Collaboration

Radio nets and PBS propose ‘public media platform’ based on API

By Karen Everhart

Remember when policymakers referred to the Internet as the “information superhighway?”

The analogy is being adapted to describe an NPR-proposed “public media platform” feeding stations’ websites and other online outlets with web-friendly content from both public TV and public radio, including NPR and three other major pubradio program distributors, stations and other producers.

In this case, however, it’s not just highways but a complex, flexible road system, said Bruce Theriault, CPB’s senior v.p. for radio. “It allows us to move things around, has all the rules of a highway, with merges, exits, speed limits and business rules. Everybody — no matter what kind of vehicles they own — can drive on it.” Content — audio, video, text and pictures — could enter the highway anywhere and travel under agreed-upon “rules of the road.”

National Public Radio requested CPB aid to begin technical and business planning of a shared web platform with American Public Media, Public Radio International, Public Radio Exchange and PBS. The proposal grew out of talks among pubradio’s major players about creating a more efficient way of distributing digital content and expanded to include PBS, said Kinsey Wilson, senior v.p. of NPR Digital.

NPR began discussions with a few large distributors, Wilson told Current, but the API would be open to stations and indie producers.

The idea adapts the Open Application Program Interface that NPR has used since 2008 to make its news reports freely available online and looks to “scale it up for the system as a whole,” Wilson said.

The setup could have characteristics of the Public Radio Satellite Service, the distribution system NPR operates as a neutral service provider to stations and other distributors, and the Public Radio Exchange, the web-based marketplace for public radio programming, Wilson said.

NPR has asked CPB to support the work of negotiating the rules and technical infrastructure of this public media highway system. “We’re proposing a six-month planning project that allows us to dig in on understanding what the issues will be from a technical and business standpoint, and what assets are already in place, if we were to start building it,” Wilson said.

The concept of a comprehensive, indexed distribution system is not new. Public radio networks tried in 2007 to work out details of a shared “back end” for their web operations through the Digital Distribution Consortium, a committee appointed by Ken Stern, then NPR executive v.p.

NPR is taking a different approach this time. “We are not trying to build a single business model into it,” said Wilson. “Individual producers would set the terms on how their content could be used,” and they wouldn’t be required to use the new platform exclusively. In addition, PBS now has a seat at the table.

CPB is reviewing NPR’s proposal but Theriault predicts it will announce a grant within weeks. “We have to complete our due diligence,” he said.

“We see the incredible need for this, so that each of the major players in the system, and others, can actually work together and with the public” in web publishing, Theriault said.

In the analog past, public radio’s satellite interconnection was an innovation in program distribution, Theriault said. “And today our work still revolves around moving content. We need another sophisticated, interoperable system for the digital world.”

On another front, NPR is working internally to put station content into its open API, Wilson said. Since launching in 2008, the interface has proven itself to be “an efficient and powerful way to power our own web and mobile sites. We’re trying to envision how stations can use it in a more robust way.”

Public Interactive, a division of NPR that’s rebuilding its web publishing system on an open-source platform, aims to help its client stations use the API on their own websites.

PI is recruiting pilot stations to begin testing its new system and plans to begin rolling it out this fall, said Debra May Hughes, v.p., during a Feb. 18 presentation to the NPR Board’s Public Interactive Committee.

Earlier articles

Stern appoints Digital Distribution Consortium working group, 2006, and discussions begin, 2007.

NPR released its Open API in mid-2008.

Movers & shakers endorse proposal for pubTV, radio online news collaboration, 2009.

Public Radio in the New Network Age, the final report of the Station Resource Group’s Grow the Audience project, recommends that the field develop “common or easily shared resources for convergent IP activity” among its content providers.

Related links

Pubradio’s Digital Distribution Consortium proposed an efficiency-creating “business-to-business” back-end system two years earlier.

Details of NPR’s API at NPR Tech Center.

Comments, tips, questions? karen@current.org

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