After 17 years, PRI ending distribution of This American Life

By Dru Sefton

Public Radio International announced today that it will end distribution of one of its biggest titles, This American Life.

The Minneapolis-based PRI has offered TAL to stations since 1997.

“During our most recent negotiation, it became clear that our organizations’ expectations regarding our futures were different,” and PRI will stop distribution July 1, said Julia Yager, PRI’s head of sales, marketing and distribution, in an announcement.

Yager told Current that negotiations concluded today and that PRI does not comment publicly on confidential contract discussions.

In a statement posted on the TAL website, host Ira Glass said that “looking at where PRI is now pushing its business and where we’re growing — especially on the digital side of things, which we’ve always done without PRI — both we and our colleagues at PRI came to the same conclusion: to go our separate ways.” The post also said production of the radio show and podcast will continue.

PRI distributed TAL to 587 stations for a weekly audience of some 2.2 million listeners. “We are extremely proud of our productive relationship and role in their success,” PRI said.

Seth Lind, director of operations for TAL, told Current that the show has not yet chosen another distributor.

The announcement was unexpected. NPR Programming VP Eric Nuzum said, “like many, we are still taking in” the news. “We are all huge admirers of Ira and This American Life, for the show they produce and the innovative ways they connect with their audiences.”

Nuzum didn’t comment on the possibility of NPR carrying the show. TAL was the subject of a 1997 bidding war between NPR and PRI for distribution rights.

Another potential distributor would be Public Radio Exchange. Jake Shapiro, PRX CEO, told Current: “We can’t comment at this time. Stay tuned.”

American Public Media had no comment.

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  • Dale Spear

    The statement in the article about a bidding war taking place between NPR and PRI for TAL is not correct. NPR passed on distribution and then PRI began negotiations and signed the show for distribution.

  • Dale Spear

    @Phelps. Yes, all true Phelps, but if memory serves me correctly Ira had already taken the show to NPR and got rejected. Then, PRI started talking to Ira. I believe NPR then came back and started to negotiate but I don’t recall a “bidding war.” While we felt confident about the show, the deal also allowed PRI to develop a closer relationship with WBEZ. Very important at the time for PRI.

  • Harry McMerkin

    Although I enjoy listening to some shows on NPR, I object to my Tax dollars going to fund the liberally biased NPR. The ‘Public’ part should be just that- public…not propped up by tax dollars.

    • James Smith

      Harry – the problem is that Information has a Liberal bias. :-)

    • Fred Fletcher-Fierro

      While NPR does not receive any direct federal funding, it does receive a small number of competitive grants from CPB and federal agencies like the Department of Education and the Department of Commerce. This funding amounts to approximately 2% of NPR’s overall revenue. Public Radio is largely public.

      http://www.npr.org/about-npr/178660742/public-radio-finances

      • Harry McMerkin

        Well if it is such an insignificant amount, then it wouldn’t have a negative impact to reduce it to zero, would it?

  • http://www.wutc.org Mike Miller

    I’m curious whether TAL even needs a network like PRI to distribute it. Couldn’t TAL simply post broadcast-quality .mp3s or .mp2s and let stations download it from a private server? At my station, we broadcast at least one show that does it exactly this way.

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