Monday, January 03, 2005

Hundreds and Hundreds of Millions Spent

Public radio stations spent just over six cents to generate one hour of listening in FY 2003. That’s $694 million in operating expenses and 11.5 billion hours of listening.*

The 6 cents to serve one listener for one-hour number has held fairly constant over the years. In the last decade, public radio spent in the neighborhood of five billion dollars to generate 85,000,000,000 hours of listening. That’s $5,000,000,000 over ten years to get and keep the listening we have. We’re using round numbers here.

Now suppose public radio wanted to keep its current audience and accelerate audience growth among minorities at the same time. How much would it cost, on average, to increase minority listening by three national percentage points?

Assuming that costs for a new initiative are at public radio’s current average cost per hour of listening, the tab starts at around $20.8 million per year. That’s all local costs – programming, operations, fundraising, marketing, and administration. Up the annual total to at least $25,000,000 to cover national programming costs not funded by stations.

While this is a permanent investment, let’s consider a 10-year horizon for planning purposes. To increase minority listening while keeping the audience we have, public radio needs to invest an additional quarter of a billion dollars, locally and nationally, over the next decade.

An additional $250,000,000.

Targeting new audiences is not cheap. Once public radio set goals to reach new listeners, it should invest appropriately. Spending anything less is spitting into the winds of reality.

* Sources: The CPB-funded Brody Weiser Burns “Having It All” report and the Arbitron Nationwide Average Quarter-Hour audience of 1.76 million listeners reported by the Station Resource Group in its 2003 revenue update.

Here’s a link to the Audience 98 report on minority listening to public radio. It is an excellent study on how public radio’s programming actually transcends traditional demographic definitions. It continues to inform national policy on minority programming.

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