The Pay-to-Play (PtP) Model

[This continues an open discussion on the Future of The Conversations Network on our forums, and we hope everyone will join us there and tell us what you think.]

When we started our second channel, Social Innovation Conversations, we began with a Pay-to-Play (PtP) model in which our partners not only provided the audio content for the channel, but also paid for our costs of post-production and distribution. It was financially sound, but we paid a price in editorial control. Those partners who funded our production of those shows reasonably expected that we would publish and promote them, but as you might imagine not all of the programs met our standards for content or audio quality. The result was that we either delivered lower-quality programs to our listeners or we pissed off our content partners. We abandoned the PtP model for all new content partners about a year ago for this reason. Now, as we look for new ways to grow and fund The Conversations Network, we’re reconsidering the pay-to-play model but on a slightly different basis. Here’s one way I think it could work for us.

The Conversations Network could offer its podcast post-production capabilities as a fee-based service to conferences, universities and other producers of spoken-word events. The fees might range from $75 to produce just the MP3 audio of a program to $300 to produce the audio, write the descriptions and publish on a Conversations Network channel (including bandwidth costs, RSS feeds, etc.). While we would offer this only to “acceptable” conferences, we would not exercise editorial control. We would produce and publish all submitted programs regardless of quality.

The content produced via this PtP service would not be promoted on The Conversations Network’s curated channels such as IT Conversations or Social Innovation Conversations. The programs would run on separate channels unique to each content partner. However, these channels would serve as a source for our Executive Producers. If they found a program produced on a PtP channel, our EPs could easily cross-publish it on our mainstream channels. We have that capability built into our system. It’s not much harder than checking a box.

What do you think of the PtP idea (a) for the service it provides, (b) as a way to generate revenues for The Conversations Network, and (c) as a source of content for our curated channels? I’m particularly interested in hearing from the members of TeamITC who produce our programs in their spare time, as they would be the one responsible for executing the plan.

Update: On his 2/4/08 podcast, Todd Cochrane said he was surprised that The Conversations Network had offered a PtP service to companies. My mistake for not explaining this. First of all, these arrangements were only made with a few universities and other non-profits. We have never produced a program from a for-profit company when that company provided funding for the program. Second, we didn’t offer this as a service to just anyone. We always initiated the relationships based upon what we thought our listeners would like to hear. We selected non-profit organizations and suggested that we could publish podcasts of their events if they were willing to cover the costs. But as I said above, we no longer pursue such relationships. Finally, we always acknowledged the content partner as an underwriter of the programs.

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