Sunday, January 31, 2010

Grow the Audience: By the Numbers

The Grow the Audience project set three broad audience growth goals for public radio. Over the next decade, the project aspires to:

1. Increase the average audience – the number of people using public radio at any given moment – to half again as large as it is today.

2. Double the number of people who use public radio every week – on-air, online, and on other platforms.

3. Triple the amount of listening by people of color.

The numbers are intentionally vague at this time because of Arbitron's transition from diaries to PPM measurement, and that's appropriate. Still, the concepts adopted by the project leaders point to very specific actions required to meet the goals.

The first goal, increasing the average audience, validates public radio's multi-decade strategy of increasing audience loyalty through strengthening programming. Average audience grows when the current audience chooses to listen to public radio more times per week.

To meet this goal, stations are going to have to jettison underperforming programs. The challenge facing the SRG and CPB is developing a compelling case for change at stations that have chosen to ignore best programming practices for the last decade or more. Additionally, the networks have to improve or discard programs that are average or below average performers. There is no room for "good enough" on the network level.

The second goal, doubling the weekly audience across all platforms, will prove tricky to measure. Currently, there is no measurement of unduplicated broadcast, streaming, and time-shifted audience. The weekly broadcast broadcast audience will increase significantly if the "average audience" goal is achieved, but it will not double.

The on-line audience, streaming or time-shifted (on-demand or podcasting), will most certainly double in the next decade. That won't be difficult to achieve. Determining how many of these on-line listeners are new to public radio will prove difficult. It might require proprietary, and expensive, research to measure this.

The third goal is tripling the amount of listening by people of color. For the first time on a national level, a diversity goal is properly stated. The non-white audience must grow faster than the white audience for public radio to diversify. Anything less is status quo.

As we've written before on this blog, that will be extremely expensive. The cost to create an hour of listening from a new target audience is always more expensive than the cost of creating an hour of listening from the current audience.

Tripling the number of minority listeners to public radio stations will cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the ten years envisioned by SRG and CPB. The costs could be lower if most of that new listening is on-line or through media partners with existing minority audiences. Still, the cost of growing the minority audience faster than the white audience will be great.

CPB's past investments in minority audience growth have been too little to make a measurable difference in minority audience growth. Projects such as Talent Quest are a move in the right direction, but fall far short of the amount of content needed to meet the growth goals.

On the whole, the Grow the Audience goals are spot on. There aren't enough resources to meet them all so priority-setting becomes critical. And the Grow the Audience report was a bit vague on the lines of accountability for meeting these goals. That will be the topic of our next post.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grow the Audience: Inclusiveness

Inclusiveness is so important to the Grow the Audience project that it is the number one item in the report. The report prominently includes this passage:

“We challenge public radio to commit to a greater inclusiveness of people of color in every dimension – the governance of stations and national organizations, the hiring of management and programming staff, and the voices, views, stories, and music of day-to-day programming.”

It is a worthy goal and with that in mind, I offer the following:

Public radio’s national leadership – at CPB and the major networks -- is less diverse than ever despite nearly two decades of talking about the importance of diversity.

In fact, all of the key decision-making power in the Grow the Audience project, including the ultimate control of the tax dollars that will be spent on this initiative, is in the hands of White Baby Boomers.

It is incumbent upon on CPB and the project leaders at SRG to meet their own challenge if public radio is to break its pattern of talking about diversity but failing to affect real change.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Grow the Audience: Priorities

There’s pretty much something for everybody in the Grow the Audience report from the Station Resource Group (SRG) and CPB. According to the report, public radio must:

• Strengthen its current national news programs
• Increase the amount of local news programming and reporting
• Build new and improved classical, jazz and AAA music services locally and nationally
• Build new services to attract Black and Hispanic listeners to public radio
• Do all of the above on the radio and on-line

“Do everything” is not a strategy. And this is partially acknowledged deep inside the Grow the Audience report. Section Six, Develop Market by Market Strategies for Audience Growth, rules out investing resources in growing the audience at stations in markets 51 or smaller.

Even if smaller markets are not included in project, the reality is that there aren’t enough resources to serve the objectives listed above. It would be a waste to spread limited funds across such a large swath of activities. Further prioritization is necessary to make smart, effective investments in audience growth.

The Grow the Audience report is silent on that prioritization process. We believe the difficult decisions about who gets help and who gets left behind should be fully transparent. Hopefully, CPB and the SRG will address this in future reports.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010: A Defining Year for Public Radio

What happens in 2010 will have a significant impact on what public radio looks like in 2019.

This year, more than any other, will define the future relationships among stations, program producers, networks, and the audience. This is the year where the actions of the networks, particularly NPR, will determine whether the majority of stations will thrive or languish in the new media marketplace. This is the year when CPB, through the Grow the Audience project, will set funding priorities that determine which markets and public radio entities will be targeted for growth and which ones will not.

If the events of 2009 were any indication of what’s to come in 2010, then public radio can expect a further fracturing of the industry between the current “haves” and “have-nots.” Here are two examples:

  • NPR’s current revenue strategy for the mobile web excludes stations. In fact, NPR is considering charging stations for the right to offer newsmagazine content on-demand. Put another way, NPR is eyeing station fees as a possible source of revenue for its own mobile strategy. You can read more about it in Current.

  • CPB’s Grow the Audience project, which on the surface looks like the “No Public Radio Child Left Behind” program, will out of necessity have to fund relatively few, high impact projects. There’s not enough money to create incentives to get everything done.
We’ll explore these and other industry-defining challenges in upcoming posts. In the meantime, stations not wishing to be left behind need to start thinking aggressively if they want to stay competitive on-line and in the public radio industry.

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