Monday, February 06, 2006

A Mixed Bag Of Thoughts

Some things to think about as public radio faces audience growth issues, new technologies, and the beginning of the winter/spring on-air fundraising season:

- As audience flattens out or drops, the cost of doing business goes up. This is especially important to keep in mind when investing in local progamming which typically generates less audience at a higher cost than national programming.

- A key question for program directors today -- "Is the program I have on the air right now better than any of the programs sitting on the listener's iPod?"

- Less listening will mean less money unless stations improve their fundraising efficiency. Public radio still has significant potential here.

- If fund drives hurt listening levels in the past, they could hurt even more now that there are public radio alternatives on satellite radio and iPod. Just another reason to keep on-air drives short and to work hard to make them sound better.

- $1,000 contributions shouldn't be thought of as major donor money. There's an increasing body of evidence that the people who give them don't think of themselves as major donors.

- Too much emphasis on $1,000 donations in on-air drives not only suppresses contributions from people who might give less, it also sends the message that your station doesn't need all that many supporters to succeed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

IPOD's may be selling like hotcakes, but a better question for PD's may be: "Is the program I have on the air right now as appealing to my listeners to something on another station?" Please note: I didn't use the word "better" in my question.

11:19 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

I agree that other radio stations remain the primary competition. I don't believe being "as appealing" as the competition is good enough these days. In order to grow, we must be better. The reason for the iPod question is this -- everything on the station now competes with public radio's best programming. "Is my local talk show a better listening choice right now than Fresh Air or Car Talk on an iPod?" If the answer is yes, then nothing on the radio can touch you.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is possible that I am misunderstanding your definition of better. Is it industry-based or listener-based?

For listeners with a certain political bias, Air America may be a better choice than Morning Edition. From an industry standard, Air America cannot touch Morning Edition.

If PD's define what's better by industry standards, we may wind up being in a situation akin to the big three commercial networks in the '70s. Back in those days, the big three networks had the best writers and stars. The production quality was much higher than cable TV. By all industry standards, these networks were the best choice. Despite this, they have seen a steady decline in audience since cable TV emerged. Why? Because cable TV defined "better" by listener standards.

Here are three examples:

1. News

CBS, NBC and ABC may have had great half-hour newscasts at 6:30 p.m., but CNN gave listeners a place to find news any time they wanted, although the anchors weren't necessarily network quality in the early days. When CNN launched it wasn't better from an industry standard, but it became a "better choice" for some news viewers.

2. Entertainment shows.

Network TV shows attracted millions of viewers, but you didn't see much skin and rarely heard curse words. HBO provided a "better choice" to some listeners by regularly presenting B-grade R-rated movies on a regular basis with lots of skin and cursing. When HBO launched, it wasn't better based on industry standards, but it became a "better choice" for some people seeking entertainment.

3. Music.

The musical guests on the Carson Show and Saturday Night Live were cool, but you could see music all the time on MTV so it became a "better" choice despite the fact that wall-to-wall Pat Benetar did not necessarily constitute quality music at that time. When MTV launched, it wasn't better than the music you saw on the big three networks, but by serving music listeners all the time MTV became a better choice for some music fans.

So what do you mean by "better listening choice" in this context?

10:42 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

Better as in having above average listener loyalty (from station's AudiGraphics or RRC analysis of their Arbitron data). We've known for decades that programs with below average Loyalty send listeners scattering to other stations. The saving grace was the absence of much competition on the radio. Those program become a bigger liability now that listeners can more easily find public radio content on satellite radio and MP3 players. The public radio comeptition for every station's audience will do nothing but grow in the future.

12:37 PM  

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