A few private responses to the Audience Loss posting asked for more explanation on why AQH, or average audience, was more important than Cume, or total audience.
The reason is pretty straightforward. A listener counts in the Cume if he or she listens for just five minutes a week. We know from decades of research that five minutes of listening a week won't turn a listener into a contributor. It's not enough. As previously noted, a station must get someone to listen again and again for the AQH to grow. Focusing on AQH requires that a station build listener loyalty and, therefore, the base of potential contributors.
But the networks don't count on listener contributions for their income (though PRI now accepts individual donations at its web site). On the surface, that makes AQH less meaningful to the networks. They want to put the biggest number possible in front of their stakeholders, potential supporters and partners, competitors, and in some cases, critics. It sounds better to talk about 30 million weekly listeners than an average audience of 2 million listeners.
This is where network audience goals and station audience goals might be in conflict. Networks want more listeners so they try to increase audience by adding stations to their line-up, by getting more programs on each station, by getting better time slots for programs on each station, and by making programs for new audiences.
In other words, networks often focus on growth strategies that don’t necessarily help stations one bit. The best example of this is when a network boasts about a new program being "the fastest growing program in public radio." That says nothing about the quality of the program, as we’ve recently seen. “Fastest growing” is really a statement about the marketing department's ability to get clearances. Network marketing people should get a huge cash bonus anytime that "fastest growing" phrase is used.
There isn't a station in public radio, however, that couldn't get more listening out of its current audience. Fixing weak parts of the programming schedule gets current listeners to tune-in more frequently and helps grow the AQH audience. The interesting thing about this is that it has the side effect of increasing the weekly Cume. We've seen this repeatedly at stations across the country. The format, market size, or type of licensee doesn't matter. Strong program schedules targeted at the station's Core audience grow AQH and Cume better than schedules designed to reach multiple audiences.
These apparently conflicting audience goals can be reconciled. Network audiences are nothing more than the aggregation of station audiences. There is more sustainable growth for the networks from helping stations grow their AQH over time than looking for 10 new stations to add to the network lineup this year. That's how every significant network public radio program became significant.
Though it seems counter-intuitive, the best way to grow the network Cume is for the networks to adopt growth goals for their client stations. Help stations grow AQH and the network numbers will take care of themselves.See a related post called "Think Audience." Scroll to the bottom of the page after clicking this link.