An Open Business Model So Good Television Shows Will Flourish
This Working Document... began in 1994 with the first productions of the show. It is based on the fact that the show aired on hundreds of PBS stations for over 14 years. It aired on thousands of stations throughout the world via the weekday broadcasts of the Voice of America TV on their nine global satellites. The model is examined and re-examined and everybody involved is being asked to comment on it for accuracy and fairness, and then make suggestions to improve it.
A key reason for the success of the show was that it was educational and it first started airing on PBS-TV stations throughout the USA. No commercial television show with such low ratings would ever be allowed to survive.
Another key reason for the early success of the show was that the national sponsors paid for everything. The sponsors included IBM, AT&T, Travelers, Business Week, the USPS, and many others. No person could pay to be on this show.
For the first 26 episodes, we focused on the Small Business Person of the Year from each state. These award winners had worked through the Small Business Administration. We soon discovered along that path that several of these people had not been fully vetted by local people and as a result, we had to eliminate several episodes. That was a costly mistake. This weak part of the business model should have been the most robust. So, we began looking for other ways to find highly-vetted business owners who had created jobs for at least ten years and who were loved by their communities for their ethics and generosity and who were respected within their industry for their leadership, mentoring, and willingness to share insights.
A key development happened very early during these productions. The Voice of America TV, then known as the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and Worldnet Television, agreed to carry the show. Although they paid nothing for those rights, the show was rather quickly picked up by stations all over the world. Our sponsors could not go into any major city throughout the world without bumping into their show and their underwriting credit! It cleared on thousands of stations. People were saying, "Here is the secret to the success of the USA."
1994 - The Early Model... The show began as Small Business Today which was a magazine format for 26 episodes. By the end of the year, 2004, the first website opened; and in a rather primitive way, it was populated with an overview, transcript and case study guide of each episode.
That website and those three components were key reasons for the success of the show. It provided business continuity from hour-to-hour and day-to-day not from episode to episode.
1995 - A Focus on the Format: The programming directors at the stations told us that they thought the show had time-stamped materials. Although our goal from the beginning was to think evergreen and to shoot evergreen, the show's title suggested otherwise. Also, many viewers wrote and told us to slow down and spend more time with each business owner. Those were two important pieces of information.
The show was re-branded as Small Business 2000. We would use a documentary format. Now, there was not one of us who thought we would be still doing television by the end of the year 2000..
Now, at that time in 1995, AT&T and MCI decided to battle over the sponsorship of the show; and then both dropped out. At the same time, the Regional Bell Operating Companies were getting their wings. Southwestern Bell was the first to knock on the door and request to sponsor the show within their local market. That was simple to do. And, as you might expect, all the stations that aired the show were entirely grateful for that local sponsorship. And, as you might expect, many stations who had never aired the show asked if they might air it. Of course, they could. It was free to all PBS-member stations. Yet, once they started to air it, we asked if they would like that local sponsorship money from their RBOC. Soon over 200 stations were airing the show each week.
That local underwriting which went to the stations was another key reason for the success of the show.
Chambers: In 1995 the show began contacting all the local Chambers of Commerce within a local station's broadcast footprint. Usually there were no less than 20 chambers and sometimes more than 80 chambers. By asking each chamber executive to nominate three-to-five of their most active members, yet people who were loved for their integrity and trusted for their judgment, quite special lists evolved. That list was then compiled and sent around to all the business advocates within that local area. We asked them to vote, "Who would best represent the area on national and global television?" As a result an ordered list was provided to the station's CEO and together we chose the candidate for an episode of the show.
That selection process was another key reasons for the success of the show. First, it informed the best possible viewers about the weekly show's air dates and times. It created a certain buzz within the local communities. It made that list and the nomination process very real and important. More...
Production Toolkit. Many local Chambers of Commerce and local stations were encouraged to consider doing their own episode about the others who were nominated. With over 100 names and sometimes over 300 names, there were many very fine business from which to choose. To accentuate the process, we developed a very special prpoduction tool kit with all the openings and closings, music, bumpers, seques, interstitials and more. Stations throughout the country took that kit; but of over ten stations, no local episodes were produced.
The Evolution of the Working Model... began in 2000 and carried on right through 2001. We were quickly running out of the year 2000. Strategic decisions had to be made.
Because the infrastructure and many of the processes were well-defined and robust, we decided to re-brand the show for the the third time. Small Business School began. More original music was written and the brand took on new meanings. We also decided to work more extensively with local shooters and producers. And, we decided to turn the website over to professionals. It would no longer be a labor of love.
Those were all key decisions that influenced the ideas around the development of a local model.
A Local Model Online... In 2001 the first-draft of a local model was posted online for the Chambers of Commerce. It was consistently updated and expanded over the next four years. A local model for the national trade associations was also initiated in that same period. No new episodes were ever produced.
The First Real Experiment with a Local Model... began in 2008. One of the local viewers, a business coach, had written to the show and discovered that we were not far way. We began meeting to discuss this local model. That person was Ray Anderson of Redlands, California (More). By the summer of 2009, he was ready to meet the the CEO and station manager of KVCR-TV, his local PBS affiliate. Although we had discussed doing local episodes with the station over the years, here was a local person willing to help make it all work.
In February 2009 the station began airing classic episodes from the library of the show; these were mostly productions from within the state of California. Many large businesses, all potential local sponsors of the show, were approached. The time was not quite right for them. Yet, the show went on and Ray and a rather extensive team of local business advocates are trying to make it all come together.
When they do, our hope is that it will be a business model that can work across the country and around the world.