KQED teamed up with Zeega as part of the radio’s “The Making of” series, a yearlong collaboration with independent producers to create the public-radio content of the future. Boland says he likes Zeega’s simplicity; its technology allows someone to tell a multimedia story with the help of a developer.

In August, National Public Radio mixed vintage photos and grainy video clips from the 1963 March on Washington with oral reminiscences from organizers 50 years later. “We really were jumping up and down; most of all because of the quality,” Shapins says. “What made us most excited was how NPR did the creative work themselves.”

In addition to Zeega, KQED is working with ChannelMeter, another graduate of Matter’s first camp, which ended in June. ChannelMeter helps companies analyze how and what videos viewers watch online. It monitors the top 50,000 YouTube channels on an hourly basis. That’s about 25 million videos every day.

Eugene Lee, 31, and Nimi Wariboko Jr., 21, the brains behind the company, hope to be tracking 10 times that number of videos in a year. From late winter through September of this year, they attended not one but two accelerator camps, where they got access to executives from The New York Times, Google News, News Corp, The Wall Street Journal, and Time magazine. What they learned is that publishers often were blindly uploading videos without knowing anything more than how many views each got.

But that YouTube number beneath the video is deceiving. It doesn’t divulge, for instance, whether someone watched for a few seconds or the whole four minutes. Nor did it disclose how the viewer found the video—via a Google search, a Facebook recommendation, or Twitter feed. “There was no strategy or planning,” Lee says. “What made it worse, they weren’t spending the time looking at the data.”

Online videos are going to be integral to news sites, but also to the future of television, and rating systems are important for advertisers and media alike. ChannelMeter’s goal is to be the gold standard of video analytics. Their data gives videos a grade based on how quickly people viewed the video, whether they watched the whole video, and whether they shared or commented on it. KQED discovered that people stayed to watch their science videos and restaurant reviews more than any other genre, and that has helped editors make staffing and resource decisions. “We learned that KQED has more video and video views than any other public broadcaster,” Boland says. “Even more than PBS. We wouldn’t have known that.”

It has been less than two years since Boland’s a-ha moment in Texas, and in that time KQED has gone from just another public-radio operation fretting about its future to a new-media pioneer that is helping solve the digital-age problems that confront all legacy outlets. It was the first to offer pledge-free streaming for subscribers who contributed $45 or more. The station is even letting Zeega squat in the KQED headquarters until the young entrepreneurs can permanently settle in San Francisco. “There’s a kind of synergy and working together that is just helpful,” Boland says. “Being a partner in an accelerator is way outside of what an American public broadcaster would do. But it made a lot of sense for KQED, and it’s paid off.”

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.


More in Feature

Back to Burma

Read More »

Alison Langley has more than 25 years experience in journalism as a reporter and editor. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The FT and The Independent. She currently lectures in journalism at Fachhochschule Wien and Webster University Vienna.