Nat Geo Channel: “Very doomed”

To: John Fahey, NGS CEO
Re: The end of television

Remember a few years ago when you told us that television — and all those advertising dollars — were the future? And that the National Geographic Society’s well-being depended on the success of the National Geographic Channel (which is majority owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation)?

Well, Doc Searls — who is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University , and author of an upcoming book titled The Intention Economy: What Happens When Customers Get Real Power — seems to disagree:

Doc Searls

“… [A] station won’t even need a “channel” or “channels” after the next digital transition is done. That’s the transition from cable to Internet, at the end of which all video will be either a data stream or a file transfer, as with a podcast.

All that keeps cable coherent today is the continuing perception, substantiated only by combination of regulation and set-top box design, that “TV” still exists, and choices there are limited to “channels” and program schedules. All of those are anachronisms. Living fossils. And very doomed.”

You must know this, of course. But it begs the question: What’s your new plan?

all the best,
Your friends @ Society Matters

P.S. Here’s an idea — although it will require someone at NGS to provide a coherent explanation of what defines us as a Society, and what the benefits of membership might be. (If you need some help, please don’t hesitate to call.)



≡  photo of Doc Searls via

  • Calico Jack

    The question not addressed in this excerpt is who will pay for programming and how. If people want video programs to exist (whether NCIS, Family Guy or Dog Whisperer), someone has to pay enough for the producers and distributors to recoup costs and hopefully make a profit. I’m wondering if the old-fashioned model of programs with a single sponsor might work, but otherwise it has to be some amalgam of subscription and advertising/sponsorship/product placement.

    • Hi CJ – You’re right. The question is not answered, mostly because Doc Searls and everyone else don’t have an answer. The sponsorship / underwriting model you mention might work — the way corporations underwrite PBS specials and NPR. Or, the iTunes / AppleTV model suggests maybe people will pay per show — say, $1 to watch an episode of the Dog Whisperer. Either way, what’s obvious is that people no longer want to pay Comcast & Verizon for 1000 cable channels when we’re only watching 10 or 20 different shows. As for channels, they are, in Doc Searls’ words, “living fossils.”Put another way: Cesar Milan doesn’t really need the NG Channel — at least not as much as he needed them 5 years ago. One day soon he’ll no doubt pump his show into your home without any help from the NGC, which is really just a marketing platform (“tune in this Sunday at 10pm!”) & a distribution pipeline. I’m not sure Cesar needs a lot of help marketing. As for a distribution pipeline — welcome to the web. I should add that the business model for TV need not be the same model as for the Magazine – or whatever the Magazine becomes. My whole argument here is that the Society still has between 4 and 5 million people paying between $15 and $30 a year for a monthly print product. Chris Johns & John Fahey could continue to appear before this massive audience each month and never mention the challenges the Society’s faces — and slowly watch as people continue to drift away. OR they can share the problem, and then articulate a mission that will inspire the crowd, and offer them real value for the $15-$30 they’re now shelling out. But the “value proposition” (as they say) has to be something much meatier and more meaningful than yet another issue filled with cheetahs, landscapes, and/or hand wringing about climate change.
      What do you think? Is there some way to mobilze this crowd? Some way to network 4 to 5 million people and empower them to accomplish something together they might never accomplish alone?

      Thanks for your comment & for stopping by again….

  • Calico Jack

    Reading on your later post that NG had 2 million Facebook likes, I went over to see what they’re doing. Links and clips. Nothing to engage “likers” in the Society or its mission.

    • Exactly right. It’s a pipeline for content, not a place for people to connect laterally. Then again, Robert Michael Murray, in that tweet of his I posted, includes a hashtag #Stealth — as if those 2 million people are going to be doing something big. I hope so. In a related note, Robert had a tweet on Twitter tonight —!/rmmdc/status/27394024142 — that he’s going to give a talk in Hawaii about how a 100+ year old organization adapts in the digital age. I asked him if there was a way to hear what he has to say without flying to Hawaii, but I haven’t heard back from him (and really don’t expect to). Ah well…Thanks for stopping by, CJ….

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