Saturday, March 31, 2007

Younger Listeners: Where's the Vision?

Serving more of the public is always a worthy goal. To date, no one has offered a public service vision unique to 25-44 year olds who aren't currently served by public radio. There is no 25-44 demo-focused equivalent to Bill Siemering's vision for NPR back in 1970 when he wrote:

"National Public Radio will serve the individual: it will promote personal growth; it will regard the individual differences among men with respect and joy rather than derision and hate; it will celebrate the human experience as infinitely varied rather than vacuous and banal; it will encourage a sense of active constructive participation, rather than apathetic helplessness."

And, "Listeners should feel that the time spent with NPR was among their most rewarding in media contact. National Public Radio will not regard its audience as a "market" or in terms of its disposable income, but as curious, complex individuals who are looking for some understanding, meaning and joy in the human experience."

In the context of Siemering's writing, there are only two possible rationales for creating a new morning program targeted at 25-44 year olds.

1. The Siemering vision still applies, but the work of folks such as Steve Inskeep, Robert Siegel, Nina Totenberg, Scott Simon, Lisa Mullins, Terry Gross, Ann Garrels, Jamie Tarabay, Tom Gjelten, Joe Palca, Sylvia Poggioli, Kai Ryssdal, and others, isn’t relevant to enough people in the demographic.

2. The Siemering vision doesn't apply to enough 25-44 year olds.

It would be interesting to learn which rationale is being applied at NPR, WNYC, and PRI.

To read the complete Siemering document, click here. ( Public Broadcasting Policy Base)

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

So Just Who Are These Younger Listeners?

NPR is planning a new morning show aimed at 25-44 year old listeners. WNYC, with several partners, is planning a new morning show aimed at 25-44 year old listeners.

I'm interested in your comments on this.

Who are these 25-44 year-olds we're going after? Since they are supposed to be new listeners, you can assume they are not currently listening to Morning Edition.

  • From which competitors will public radio steal them?
  • What do we have to say to them that we are not saying today?
  • What value are we adding to their lives, not just their mornings, that will cause them to financially support us? Or will they?
  • Are they well-educated?
  • Do they have kids?
  • Is it an ethnically diverse group? And how do we know they will be?
  • What do they care about?
What do you think?

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Friday, March 09, 2007

A Brighter Outlook

On one side there are those who are forecasting that on-demand and user-generated content will put an end to radio as we know it. On the other side there is the recent Bridge Ratings study which projects the weekly number of listeners (Cume) to all terrestrial radio will drop just 8% over the next 13 years.

The Bridge numbers seem optimistic given the prevailing mood in public radio. Several bloggers reporting from the Public Media conference in Boston a few weeks ago referred to a sense of gloom and doom. Then again, that could just be the industry’s scarcity mentality. Public radio has always had a low opinion of its potential.

Seldom do we look at the coming change and talk about doubling the number of weekly listeners to public radio. In fact, we’re often told these days that we shouldn’t think of them as listeners. That’s absurd, of course, because there will be billions of opportunities per year to provide public service through people’s ears.

If anything, the number of opportunities to provide public service is increasing several times over. The Bridge Ratings study reports that Internet radio is expected to have a monthly audience of 197,000,000 in 2010, a gain 140 million new listeners. It projects that 109,000,000 people will stream content over mobile phones. Every one of those people will be able to access any terrestrial radio station that streams it programming.

This is an important point. New delivery platforms are increasing, not decreasing, the number of potential listeners to public radio. That’s true even if the Bridge Ratings projections are off by 100%. Weekly Cumes will grow if we manage our resources well.

The danger ahead is lower Loyalty to public radio across all platforms. Winning as much of someone’s combined terrestrial radio and Internet radio listening as possible is essential to keeping listeners in the donor base. This listening can be won if we choose to compete for it.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Big News: Again and Again

I received four emails today announcing the Public Radio Talent Quest. All four emails were essentially the same and came from people working together on the project. It got me to thinking about how we are going to interact with our listeners in a one-to-one media environment.

Will we manage those relationships effectively or simply transfer the shotgun approach to communications from the radio to the web?


Monday, March 05, 2007

Eliminating Pledge Drives II

Let’s assume that the predictions about the future media marketplace come true. In five years, public radio stations are in a fierce battle for listeners. Listeners have so many choices they can easily avoid pledge drives. As a result, drives become less effective than they are today. The entire membership program is at risk. What’s a station to do?

The obvious options are to cut costs, to become more reliant on underwriting income, to secure more major donor money, or some combination of the above. Even then, the financial demands on stations will require high levels of listener support. Here’s the likely outcome.

1. Stations will still use their air to market the importance of listener support and solicit donations. Most of this will happen through on-air spots that do not interrupt the programming. Some spots will focus on the value of public radio while others will focus on limited-offer premiums. Based on the effectiveness of today’s spot campaigns, stations will be able to replace around one-tenth of their on-air membership dollars through these spots.

2. Stations will run monthly, if not more frequent, promotional campaigns such as sweepstakes and selling flowers for Valentine’s Day. These will be spot campaigns with some 90-second and two-minute pitch modules airing in the hours before the deadline for participating. So listeners will experience some minor disruption. Stations might replace another 20-30 percent of their current pledge revenue with these campaigns.

3. Fundraising specials in targeted hours, such as a Car Talk Christmas Carol, will help stations replace another 10 percent of current on-air fundraising dollars. These specials run outside of news programming, so the core service is free of disruption. The temptation will be to follow PTV’s path and create specials that move a lot of product rather than stay focused on public radio’s core values. As with television, that would lead to short money and long-term damage.

Effectively implemented, the above model could replace up to 50% of current pledge drive revenues. Experience shows us that many of these activities are more appealing to current donors, so stations are not likely to maintain 50% of their new members through these practices.

Reductions in pledge revenue and donors will require increases in direct mail, email, and telemarketing activities. Stations opting out of telemarketing will have fewer donors and less money than those that use it as telemarketing remains one of the most powerful tools for recovering lapsed givers.

The impact on email will be significant. Stations will run email fundraising campaigns in much the same way they run direct mail. Listeners will receive up to a dozen email requests for membership support each year. The total number of appeals per listener will be higher because stations will send monthly or weekly promotional emails to listeners as well. Listener annoyance with fundraising will move from on-air to listeners’ email boxes.