Wednesday, December 22, 2010
One of the great myths around public radio is that audiences would be bigger if only more people knew about it. If only public radio could advertise with the big boys...
Researcher David Giovannoni challenged this thinking beginning in the 1980s. His point, which is proven once again by the 170 Million Americans project, is that public radio's total audience is much bigger than the Weekly Cume audience.
Giovannoni pointed out that Weekly Cume audience estimates are a necessary, but artificial snapshot of the audience. The Weekly Cume is necessary for advertising and public relations. People need a number they can wrap their heads around and compare to other stations and media outlets. The Weekly Cume is artificial because it stops counting new listeners to the station after seven days -- as if everyone who might listen to a station absolutely will listen within a seven day period.
Giovannoni called this the Cume Trap. The concept is simple. Public radio leadership could get trapped in its thinking about its public service potential if it gave too much weight to the Weekly Cume versus other, more useful public service metrics.
In one of his Radio Intelligence* reports for the industry newspaper Current, Giovannoni showed how public radio's audience was likely to grow if measure by the month or even the year. The Monthly Cume, based on Arbitron's diary measurement system, would be somewhere around 42% larger than the Weekly Cume.
Fast forward to today. The Station Resource Group (SRG) just put together a monthly audience estimate for all of Public Media as part of the effort to defend Federal Funding. Using Arbitron PPM and diary measurements, the SRG puts the monthly audience for public radio at 64.7 million listeners. That's more than double the current weekly audience of 30 millions listeners.
Imagine! There are twice as many people who know about public radio than reported in the Weekly Cume. Some of those are passive listeners. They are exposed to public radio through someone else's listening in a car or at work. But most of those listeners know about public radio and where to find it on the dial. They simply choose to listen less than once per week.
This group of people, they represent growth potential. Public radio just has to give them reasons to listen more frequently. This is not a new concept.
These very fringe listeners have always been the source of public radio's audience growth. They knew about public radio before the first Gulf War and when it broke, they turned to public radio for the news. They knew about public radio before 9/11 and when their understanding of the world was shaken apart, they knew where to turn to piece it together again.
They come when they need public radio and, unlike audiences for many of the cable news networks, many stay in the Weekly Cume. They value the news. They get hooked on the entertainment programs. They become Core listeners. They give.
Some don't stay. But they will listen on occasion. Right now, the SRG is saying that there more than than 30 million of these very fringe listeners who are only partially served by public radio. Who are these listeners? Are they older? Younger? From different ethnic groups? What brings them to public radio? What keeps them from listening more?
As the industry ponders how to Grow the Audience, they seem like a very good place to focus the effort.
* Read Radio Intelligence at ARA's website. Click this link then scroll down to and click on the the PDF for Radio Intelligence. Page 27