Thursday, August 31, 2006

Will Success On-Line Be Linked To Success In Print?

The more I use the Internet, the more I become a fan of the printed word.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoy podcasts, audio streams, and the occasional video. I just find that print is the most efficient way to get information from the web.

It's much faster to get the headlines or capture the essence of a story through print than any other means. On my reasonably fast computer it takes about 10-seconds to get audio after clicking on the hourly newscast link at At Google News, I can scan 8-10 headlines in that first 10-seconds.

During a recent test of this theory, I heard exactly one story after listening to the NPR newscast for 1-minute, 15-seconds. On Google News, I read 4 stories in the same amount of time. A nice feature of Google News is that you can quickly scan and select from dozens of news sources covering the same story. Want a Louisiana perspective on the Katrina anniversary? Easy to find.

This isn't a criticism of radio. Far from it. But it is a good reminder of how people use the web. They click, they scan, they click and scan some more.

For public radio to get the most out of its web presence, it’s probably going to have to be as good or better at using the printed word than everyone else.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Tiger Effect

Is this the solution to getting younger listeners for public radio?

It is reported that the average age of Buick drivers has dropped from 65 to 55 in just 7 years thanks to pitchman Tiger Woods. Perhaps Tiger can help public radio change its demographics too. Imagine...

- Tiger missing his tee time because of a driveway moment.
- Tiger advising young golfers to calm their nerves with classical music.
- Tiger in a passionate discussion with his caddy about this week's news from Lake Wobegon.
- Tiger calling the Car Guys for tips on fixing his swing.
- Tiger training for distractions from the crowd by blasting opera over loud speakers during practice. “Eh via buffone” isn’t exactly “You Da Man” but such is the artistic license of advertising.

Hey, it could work. And the price tag is only something like $40 million. Maybe that's what it really costs to change the nature of the audience.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Voluntary Giving for Web-Content: Part Two

The last post on Web-content and The Stairway to Given generated some very interesting and productive conversations over the past 48 hours. What sticks out the most is the tendency for people to co-mingle listener issues with public radio industry issues.

The whole point behind the Stairway to Given post was to put a listener (or user) focus on the question of voluntary support. It's a simple question, can a listener come to rely on podcasts, streams, and other web services to the point that he would voluntarily pay for them? I think the answer is yes.

To whom that listener gives money is an entirely separate question.

Let's take the most extreme example, a listener who gets all of her content from podcasts, archives, and streams provided by NPR and PRI. While she manages to completely bypass stations, she also meets the criteria of the Stairway to Given. She's a listener. She relies on public radio by listening to it more than any other source of audio. For the past three years she has listened 12 to 15 times per week to different types of programs. She finds the service personally important and would miss it if it went away.

Should she be told that public radio depends on listener contributions and asked to donate? If not, why?

If so, to whom should she give her money?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Will Listeners Voluntarily Support Web-based Services?

A recent, excellent article by Jake Shapiro asked whether public radio’s membership model could work with podcasts. To help answer that question, let’s turn to what we already know about turning listeners into donors.

The Stairway to Given is based on a statistical model that outlines the steps listeners go through to become contributors. Originally published as part of the Audience 98 project, it is a refinement of more than two decades of research on how listeners become contributors.

I’m pretty certain it will apply to public radio services delivered via the Internet, whether those services are from a station, a network, independent producers, or some new entity. But let’s travel the Stairway to Given and see.

The First Step: Someone must listen to a public radio station

This seems self-evident but it still needs to be applied to the web. People who don’t use podcasts or streaming media or public radio web sites aren’t going to donate money to keep them on the Internet. Non-users won’t give. Users might give.

The Second Step: The listener must rely on the programming

Reliance has a very specific meaning here, one that is useful when considering web-based content. Reliance is based on the listener’s use of public radio. It is a measurement of behavior and includes factors such as Loyalty, the number of weekly tune-in occasions, the number of different programs and dayparts used by the listeners, and years spent listening.

This is where we see the financial importance of converting Fringe listeners to Core listeners. This is where we see that it takes an average of 3-5 years of listening before someone will voluntarily contribute money to public radio.

Consider the implications for web-based content. Will listeners use public radio podcasts or streams more than any other source of Internet audio? Will they use them 10, 12, 15 times per week? Will they use them consistently over years, not just weeks or months? Can public radio create in listeners the same level of Reliance on its podcasts and streams as it does on its station broadcasts?

If so, it begs the question on whom is the listener relying? A station? A network? A producer? So far, public radio has looked at this mostly as a delivery question. Who delivers the service? In the end, it is really a branding and marketing question. More on this in a future posting.

The Third Step: The listener must find the programming personally important

Where Reliance measures listening behavior, Personal Importance measures how well the content connects with the listener’s personal values and beliefs. The specific research question is this, “The programming on WXXX is an important part of my life. If it went away I would miss it."

The more a listener agrees with that statement, the more likely he is to become a public radio contributor. Let’s try this with the Internet.

“The podcasts from _____ are an important part of my life. If they went away I would miss them."

“The _____ web site is an important part of my life. If it went away I would miss it.”

“The (classical, jazz, AAA, bluegrass, folk) music from (web site) is an important part of my life. If it went away I would miss it.”

Public radio’s on-line services – audio, print, social networking, you name it – will have to pass the Personal Importance test with users in order to earn their voluntary financial support. Users won’t give if what is offered won’t be missed.

Personal Importance and Sense of Community

One key aspect of Personal Importance is the concept of “Sense of Community.” This is the idea that public radio programming is one of the ties that bind together people with certain shared values. Their common listening experiences creates a Sense of Community.

Today, many public radio listeners hear the same news stories, talk shows, and entertainment programs in roughly the same time frame. They talk about what they heard and relive the experience together. That won’t be as common in an on-demand world. There will be more individual and fewer "communal" listening experiences.

The Internet provides opportunities to compensate for this. Listeners e-mailing audio links to one another is one example of this. Social networking is another. Not all listeners will do these things, but Sense of Community might become even more powerful in the decision to contribute among those who engage in on-line community activities.

The Fourth Step: Funding beliefs

Listeners must believe that listeners, and not the government, are the primarily source of income for public radio.

This is probably not as much of a problem for on-line services as it is for public broadcasting, which has a long history of federal and state support. That said, public radio has the chance to start educating web content users about how it is funded and the importance of listener contributions.

Audience 98 did not test the question of business support, so we cannot predict how that will factor in voluntary giving decisions regarding web content. That said, a parallel could be drawn between government support during the infancy of public radio and business support during the infancy of on-line content.

If users learn at the outset that someone else will pay for their web-based public radio, it will make it more difficult for public radio to get their voluntary support when it is needed. Public radio should start cultivating those future donations now with appropriate marketing and messaging.

The Fifth Step: Income

Audience 98 showed us that household income was a contributing factor in whether someone would give to public radio, but that it was not nearly as significant as the other steps of The Stairway to Given.

Not all donors are wealthy. Not all wealthy listeners are donors. Public radio is not just for those who can afford to pay. That’s a fundamental aspect of the business. No matter who pays for it, it is available to all. That’s what makes it a public service.


The Stairway to Given provides a wonderful listener focus for the question of whether listeners will voluntarily support public radio’s web-based content. Can you imagine hundreds of thousands of people donating if they do not rely on it, do not find it personally important, or do not believe their contributions are truly needed?

The doubters and skeptics will use that last question as ammunition for arguing that the voluntary support model is dead. I disagree.

I believe The Stairway to Given is a blueprint for designing public radio’s web-based services. Let’s start asking how users will rely on us in meaningful, measurable ways and then construct our service offerings accordingly. Let’s ask if our content resonates with users deeply enough that it becomes personally important. Let’s find ways to use the web to build Sense of Community around the values we share with our listeners. Let’s ensure that we don’t create misperceptions about our funding that we will have to undo down the road.

We know what we need to know to get users to voluntarily support public radio. If we successfully hold our new, web-based offerings to the Stairway to Given standard, they will financially support those too.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Public Radio Today 2006

Arbitron recently released a report called Public Radio Today 2006. Among the report's highlights:

  • The total number of people who listen to all of public radio in a typical week is nearly 26 million. That includes all CPB-qualified stations and all public radio affiliates of NPR, PRI, and Pacifica.
  • Listeners spend an average of 8 hours per week listening to public radio stations.
  • The average number of people listening to public radio at 10a on weekends is greater than the average number of people listening at anytime in afternoon drive.

Public Radio Today 2006 also includes audience profile information from Scarborough and audience estimates for different formats.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Goal for New Media

Much has changed since I started the series on setting new, somewhat audacious goals for public radio.

Audience 2010 provided some valuable insights about our audience and its listening behaviors. NPR's New Realities Blue Print has presented fresh opportunities to tackle long-standing problems. Various reports on public radio's fundraising trends appear to confirm that difficult economic times are ahead.

Every report, meeting, and conference session I’ve been exposed to offered some new angle on public radio’s new media possibilities. After weeks of trying to synthesize all the information and ideas into a new media goal, I've come to realize that new media goals are secondary to the overall health of individual public radio stations.

I know that's a pretty strong statement. It comes from trying to answer this question, "Can public radio be a player in new media without radio?"

I keep coming up with “no.”

Maybe 10 or 15 years from now we’ll all be web sites with radio stations instead radio stations with web sites. But radio will always be important because it is central to our public service mission.

Radio creates the economies of scale that allow us to deliver public service to people who cannot pay or choose to not pay. Radio delivers a reach into our geographic communities that will be unparalleled by the Internet. Radio will continue to be a primary source of the public service content we offer through new media outlets. And, properly run, public radio will continue to be the cash cow of "public media." It could fund the start-up of many new media activities.

The key is in the phrase "properly run." The essential finding of the CPB-funded Brody-Weiser-Burns "Having It All" report was that most public stations lacked strong financial management. Improving financial management is central to succeeding in the new media marketplace. After all, how can a station expect to succeed with the burdens of new media when it is running in the red today?

So after much reading, listening, and thought -- I think the short-term goal for new media is the same as the goal for station financial health.

By the end of 2010, 75% of all public radio stations will operate at the CPB-defined acceptable level of financial health (net revenue at least 2% of operating revenue).*

It is not a sexy goal, but it is an essential one because it provides stations with the security and funding to pursue new media opportunities and give them time to succeed.

*From CPB’s Having It All report