Adventures in Online Membership

KQED continues to lead in the digital sphere with a very smart foray into the social buying phenomenon. Today Groupon San Francisco’s featured “Deal of the Day” is a 1-year membership with the station; viewers can sign up for the basic package or become a part of the leadership circle, both at a 50% discount. Offering such a deep discount may seem counter intuitive to some public broadcasters at a time when budgets are tight and funding support is under threat. However, it’s important to consider the potential motivations of the target demographic that uses a site like Groupon.

This Kickstarter blog post sheds some light on how much the attitude of the 35 and under set differs from public television’s traditional 60+ year-old membership base: “The PBS-style fundraiser would have us believe that tote bags should cost $100 and Ken Burns DVD sets $400. There’s an assumption that the act of sponsorship carries a tax…it’s important to consider the actual value of what you are offering.”

How value is defined by a generation that has seemingly unlimited access to content is necessarily quite different than viewers who became loyal to PBS some 40 years ago when it was literally the only alternative to the “Big 3” networks. It’s Economics 101: as supply increases (more content) and demand remains constant or lowers, the price at which you can sell the content drops. Hence why these younger viewers can’t imagine paying such a high “sponsorship tax” for something they have access to in spades.

But what if public television shifted the focus of its value away from providing content and toward providing one-of-a-kind experiences? This is exactly the model that WNET launched through its WNET.org Kids Club THIRTEEN online membership program last March. For an annual fee member families are provided with family-friendly events, discounted admission to major and under-the-radar cultural and educational institutions, and online resources for parents and care-givers. Kids Club THIRTEEN children also get a special birthday announcement made on air! (I don’t know about you, but even at age 35 I think that would totally rock.) With over 250 member families signed up and counting, WNET considers the program a great success.

The takeaway? Opportunities exist for public broadcasters to expand their membership base through online engagement, but it requires that stations understand who they are reaching via these web platforms and what these people care about. When we really begin listening to what’s important to these potential new audiences we can learn how to provide real value — and benefit from it.

One Response

  1. […] building activities beyond monetary gifts. (See my NCME colleague Jennifer MacArthur‘s great post about KQED’s recent use of […]

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