RADIO AND TELEVISION INDUSTRY
The radio and television industry has undergone some reincarnation in the last 30 years or so. This has become quite evident with the switch over to digital signals from analog which look to favor the more commercial driven stations than the PBS supported non-commercial stations. This is because the larger target audience will generate a larger source of income through advertisements for the commercial stations. The PBS stations also stand to increase their revenues through the predicted demand for underwriting services and licensing unused broadband capacity when it comes to digital transmission. With the changing dynamics in the broadcasting market, both the commercial and non-commercial stations have had to factor in the various external forces that pose a direct influence to their survivability. This changing external environment can be better understood if we analyze it in terms of Porter’s competitive forces.
1) Government Forces
The broadcasting industry in the United States is quite liberal and independent even when compared to other developed countries. While it might appear like these stations have a free role in doing whatever they please, this is certainly not the case. First of all, before you introduce any broadcasting station, you will have to get approval from the FCC so that you are assigned a frequency which you will strictly abide to. The problem is the approval process is quite long and cumbersome. It might take before you receive a rejection or the go-ahead to transmit. The best example is when KRCB FM had to wait for months to find out if the FCC would allow them to transmit all the way to Santa Rosa. These delays translate to loss of revenue each day and the distance between yourself and your competition keeps on widening. Another area where the government’s big hand caused a change in policy is when they set an ultimatum for all stations to switch to digital signals. This might have worked in the favor of commercial stations which had enough capital to purchase expensive digital equipment. PBS stations like KRCB had to dig deep into their pockets to make similar purchases with its board members even contributing from their own personal pockets.
2) Threat of Potential Entrants and Competition from Substitutes
Both television and radio have to face increased competition from other sources like the internet and satellite transmission. Before, audiences used to flip amongst the various television stations depending on the program packages that were appealing to them but the advent of the internet has seen this audience migrate from the traditional television audience that sits and waits for their program to begin. Internet television and radio accounted for 21 percent of the entire American audience which represents roughly 50 million Americans and this figure is bound to increase. Most of these Americans preferred to watch video streams online or also listen to online radio. Newer inventions like TiVo and other devices have had the ability to cut out commercials and this has affected revenue collection for some stations especially the non-commercial PBS supported stations that have had to alter their fundraising model. Another new kid on the block when it comes to public broadcasting has been satellite television and radio. Even though it is still unaffordable to a majority of Americans, satellite television has been witnessing a steady growth rate with its audience growing from 18 percent in July 2001 to 22 percent in 2003.
Satellite radio still has some way to go before it creates the same effect as its television counterpart but it is making steady progress especially with the Partnerships between satellite radio companies and the giants of the auto industry like General motors. Such partnerships are probably influenced by recent trends where a majority of people prefer to listen to the radio stations only when they are in their cars and usually watch the television when they are at home. However, satellite radio is slowly catching on due to the better quality of it s services as compared to its “terrestrial” adversary. Each satellite radio station has the ability to transmit over 100 channels that is uninterrupted and static free. The only disadvantage to this service is consumers have to subscribe to it and pay monthly rates of $9.99 to $12.50.
3) Power of Customers
As to which forces are the greatest drivers for the industry; the question can be best answered depending on which side of the fence you are standing. The small community based PBS stations were driven more with a sense of purpose and service to the community. Their growth was mostly focused on attracting a target audience that would be more accustomed to the station’s broadcasting content which did sort of leave for very little room for innovation when it comes to greatly increasing their source of revenue or the number of listeners. This was due to the fact most of these stations relied a lot on volunteers for the day to day functions plus the contributions they received from these well wishers. They therefore had to maintain a certain “image” to appeal to these well wishers.
4) Competition amongst Stations
Competition from similar PBS stations also influenced the policy decisions that these stations made and they all tried to cut a niche in their respective fields. Commercial stations on the other hand and this include the satellite television and radio stations were mostly driven by increasing their revenue growth and the audience base.
While the PBS stations could not easily deviate from their traditional broadcasting content, the commercial stations could easily re-invent themselves in the hope of attracting a bigger audience. An increase in the number of viewers or listeners would translate to more revenue from commercials. The switch over to digital transmission was more likely to favor them since most of them could easily afford the digital equipment due to the better revenue sources and the improved quality that came with the digital signal would result in far much better services being offered to the consumers.
5) Power of Suppliers
From the analysis of the two types of stations( commercial and non-commercial), it is clear that what is regarded as the silver bullet for one would not necessarily work for the other one without risking assuming the two roles simultaneously. Each of them has the common goal of appealing to their particular audience which has proved to be fluid in that the appeal for both sides of the broadcasting spectrum is still there. The audience’s attention seems to be split between the two types of stations while there are still the strong conservatives who prefer to listen or watch the commercial or PBS stations. This is probably due to innovative nature of each of the stations whereby they are able to come up with social content that strikes a chord in every listener. I guess this can be regarded as a vote of confidence to each of the stations since the various consumers can be easily swayed depending on your content. The question however still remains whether the content will remain relevant for years to come especially in the case of PBS stations.
Statistics from October-December 2002 show that the middle aged citizens ranging from the ages of 35-49 make up the greatest audience for public television. This may be due to the socially driven nature of the program content which may focus on family life and religion that probably appeals to these demographic. Commercial stations on the other hand will transmit what it may consider newsworthy and draws the greatest public attention. This could vary from the politics in Washington or the latest scandals from Hollywood. This content probably appeals to the high income individuals or those not in the labor force and probably have a lot of time in their hand to flip through the channels.
KRCB Television and Radio represents the small stations that were finding it had to compete against the big boys of the larger public broadcasting stations and the newer emerging threats of satellite television and radio and the Tivos. Maybe the shift in policy of trying to target an audience in the bigger and larger markets might have greatly contributed to their current predicament but the reality is in the entertainment industry you have to keep re-inventing yourself so as to stay relevant. The fact is, if they had still remained the small town radio in the North Bay counties, the changing times would have had a far much bigger effect on their budget than the “hand to mouth” status they had were in.
1) Funding Constraints
KRCB like a majority of small stations had always relied on a very thin financial budget to run its day to day operations. The PBS funding system that had been its lifeline for many years appeared to be waning and the Cooperation for Public Broadcasting appeared to be dragging its feet with regards to implementing certain regulations. The competition from the bigger and better equipped public broadcasting stations posed a direct threat to the livelihood of KRCB. Its television branch was becoming expensive to maintain due to the increased costs that came with switching over to digital signals and the costs of maintaining these equipments. The board members knew the only solution to their myriad problems was to eliminate the weaknesses in their operating budget where they practically did not have anything left once they paid out all their expenses. The key lay in increasing their revenue sources. This would be difficult since the station “competed directly with four education TV broadcast stations and 15 public radio stations.”(Teresa et al, 2004 p 2) Even if they tried to cut a niche in their programming content, they were still held back by the PBS affiliation which meant that every station also aired the same PBS-produced programs like “Sesame Street.” The audience was the same and the likelihood of markets overlapping was very high.
2) Technical Hitches
KRCB FM unsuccessfully tried to acquire a new broadcasting license from the FCC that would enable it to transmit to a larger population in Santa Rosa at a much clearer 88.3 FM frequency. Instead, they current signal strength could go only as far as Sonoma and Marin counties. The only solution to targeting a bigger audience seemed to be erecting a transmitter at a peak on Sonoma Mountain. However, they did find a lifeline when they started transmitting on a second signal on 90.9 FM. The FCC was again holding them back when they authorized their second signal only on condition that it remains below 125 Watts to avoid overlapping with KCSM-FM‘s signal. They did target a larger audience in Sonoma County but not as much as they had hoped for. “The competition KRCB was facing from the internet and digital transmission from satellite was very stiff.” (Teresa et al, 2004 p 5) These modes of transmission could reach a much wider audience and the variety they offered in the programs, from rock to urban radio, would just be a tall order for KRCB. The conversion to digital signals also presented new problems. Digital receivers were still quite expensive for the average consumer and their penetration into the market was still low. Even when KCSM-FM offered them a separate channel to transmit their digital signal, their hands were tied since no one owned digital radios.
3) Adjusting to the Changes
With the odds stacked against them, KRCB’s only option was to look at market forces and look for a new audience that they could appeal to but this was still not possible since the station could not afford to “buy demographic data ratings report which were approximately $45,000 per year.” (Teresa et al, 2004 p 7) Instead they hired a local firm to conduct the research and their findings cemented what the company had been suspecting all along. The estimated audience of 250,000 who could not access PBS programs from other stations still viewed their content as one structured for the “elite and highly educated” portions of the population. Obviously the station had to reverse this notion if they wanted to hold on to this market. They began introducing elements of culture and education into their content and even went as far as introducing Spanish-language programming in order to appeal to the North Bay community. Other ventures included “quality children’s programming, college courses and adult literacy programming.”(Teresa et al, 2004 p 7)
4) Strategic Relevance
What is bemusing is really not the myriad of problems that KRCB faced but how it has managed to stay relevant despite the presence of some real heavy-hitters in the industry. KRCB was formed by the citizens of North Bay County to “preserve shelter and protect their sense of community and local identity.” (Teresa et al, 2004 p 8) It was a non-profit organization that was run by the citizens of the local community. We can say probably say that this was hook, line and sink for most community based stations that were under the umbrella of PBS and NPR. Most local communities viewed them as one of their own and therefore absorbed their local content keenly and religiously. Their credibility was rarely in doubt since these stations had already identified themselves as non-profit making. As much as commercial stations with all their financial muscle and technological development could “invade the turf” of PBS stations, the local citizens would still rely on the community stations for the day to day news. They could identify with these stations. The staff that was hired to run the station all brought some value to the organization either through commitment or the job experiences they had accumulated thus far. CEO of the station Dobbs had worked as a legislative staffer in his former field and he brought this “experience of legislature, government and fund-raising techniques.”(Teresa et al, 2004 p 9) with him when he joined KRCB with him when he joined the station at 35. KRCB-TV went on air first before its radio counterpart due to the immediate availability of the signal. The television station was to serve three main functions.
Its primary goal was to “extend public television coverage to more than 250,000 people” (Teresa et al, 2004 p 2) where outside the realm of Public Broadcasting Stations. The other minor goal was to provide educational content to the various schools in the county that were beyond the signal range of the current public stations. Lastly, KRCB hoped to air as much local content as possible. The entire production process was community based with the producers, directors and camera men all working in tandem to create local programs that would serve as the identity of the station for years to come. These simple but far reaching goals cemented the station’s popularity in the local communities with every member feeling like they own a part of the station. With the strong consumer base, the station was able to grow steadily during its formative years and its financial status was relatively good. KRCB-FM went on air in 1991 thanks to a bit of luck again when a non-commercial frequency became available and a popular classical station in the Bay Area collapsed. The radio broadcasting section immediately filled this void and started playing classical music as its core program.
5) Challenges Faced
The station relied heavily on volunteers for its functions like the television auction and radio pledge and they were able to keep the numbers up through the volunteer and outreach program. However, a weakened economy and the outbreak of the gulf war in the early 1990s severely affected its operations. Another problem that plagued the station was while they could be regarded for doing a damn good job when hiring employees, they just could not retain them. The station was just hemorrhaging members of its paid staff at a high rate for reasons that the station CEO Dobbs could not definitively understand.
The other Achilles’ heel for the station was the make up of its board. While the board’s commitment to the course could not be questioned especially after its members personally contributed $45,000 from their own pockets to facilitate the conversion to the digital age, the all-white upper income identity of its members made certain circles uncomfortable. Their previous philosophy of “as long as they remained passionate about public broadcasting” everything else is secondary could no longer fly. They did miss out on some certain grants due ethnic nature of their board and Dobbs even went to the extent of appointing Hispanic minority members to the board to reverse this trend but the new appointees later departed. The station was therefore at a crossroad and it needed some strategic plans that would help it retain its current customers and identity as well as increase its appeal to prospective customers.
The “station management and board had already developed a 20 point strategic plan”(Teresa et al, 2004 p 20) in 1997 so they must have been aware that at some point in the future they may need to “repackage” themselves since the honeymoon was not going to last forever. Dobbs together with members of his staff in a meeting on 2004 hoped to polish up this previously crafted plan and find a path that would lift them out of their current financial doldrums. Dobbs knew coming up with a plan to alter the station’s fortunes was not a courtesy call but a necessity when you compare the effort and resources the local community had invested into the station.
1) Setting Goals
The strategic planning committee had come up with two goals that should be targeted with the help of 16 key points. The first goal was to “strengthen the quality, quantity, visibility and support of KRCB’s local programs and services.”(Teresa et al, 2004 p 21) Achieving this would be possible through implementation of certain objectives. The first one was to ensure that both its television and radio services should continue being the cultural voice and educational resource of the North Bay. This role was under threat especially in the radio section where the limited range of its signal could not match the coverage of stations like KCSM-FM. Its television broadcasting arm was still competitive arm but for how long that would remain depended a lot on the strategic plans that would be implemented. To achieve the first goal, the station had to clearly cut a niche in the material it aired so as to differentiate it from other stations in the area. The biggest revenue threat to the station probably lay more in the competition from fellow PBS stations than the big commercial stations and Tivo. The reality was if the audience preferred to consume the content from commercial stations, there was really nothing much KRCB could do. However, if this audience does switch over to PBS content or this is their only source of entertainment, then KRCB had to monopolize it.
Their next objective should be to extend the coverage of KRCB-FM county-wide. Even though, the FCC had proved to be their only stumbling block when it came to expanding their frequency range, this should not hold them back especially now that the digital age had arrived. While the station like many of its PBS counterparts was proud of its community heritage, this should not be the reason why they are not exploring new horizons when it comes to airing content that appeals to diverse audiences in their coverage area. They should appeal to every ethnic group and not suffer the same predicament as their board which was accused of being “too conservative.” The other objective was the station should continue with its current work ethic which had brought it this far and they should keep on encouraging support from volunteers.
The second goal for the station was to “enhance KRCB’s options in providing and responding to new technologies.”(Teresa et al, 2004 p 21) This could also be done through a variety of objectives. The first one was to prepare the station for the transition from analog to digital transmission. The digital age was already round the corner and the question that remained to be asked was when it will be fully ingrained in the entertainment industry; not when. The recent set back they had of not being able to use KCSM-FM separate channel for digital transmission because of lack of digital radios should not be the excuse if they are found lagging behind when everyone else has gone digital. The second objective to achieving this goal is KRCB should be prepared to enter into partnerships with other competitors in the market so as to remain relevant. This could come in handy especially after the realization that maintaining digital equipment is a tall and expensive order. If they could outsource such services to someone who is more adept at performing them, then the station can focus on doing what it knows best; producing local programs that appeal to the local community.
Lastly, the station has to start pulling away from the clutches of being funded through grants from Corporation of Public Broadcasting, underwriting services and membership dollars. The big bucks in television and radio are now in commercials and endorsements. Airing the fixture from the little league could warm the hearts of the local citizens but it definitely won’t balance the books. There is the possibility that they may lose out on the traditional sources of revenue like donations from well wishers because they would be perceived as “sell-outs” but that catch is if they are successful, their financial woes would be a thing of the past.
The station’s board and management have to first organize their members’ staff and see which roles best fit particular people. While their previous and current hiring policy of heavily employees seems to have solved any immediate shortfalls that might arise, the implementation of a strategic plan requires the station to start hiring core members of staff who would guarantee their commitment; not the current hire and depart syndrome that has plagued the station. The next part of the implementation strategy is to check if the company has the resources to implement the strategic plan .While it is encouraged to aim for the ceiling when coming up with goals, it’s however advised to play your cards close to the chest when it comes to assigning resources. The bigger tragedy would be to go through the strategic plan half way and run out of steam because you lacked the resources; finances especially. It would be a tall order to go back to the old system since some of the previous systems or employees were probably discarded.
Clear definitive policies need to be given to the managers and these managers should communicate these policies to their employees so that everyone knows what is expected of them. The best practices should always be encouraged amongst members of staff. Implementation of the strategic plan would probably mean the station would move to a “for profit” model but this should not compromise the team spirit that has been present in the station for years. Moving to the digital age means that the members of staff need to be brought up to speed with the workings of the new equipment and other system applications like software that go along with it. Any new systems would probably take a bit of time to get used to and the guiding principle should be that they are better than the previous one; that is time wise, resource wise and their functionality.
Management should reward the employees who perform their duties exceptionally so as to motivate them. This would auger well with the employees who are on a voluntary basis who should work even harder if there are promises of permanent employment in the horizon. However while rewards should go to hardworking employee, management should not be shy about handing down punishment to wayward employees. The station should not abandon its community culture in the hope of making bigger profits. They made it this far with a system that had proved to reliable even in the harshest of times like the early 1990s. Do not sell your soul in the hope of acquiring the world’s riches. Lastly’ leadership is the key to success or failure in any organization. The firm hand of Dobbs had helped the station navigate through some rough waters. This kind of leadership has a trickle-down effect on the way the station will conduct its affairs. Strong leadership inspires confidence in the members of staff.
Teresa M Shern, Gilinsky Armand Jr, Girling H. Robert, 2004, KRCB Television and Radio:
The Canary in the Coal Mine? Sanoma State University, pp 1-22