Mobile Station Stories: Lynne Pollard, OPB

by Rachel Lim, PBS Station Products & Innovation

As part of the launch of the Mobile White Label Series for Stations (available in SRC, login required), we are profiling mobile efforts at stations throughout the system on a variety of topics, ranging from mobile giving to the differences between mobile Web and mobile apps. Over the next six weeks, these stations, who are part of the Station Mobile Working Group, share their experiences, plans, successes and lessons learned about mobile.

Lynne Pollard, OPB
This week in Mobile Stories we're catching up with Lynne Pollard, Vice President of New Media, at Oregon Public Broadcasting.

OPB has developed both an OPB News app and an OPB Music app for iPhone and Android; these apps offer live streams of radio content, feeds of local headlines and podcast subscription capability. They also manage the app for KMHD, the jazz radio station in Portland, Oregon. See more about OPB’s apps at

What motivated you to pursue mobile, and how did you develop your initial mobile strategy?
We created our mobile strategy to fit into our overall strategy, which is to make our content available to the audience wherever the audience is and whatever platform they happen to be using. Moving to mobile was simply an extension or a piece of that strategy, if you like. We have on the radio side three services: our main FM services, news and public affairs primarily; the digital music service; and we also manage KMHD, the jazz station here in Portland. It was quite logical to make these streams available through mobile and to break them out into their individual services – not one giant OPB app but into their individual services – KMHD, OPB Music and OPB News.

OPB is a joint licensee with a very successful radio and television operation, and three ongoing local television series, one ongoing radio show plus local news integrated into our radio service, so we have a lot of content – a lot of local, original content. We first developed an iPhone application , and after we had the iPhone app, it was a small step to include Android as well. We are looking into developing an iPad app built around the radio news service. And on the video piece of the iPhone and iPad – we are actually on hold in those plans, at least for the time being, until PBS can firm up its plans to localize video on its own applications.

What were your initial goals for mobile, and how have they changed over time?
We have plans to expand our Arts & Life content into the mobile platform as well. Our Arts & Life vertical on our site integrates content from radio and television and also includes original web content covering visual arts, performance arts, books, food, outdoor life, that kind of thing. Access to those stories will come as part of the OPB News app – so that this “feature-y” content will be included in our apps. We’re also currently looking at creating a mobile site, in essence going beyond the apps.

One of our goals in making our content available through the smart phones is to diversifying our audience beyond our existing radio and television audiences. Research shows that the demographic that we would like to target has jumped past computers and into the mobile platform – and one of our goals is to reach our audience regardless of which platform they happen to be on. Strategically, it was easier to move forward with radio, just technically easier. On the video side, because we coded all our video to the same specs as PBS, we are faced with the same iOS flash issue and transcoding issues that PBS is facing. It’s one of the reasons that we’re waiting on the video side, although I’m not sure if video on the iPhone is the best experience – of course, the iPad is a different story.

In terms of video, we have put all our archival content online – over 2000 segments – so transcoding is kind of a big deal. We already take that material and rework it to create satisfying web stories – but we are looking ahead to what we can do with those segments in a mobile space – it’s a secondary goal. Because our content is so regional, we’re very interested in the geocoding possibilities. I can look ahead to really interesting mobile pieces if you’re traveling around the state – making a specific piece about a locale available depending on where you are in the state. For example, if you are in Joseph, Oregon, your mobile app might bring you a segment on Joseph that would be different than if you were on the coast. But we’re sort of waiting on what PBS is doing with Cove before we begin bringing in local video.

What kind of results have you seen so far?
About 19,000 OPB News iPhone applications have been downloaded. The Android version is, of course, newer – it just came out. We have about 2,600 downloads for Android.

What are the differences between developing an application in-house or versus a developer in terms of pros and cons for both sides?
The pros of doing it in-house is that you get to do it the way you want – that sounds very simplistic, but it’s really not. The con is that you’re building it yourself, and of course that takes time and resources. We actually outsourced our iPhone app – it was inexpensive and quick. Outsourcing for us was a good model, and I would recommend that to other stations.

In the future, however, we’re looking at upgrading our mobile capabilities in-house because it’s a professional development area for our own staff and allows us to make changes and respond quickly. When you’re looking at a third party every time you want to make a change it’s a new cost, and as mobile grows in importance we want our team to have the capabilities to handle future mobile developments. Although I’m really happy with the iPhone application that we outsourced, there’s an advantage to bringing that development in-house for future development. So for the geocoding opportunity I talked about earlier – that would be something we would want to develop in-house.

What are the challenges of offering mobile web content, and how do you integrate mobile into your workflow?
It’s time and resources. For content workflow, it’s not really an issue because for the apps we just pull in news content, which is automated and doesn’t require any extra work or doing anything different. It’s the up-front development that’s the issue. As we attempt to develop a full mobile site, we are going to bring in an outside group or bring in a temp – it’s about having enough people to upgrade and maintain your own site while building a full mobile site at the same time. Once everything is set up, integrating mobile isn’t difficult: everything will flow nicely.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first approached mobile?
Strategically, we believe in single-use apps rather than omnibus apps – single-use apps have cleaner interfaces and they’re easier to navigate and it’s immediately obvious what the app is supposed to do. This is crucial, I think, for mobile. That’s why we didn’t do one OPB app – we did an OPB News app, and an OPB Music app – we learned that it makes more sense to build three OPB apps rather than one giant app.

If you’re looking at just the apps, which is just a facet of mobile – what we did was easier than people think – it was quite inexpensive. We were able to jump out there quite quickly, albeit on the radio side, and see results pretty quickly as well.

I could have started earlier looking at building a mobile site – but actually, I’m glad that we just started working on the mobile Web now, because I think that we needed the time to ask ourselves, “Exactly how do we need to do this?” and, “What pieces of our website should go into mobile?” In fact, I suspect that if we had done this sooner, we would probably be redoing the browser at this point.

We have not used mobile for fundraising in any way: that has been a pretty deliberate strategy because we know our audience; we already have a high level of support from our members and we don’t want to dilute the membership with you know, “Text us ten dollars,” when we’re really doing better than that. However, we are unusual in that our membership is increasing instead of decreasing, and because we have a strong relationship with our particular market, we’re hesitant to damage things that are working just fine. Our focus has been more on content and now we’re at the point where we’re saying, “Let’s look at the site as a whole and what can we do.” We’re just at the beginning of that – it’s a big site, it’s very deep, and we really need to consider how much of the site we want to make available on mobile.

We've reached the end of our Mobile Stories, and we hope that the information from your fellow stations has been informative and helpful. Please remember to visit the Mobile Resource Center to download the Mobile White Label Series for Stations.

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