Reflecting on the First 100 Days of the PRI & PRX Merger

Photo from Department of Parks Canada.

Mergers are complex transactions. They shift and re-align perceptions. They require planned flexibility as well as choreographed precision, and the full support of many people.

We recently passed the 100-day mark of the merger of PRI and PRX. We are coming out of this initial phase with a reorganized team, an extraordinary content portfolio and an emerging suite of services. Over the last few months, we’ve talked to dozens of independent producers, station leaders, funders and other stakeholders.

Change is on everyone’s mind.

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence — it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” -Peter Drucker

Maybe your head is exploding trying to sort out what it means for Spotify to spend $500M in podcasting, or what the other acquisitions in 2018 signal. Maybe you know where you are in the changing ecosystem, or maybe it all overwhelms you.

We see the opportunity ahead. These recent acquisitions are proof of value — in great storytelling and in the growth of on-demand listening.

The two most common questions we get — is this a bubble? Have I missed the boat? The reality is somewhere in between. We have taken these last few months to adjust ourselves to anticipate and react quickly, regaining our balance as often as necessary.

We have been reminded we are stronger when we tap into our collective wisdom and lean into the bumpy ride. The protective zones that built public radio — carve-outs on the spectrum and preferred noncommercial status — are less relevant advantages in today’s media environment.

Openness as a Practice

Both PRX and PRI were created with a spirit of rebellion. Cracking open otherwise closed systems is how we’ve operated — let’s look at the scorecard.

PRI (1983): PRI was founded by five public radio stations who were concerned that there wasn’t a sufficient range of programming to satisfy the diverse interests of audiences nationwide. PRI’s explicit mandate was to promote programming that made public radio more inclusive of alternative voices and perspectives.

The PRX Marketplace (2003): PRX debuts the first open distribution marketplace connecting content creators directly with local radio stations, with streamlined licensing and rights clearance.

Public Radio Talent Quest (2007): PRX conducted public radio’s first open call for new broadcast talent.

The Moth Radio Hour (2009): PRX collaborates with The Moth and Atlantic Public Media leveraging a broadcast, podcast and live event powerhouse, garnering a Peabody Award in its first season.

SubAuto (now The Exchange) (2011): The first (and only) Internet-based automated broadcast distribution system.

Global Nation (2012): PRI launched Global Nation Exchange, a 2,500-member Facebook group of journalists, academics, activists and immigrants working collaboratively to document and share the experience of immigrants in the U.S.

Matter Ventures (2012): PRX co-founded a new accelerator program helping mission-driven entrepreneurs start media companies that inform, connect and empower society.

Across Women’s Lives (2014): Responding to research that found women only appear in 24% of global news coverage, PRI launched Across Women’s Lives to heighten the presence of women in media, and to focus on women as changemakers, leaders and experts.

Radiotopia (2014): PRX partnered with Roman Mars, host of 99% Invisible, to create a cooperative podcast network to improve the success rate of independent podcasters.

Reveal (2015): PRX joined forces with the Center for Investigative Reporting to launch the first weekly investigative news program on public radio, which won a Peabody in its first year and most recently recognized with a duPont-Columbia Award.

Dovetail (2015): PRX debuted our proprietary software solution to manage podcast advertising.

PodQuest (2016): PRX conducted an open call for diverse talent, new voices, and sustainable ideas. The winning podcast idea, Ear Hustle, was selected out of over 1,500 entries.

RadioPublic (2016): launched a public benefit company focused on a mobile audio platform that drives discovery, engagement and revenue for independent media creators.

Podcast Garage (2016): PRX opened its first PRX Podcast Garage in Boston, a one-of-a-kind, community-based podcasting studio and classroom.

Project Catapult (2016): With anchor support from Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PRX designed, implemented, and tested a design thinking approach to podcast development for local public radio stations.

The Bridge (2017): Working at the front lines of data science, PRI modeled new practices to share its environmental reporting across cultural divides.

Google Podcasts creator program (2018): PRX has partnered with Google Podcasts to invest in creators that are marginalized in the podcasting landscape.

Merging is big change — Why do it?

We heard this question a lot — why merge? To build a stronger organization deeply rooted in the values of public media that is also open and designed for the next generation of content producers, engaged listeners and users. The work we have been doing in the merger has required exploring some of the biggest questions facing our industry.

Here’s the View From the Balcony…

  • Due to the proliferation of disinformation, fake and hyper-partisan news, public trust in media will remain low.
  • Traditional revenue models for media will continue to be challenged by commercial platforms.
  • The tension between personalization and privacy could threaten loyalty and trust.
  • Major for-profit outlets will derive more revenue directly from the audience, displacing advertising as their primary source of revenue and competing for public media’s traditional base of support.
  • More high-quality on-demand content will disappear behind paywalls, widening the disconnect between the haves and have nots. The drive to generate revenue will eclipse any desire to reach underserved audiences.
  • Audiences will continue to be fragmented across multiple platforms.

And The View From the Dance Floor…

  • We must continue to support access to free, high-quality, substantive reporting and exploration of themes that go beyond the realm of commercial media. There is a wider audience for this than the cynics and skeptics will have you believe.
  • We see a dynamic, expansive community of independent producers and organizations working to create this type of media in the public interest.
  • We need NPR to be strong and healthy, and we need stations and contributors to be stronger than any one company.
  • Podcasting is still a new medium and is exploding with opportunity, competition and big money. We need to find smart ways to lead in this emerging space.
  • A revitalized body of content — more representative and relevant — can win on trust, quality, empathy and engagement.

Our Focus

Content

  • Great content is always essential, and creative content makers are our best partners. Our role is to provide services that support journalists and storytellers so they can advance their impact and thrive.
  • The next generation of listeners expects us to be more open to collaborations. Stories, talent, partnerships, and journalism across borders and brands can break down the silos that tend to reinforce safe thinking.

Talent

  • We need to invest, in a meaningful and generous way, in a new generation of leaders and creative talent — talent that will change the status quo. Embedded in strong mission and lifted by a fresh perspective.
  • Training is a vital way to provide more access to the booming world of on-demand audio. With partnerships across the system, the local roots we’ve planted at the Podcast Garage, on-the-ground working relationships with producers at all levels, and a new and robust training team, talent development is core to our leadership.

Technology

  • Beyond any particular product or platform — content and technology will continue to be closely aligned. For us, technology is essential to how we provide value to those we serve.
  • Trust is the bedrock of our public service, including how we use and protect what we learn about our listeners as they interact with us. The ability to collect, process and use data effectively, while protecting privacy, will be a key to preserving that trust.

Our Imperative

Our approach is grounded in the practice of opening closed systems by telling stories that might not otherwise be told, offering a wide variety of program choices and by improving opportunities through innovative technology. We have an expansive definition of public media, which includes not just the stations and networks that built what we have now, but many other individuals and organizations working to create media in the public interest. Our imperative is to be bold.