Corporate Sponsors 2010 #2
Consider then that a 2003 NPR/Jacobs Media Research study showed that 1-in-5 listeners felt there were too many sponsorship announcements on public radio. That same study said that 1-in-5 listeners felt long sponsorship breaks made public radio stations sound like commercial stations.
At the time, the results of the study were interpreted to mean that public radio’s underwriting practices did not pose a threat to public radio’s audience growth. It might be wise to revisit the question.
Audience 2010 could not pinpoint macro causes for public radio’s current audience decline. The audience loss cut across markets. News and music stations lost audience. Audience 2010 also found that public radio listeners were giving more of their radio listening time to commercial stations. Perhaps one of the reasons is that public radio sounds more like commercial radio to 1-in-5 listeners.
Like public radio’s audience loss, underwriting cuts across formats and markets. It is a macro programming element found on almost every public radio station every day of the year. Yet the nature of underwriting makes it impossible to analyze its impact using Arbitron data.
And underwriting might be just one component of public radio’s “commercial sound” to these listeners. The NPR/Jacobs study did not examine listener response to the increasingly prevalent announcements for The NPR Shop or affinity shopping programs. It did not report on listener response to paid PSAs. These spots are often 30-seconds in length and sound like full-blown commercials, using the voice of someone from the non-profit institution, music beds, and calls-to-action.
All this could add up to some erosion of Loyalty and TSL with 1-in-5 listeners. Perhaps some public radio’s audience loss is due to dismissing that minority of listeners who are concerned about public radio’s increased reliance on business support.
I’d like to think it is worth an objective study to find out the answer to this question, “is public radio’s audience decline due in part to negative listener response to business support?”
But I’m not sure that public radio’s leadership is willing to act decisively if turns out current underwriting practices are hurting audience performance. The industry trend is toward more corporate money, not less. So the question public radio leaders are more likely to ask is, “What does an AQH percentage point or two matter in the context of millions of underwriting dollars?”