The Future of Distribution

Matt and I were at the Public Radio Engineering Conference this year for discussions of RF interference, HD Radio, and the soon-to-launch ContentDepot. While most of the conversation focused on immediate concerns of station engineers and operations personnel, the last presentation of the conference addressed some forward-thinking issues in the emerging digital distribution landscape. Scott Hanley, GM of WDUQ and chair of the Public Radio Satellite System’s Distribution/Interconnection committee discussed “The Future of ContentDepot” and new online channels in general.

There was a striking lack of discussion about related issues throughout the rest of PREC. Many station staff members have enough work just keeping up with immediate broadcast needs, nevermind online distribution channels that are still taking shape. On the other hand, the rapid emergence of podcasting over the last year has shown just how quickly these technologies are taking hold. The discussion of a “digital backend” for public broadcasting sprouted at this year’s Integrated Media Association conference and has continued alongside NPR’s New Realities meetings that wrap up today.

As the worlds of Station Engineers and IT staff converge, there is perhaps a need for more cross-pollination of experimentation, planning, and investment. Scott pointed out that the Public Radio Satellite System is a remarkable phenomenon in which a highly diverse set of stakeholders have managed to work together on a system that benefits the industry as a whole. It would certainly make sense to leverage the system’s existing infrastructure, and At IMA some suggested developing a “PRSS for the Internet.” Such a thing would inevitably involve business and policy negotiation, meaning that participation of General Managers and Program Director is critical to the success as well.

PRX is an active part of this conversation, and we hope that lessons we’ve learned in the past three years can be instructive in the process. There are several aspects of this yet-to-be-defined entity that resonate with PRX’s principles of open systems, web-based ease of use, technology innovation, and online marketplace. Scott’s presentation helped highlight the issues, and we look forward to continuing the discussion.


Some sample slides:


Download the PPT





PRX is Hiring

System Administrator / Technology Assistant

The Public Radio Exchange (PRX) is a nonprofit web-based service for distribution, review, and licensing of radio content. PRX is also an online community of listeners, producers, and stations collaborating to reshape public radio

Check it out: http://www.prx.org and http://about.prx.org

We are seeking a part-time system administrator and technology generalist starting immediately. This position involves system administration of several linux-based servers and a variety of on-demand tasks – including troubleshooting servers and small-scale development of scripts and tools. You would work with the webapp development team to “glue” pieces of the application to the other server software components. You would also support the rest of the PRX staff by creating custom SQL queries, solving technical issues, and updating audio manipulation scripts. We are looking for an enthusiastic and creative person who appreciates our public broadcasting mission and is comfortable working in a dynamic, changing environment.

You should have:

  • experience with staging, configuring, securing, and upgrading Linux servers
  • a creative and inventive approach to work
  • problem solving proficiency across a variety of technologies
  • motivation to tinker with and learn about unfamiliar systems
  • familiarity with PHP and other scripting languages
  • the ability to work collaboratively and teach other team members
  • an intermediate level of proficiency with SQL

This position involves up to 20 hours per week, with some flexibility in working hours. Pay is commensurate with expeience.

PRX is a collaboration of the Station Resource Group (http://www.srg.org) and Atlantic Public Media (http://www.atlantic.org), with support from public radio stations and producers, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Ford Foundation, NTIA’s Technology Opportunities Program, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Surdna Foundation.

Please email a resume and cover letter to sysadminjob@prx.org. If you have a del.icio.us/blog/flickr/etc page, please include a link!

PRX is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

New NPR/PRX Podcast

PRX has launched a new podcast in partnership with NPR. The NPR Station showcase with PRX highlights programming produced at NPR stations around the country.

It is curated by Aaron Henkin of WYPR, who was featured in the very first episode of the PRX Podcast and has come full circle to help us showcase some of the best station programming on PRX.

Check out the first episode and subscribe here.

We’ll be announcing more PRX podcasts soon, so stay tuned.

The PRX Long Tail

In web buzzword bingo, “The Long Tail” is a sure win. After Chris Anderson popularized the phrase in his 2004 Wired article, pundits have been scrambling to define, explain, and frame his argument. He explained that online aggregations of broad catalogues serve large markets made up of one-off sales–rather than just enabling millions of sales of a few mega-hits. We suspected that the licensing habits of radio stations on PRX resembled that of long-tailers like Amazon and Netflix, so we ran the numbers.

What we discovered was a very long tail. The above graph represents all pieces (items) sold on PRX, ordered by number of licenses (sales). The highest sellers are on the left-hand side, proceeding in classic long-tail shape to the single sales on the right. So, what does that mean?

At least half of PRX licensing happens in the “long tail”
We separated the graph into two sections, each representing 50% of the total licensing activity on PRX. In the green “top sellers” section, each piece was licensed between four and 33 times. Almost all of the rest of the pieces were licensed three or fewer times, stretching out in a long tail in which many pieces were licensed only once.

80/20, PRX-style
In the original Wired article Anderson says, “The 80/20 rule is all around us. Only 20 percent of major studio films will be hits. […] We’re stuck in a hit-driven mindset – we think that if something isn’t a hit, it won’t make money and so won’t return the cost of its production.” Others have suggested a variety of 80/20 interpretations, but in our graph the ratio appears in a new and interesting way. Once we inserted the 50/50 line, we noticed that the “long tail” half accounts for about 80% of the pieces licensed.

Successful PRX producers upload a broad catalogue
When we examined the producers that were most successful on PRX (ie. had the most total licenses), they were not the ones that had the most popular individual pieces. Instead they were the producers that had uploaded many pieces, several of which attracted a few buyers. Note to producers: upload your back-catalogue!

All of this leads us to believe that PRX helps give exposure to a large body of desirable work that would otherwise be overlooked. We’re doing this by lowering the overhead to access, providing plenty of storage, and mixing in the collective wisdom of our intelligent reviewers.

PRX in O’Reilly

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This month, PRX’ers turn up in two new books from O’Reilly Publishing.

Brendan‘s section on using PRX to put podcasts on public radio appears in Podcasting Hacks:

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Steve is quoted in Ambient Findability, a book that David Weinberger calls “A lively, enjoyable and informative tour of a topic that’s only going to become more important.”:

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(full citation list)

Now all we need is a PRX Cookbook. But what should be the animal on the cover?

DigitalBicycle at the Berkman Center

We stopped by the Berkman Center‘s weekly luncheon to see Daniell Krawczyk present DigitalBicycle. Using technologies like BitTorrent, RSS, and Drupal, he has a vision for open digital video distribution between community media centers nationwide. It’s kind of like PRX for video!

Daniell brought along collaborators Tim Halle from The Project for Open Source Media, Jesse Lerman from Princeton Server Group, and the Princeton University Channel.

Three “Think Global” Features

About once a year stations and producers team up as part of a project called the Public Radio Collaboration. For one week, they coordinate on special programming around a theme with the goal of sparking a national conversation. This year’s topic was “Think Global“, so from May 16-22 public radio examined how we’re intertwined in a complex web of global interactions. PRX distributed “Think Global” to stations, and today we’re podcasting three of the most popular short pieces.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, 3:20
Jackson Braider

A Family Yarn, 7:01
Rupa Marya

Cafe Rebeldia, 3:20
Tatiana Schreiber / Homelands Productions

Download or Listen: [MP3]

“Think Global” Update and Podcast

We’ve been hard at work preparing for the week of “Think Global” programming starting on Monday, May 16. PRX hosts the Think Global web site (thinkglobal2005.org) and we’re also the digital distributor of programming to stations. Producers and stations from across the country and around the world are participating, and it’s shaping up to be a great week of programming. You can hear most of the programs now on the Think Global site, and “For Richer, For Poorer: A Global Call-In” will be streamed live Saturday, May 21, 2005 2-4 EST.

We’ve just added one more thing to the mix — a podcast that will feed one or two commentaries and documenataries each day of the week. Stations will also be able to offer this podcast to their listeners, who can get the shows on their iPod or just listen on their computers on their own time.

Drop us an email at info@prx.org and let us know what you think.

Subscribe here:

PRX Member Tools v2.0: Encoder and Uploader

PRX announces the release of its next generation of tools for encoding and uploading broadcast-quality audio files. The simple drag-and-drop programs make it easy for users on Windows and Macintosh to prepare their programs for digital distribution via PRX and other systems.

The updated PRX Audio Encoder takes files from a hard drive or audio CD and creates an industry-standard “MP2” (MPEG-1 Layer II) file. The PRX Audio Uploader sends any MP2 to PRX where the program is immediately available for license and download by over 300 stations.

Files created by the new PRX Audio Encoder are also compatible with the ContentDepot portal which will soon power the Public Radio Satellite System. This means that any “MP2” may be used for PRX, ContentDepot or directly in station automation systems. Other encoders often require careful calibration of settings that can easily go awry, but the PRX Audio Encoder requires no settings and is specifically tuned for public radio system standards. PRX Members with prior releases of the tools should upgrade today.

PRX Technical Manager Steve Schultze will be at the Public Radio Engineering Conference April 15-16 with copies of the tools and will be available to answer questions.

PRX Member Tools are free to PRX members. Download them here:
http://www.prx.org/membertools/

For a free PRX starter account or a password reminder, email us at our web site support email address.