Friday, March 08, 2013

Public Radio 2018: Radio Still Rules

This is part two in our series on what public radio is likely to look like in 2018.  You can read part one by clicking here. In this posting, why public radio stations will still be, by far, the most significant source of listening to public radio content in 2018.

Simply put, listening to public radio stations dwarfs listening to public radio content digitally.   Let’s do the numbers.
  • In Spring 2012 more than 37 million people tuned in to public radio.^
  • The average number of weekly tune-ins per listener is around 7.5. +
  • That means public radio listeners chose to listen to public radio stations more than 13.5 billion times in 2012.
  • All of those tune-ins translated into more than 8 billion hours of listening.
  • Morning Edition was the biggest draw, attracting 12.3 million listeners per week.
  • More than a dozen public radio programs have weekly audience of 1 million or more.
By comparison:

  • This American Life claims to have one of the largest weekly podcast audiences with around 700,000 downloads per week.
  • While there’s no single source of web and mobile statistics, the most optimistic estimate today is that streaming listening equals 3% to 5% of radio listening.*
In rough numbers, digital-based listening would to double every year for the next five years to equal the amount of radio listening that public radio earns today.   That is – the web-based audience would have to increase 100% over the previous year, every year, for five years.

There’s no doubt that digital-based listening in all of its forms will play an important role in growing public radio’s audience.   But the idea that digital-based listening will become public radio’s leading source of audience by 2018 isn’t realistic.

Business strategies built on the assumption that radio audiences will be less important in 2018 than they are today are likely to be failed strategies.

^Source: NPR Audience Insight & Research
+Tune-in and TSL estimates with assistance from Audience Research Analysis
* NPR reported that in June 2012, the average aggregated web streaming audience to 88 stations it tracks was just under 7,200 people.  That means that the average streaming audience to any one station was less than 100 listeners.  It does not include mobile listening. We reached our conclusion using reasonable extrapolations to all public radio stations with mobile listening included.  Got better numbers? Please share them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you make of Arbitron's recent claim that "5 million people per week listen to AM/FM/HD content via streaming" (via RadioInk) - and that the majority of those (3.5m) are 18-49? (I assume that skews slightly younger than the typical PubRadio audience?). It seems quite hard to find actual 'apples to apples' comparison (numbers) between 'streaming/podcasting' listening/usage and traditional over the air listening - is this kind of data starting to emerge?

8:00 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

It’s a nice add-on to the radio audience. It’s like putting up a small repeater station. There’s nothing wrong with that. But to put that streaming number in a different context, the number one Cume station in NYC has 5.4 million weekly listeners. So 5million people using *all* of the measured streams in the entire U-S wouldn't be number one in NYC. 5 million is 2.2% of all weekly radio users in the U-S, which is 242.8 million. And as a side note, Arbitron does not specify that these listeners are not in the weekly radio Cume. Many of them could be using broadcast radio and streaming radio. Radio is huge. It's going to be huge for a long time before it is not, even in a rapidly changing media landscape.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Aaron Read said...

The physics and the politics simply do not support the kind of growth in wireless communication capacity (i.e. cellphone data bandwidth) necessary to even come close to matching AM/FM. We're talking orders of magnitude of difference.

The physics don't allow it due to the Shannon-Hartley Theorem. You'd have to have UltraWideBand communications systems that took up the entire radio spectrum. EVERYTHING. A practical impossibility. Politics also don't allow it because it takes years to get any cellphone tower through the zillions of local zoning boards that control placement and height of such installation. We'd need millions more towers to go up, and that'll take decades to occur.

Plus this conveniently overlooks that radio has any internet-based delivery system beaten in spades when it comes to simplicity. No internet based delivery system will EVER be as simple as AM/FM already are, nor have such clearly-defined and -understood methods of operation and expectations of reliability. It literally cannot be done in a two-way communications method that the internet is.

The rub here is that digital delivery methods do not have be EQUAL to AM/FM. They only need to be effective ENOUGH to disrupt the revenue model of AM/FM to the breaking point. Unfortunately, that revenue model is so fragile that it won't take much to do so.

8:59 PM  

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