Friday, January 20, 2006

Minding The Franchise

Public radio stations generated more than a quarter-billion dollars in listener support in FY2004. Underwriting revenue from businesses was around 140 million dollars. This is called "listener-sensitive" revenue in public radio because it is driven by the amount of listening to individual public radio stations.

Businesses pay more to reach more listeners. People who listen more are more likely to give. Givers who listen a lot are more likely to give larger gifts. But we're not talking about weekly listening. No, giving is greatly affected by the amount of listening done over years.

That listening is the public radio franchise and it has never been more at risk. There are very real threats from competition, including an increasing number of commercial broadcasters putting news/talk on FM. We are also a threat to ourselves.

Most stations still have weaknesses in their significant parts of their program schedules. Several national programs, especially weekday programs, under-deliver given the available audience. Failure to fix these problems makes public radio more vulnerable to all competition, whether it is coming from the radio dial or the iPod.

Much of the discussion in public radio is that audience loss is inevitable given the growth of new technologies. That assumes listening to podcasts will come at the expense of listening to public radio stations. It doesn't have to be that way.

Public radio listeners, on average, spend more time listening to commercial radio than to public radio. Our Core listeners spend about one-third of their radio listening time with the competition. That could be the listening that goes to podcasts, even public radio podcasts. Or, it could be the listening that public radio stations capture to reverse the tide of audience loss.

Even if public radio loses current listening to new delivery platforms, there will always be radio listening to capture from the competition, much of it being done by our own audience. We can still grow radio listening.

The point here is that public radio can never stop fighting hard for every available hour of radio listening. The shear volume of that listening will always make it the most financially productive hours of listening public radio will ever capture. More important, every hour of listening we don't get today negatively affects how much money our listeners will give in the coming years.

Radio listening is the financial foundation of anything that public a radio station might want to do with podcasting, Internet streaming, local programming, or the next cool thing to come along. It's the franchise and public radio needs to give it the lion's share of new investments of time, money, and attention.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Audience 2010: Looking To Get Back On Track

Public radio's recent loss of audience has reinvigorated the public radio research community. Following up an a December research summit held by NPR, the Radio Research Consortium has contracted with George Bailey of Walrus Research for an exhaustive analysis of public radio's audience data. Joining the project team is David Giovannoni of AudiGraphics.

Over the next 10 weeks, with input from the public radio research community, Bailey and Giovannoni will try to identify opportunities for public radio to get back on its growth track and, by 2010, attain the level of listening it would have achieved had there been no audience loss at all.

Their reports will be available free to all and should provide a wealth of information to fuel national and local dialogue and decision-making.

More information, including the first project report "Approach," is on the RRC's website.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Meet One Of The Podcast Of Characters

Overheard in the Raleigh-Durham airport while waiting for a flight to Baltimore, “Have you ever downloaded a podcast from NPR?”

I’m now in eavesdropping mode.

After a listening for a few minutes, curiosity gets the best of me and I introduce myself to Monica from Nashville. She has three wirelessly connected computers in her house, all her husband’s, she says. He is always on the cutting edge of technology.

Monica listens to WPLN in her car. She loves Car Talk, The Splendid Table, NPR News, and classical music. She is a contributor to the station.

A Terry Gross fan, Monica started downloading (and paying for) Fresh Air from about two years ago. As evidence, she scrolls through a few screens of Fresh Air segments on her iPod. These are not podcasts in her mind because she had to pay for them. She continues to get them through a gift subscription.

Monica has been getting podcasts for four months. She gets them through iTunes. That’s important to her because iTunes makes it easy to find podcasts of interest and download them to her iPod. Downloading occurs each weekend, when she reviews and chooses from all of the podcasts delivered to her playlist during the week.

Traveling four days per week gives Monica plenty of opportunities to listen to her iPod. She last listened to the "Knitting Newscast." She subscribes to the “All Things Considered, movie, and book” podcasts from NPR. Of her public radio choices, she last listened to “Story of the Day.”

Monica appreciates podcasts because they are “free, organized, and not long.” Also very important, they are advertising free.

It took about a minute of questioning for Monica to recall that there was, in fact, a sponsor mention at the beginning of each NPR podcast. One of the car companies, she thinks. Monica puts on her headphones to listen. Acura! She really had not paid attention to that. She says it doesn’t bother her that the sponsor message is there. It is not intrusive or inappropriate.

I thank Monica for her time. She wishes us all good luck.