Thursday, February 10, 2005

Reaching New Audiences

On February 1, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) board adopted a resolution directing CPB management to “…encourage public radio stations to use this [digital] technology to provide services that are responsive to the needs of underserved minority audiences, including those with second language needs, in the communities in which these audiences are most represented…”

It was previously pointed out in this blog that public radio’s efforts to reach minority audiences have been woefully underfunded to date. At a minimum, reaching and keeping new listeners will cost public radio the same amount of money it costs to reach and keep today’s listeners.

There are many ways to do the math, but JSA estimates that getting one million new listeners to tune-in for 7 hours per week will cost at least 20 to 25 million dollars per year. That includes station costs, network costs, and producer costs. And it assumes these new listeners can be acquired and maintained as efficiently as public radio serves it’s existing audience. Put another way, the JSA estimate assumes public radio will take full advantage of lessons learned over the past few decades.

Of course, public radio won’t grow new audiences from zero to one million listeners overnight. And once the audience is gained, it must be maintained. That raises questions of self-sufficient operations versus on-going subsidies. That being the case, CPB would be wise to explore the full costs of reaching new listeners over a minimum of a 10-year horizon. The price tag will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and the exercise could have significant influence on how CPB money, including Community Service Grants, are allocated in the future.

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