public radio program directors, in addition to bringing it much more public visibility.
At the same time, while PRX’s distribution tools are powerful, actually getting shows onto stations is not as simple as uploading them to PRX. TAL comes with 580 stations already on its roster, built up over the course of 14 years, not overnight. PRX definitely makes life easier for independent producers, but getting stations to actually air your show is really the hard part.
That said, having a show of TAL’s stature join PRX should be a rising tide that raises all boats and also should open many minds to taking a chance on more independent public radio programming.