The announcement two weeks ago that “This American Life” will part ways on July 1 from its distributor, Public Radio International, has set off a scramble among rivals for rights to the program, one of the most popular on public radio.
But reflecting the volatile nature of the public radio business, which is being upset like the rest of media by digital technology, “This American Life” is contemplating going it alone.
In an email on Friday, Ira Glass, the host and executive producer of “This American Life,” said it would soon start talks with several distributors, including NPR. But, he added, “self-distribution continues to be an option, and we’ve been looking at what that would mean in a more serious way.”
Among other details, the show would have to determine how to get its audio to local stations and handle billing, roles that distributors generally perform in exchange for part of the program’s financial underwriting. The program has already handled its digital distribution separately from PRI.
The split between PRI and “This American Life” after 17 years follows several other distributor switches: American distribution rights for BBC’s “World Service” went to American Public Media from PRI in 2012 and “Science Friday” went to PRI from NPR in January.
The changes underline “the vitality of the public radio system right now: It’s easy to start a show or podcast, there are all sorts of people to work with,” Mr. Glass said by email. “And also its weakness: Few of the distributors have money to invest in new shows. If you’re making a show, you have to come up with that yourself, usually.”
But, he said, “it’s all the same to listeners,” many of whom “think we’re all part of something called NPR anyway.” He added, “the stakes seem really low.”
The stakes are higher for PRI’s three main competitors: NPR, APM and the relative newcomer PRX, which began in 2003 as a low-cost self-publishing platform for producers but has expanded to more traditional distribution for shows including “The Moth Radio Hour.”