Friday, November 21, 2014

Audience 98: Enduring Insights or Now Useless Information?

Yesterday's keynote speech at the Public Radio Super Regional meeting was by Paul Jacobs. He's a radio researcher, radio web app developer, and the incoming Board Chair of Greater Public -- the trade association for fundraising, development, and marketing professionals in public radio and public TV.

Early in his speech, Jacobs took exception to public radio's continued use of findings from a major industry research study published in the late 1990s -- Audience 98

Jacob's criticism was that the research was conducted in 1998. He accentuated that point with a pretty funny set of images of products and services from 1998 that are no longer with us... like Windows 98.

That was it. Audience 98 is old and therefore no longer of value.  "Get over it," he said.

It made for a good laugh. But it also got me to revisit my thinking about Audience 98 and whether its findings could help public radio grow and thrive in this never-ending age of digital disruption. I think the answer is "yes."  And, instead of getting over it, I'm thinking perhaps more people need to get into it. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I worked on the Audience 98 research and I contributed to several Audience 98 reports. After careful consideration of any bias I might have towards my past work, I still think the answer is "yes." 

That's because 16 years later, we continue to successfully apply the lessons learned from Audience 98 in our consulting work with public radio stations and producers. Audience 98 has become especially valuable as we work with people new to public radio who don't know much about the audience and the intersection of listening, values, and giving. It's amazing to see what they can accomplish in radio, in the digital space, and in fundraising once they have that understanding.

Why has Audience 98 endured?

I believe it is because Audience 98 wasn't really a radio research project. It was a research-based blue print for increasing public radio's public service and long-term financial self-sufficiency. Unlike commercial radio research, which is generally designed to help boost the immediate ratings and is expected to have a short shelf life, Audience 98 was designed to provide insights that would stand the test of time. 

What do you think?

Below are a few of the essential insights from Audience 98. Each insight is backed by very specific, actionable research findings to help public radio get more listeners, more listening, and increased financial support from listeners.

I encourage you to spend some time with each of these insights. Ask yourself, "Are these lessons stuck in 1998?" "Are they limited to radio only or could they apply to listening via mobile devices and the desktop?" "Could they apply to public radio generated content that people might read on a mobile device or the desktop?"  "What new information could make them even more valuable to the decisions public radio leaders face today?"

Public radio transcends simple demographics to speak to listeners’ interests, values, and beliefs.
  •       People listen to public radio programming because it resonates with their interests, values, and beliefs. This appeal generally cuts across age, sex and race.
  •       Appeal can also cut across program genres and format types. Different programs and formats may appeal to the same kind of listener as long as they stay focused on that listener’s interests, values, and beliefs.
  •       Changes in the sound and sensibility of programming can alter its appeal. When programming appeal changes, so does the kind of listener it attracts.

Public service begets public support.
  •       Listeners send money to public radio when they rely upon its service and consider it important in their lives.
  •       They are also more inclined to send money when they believe their support is essential and government and institutional funding is minimal.
  •       Public support, like public service, is the product of two factors: the value listeners place on the programming, and the amount of listening done to the programming.
What's your opinion?  Are you over it or into it?  Here's the link to the source material and the entire Audience 98 series of reports if you want more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Is Local News the New Classical Music?

Digital News Guru Ken Doctor presented the opening session today at the public radio Super-Regional meeting in Las Vegas. 

His premise.  Local news presents a great opportunity for public radio.

His logic. There is great potential in the digital space for national news. Jobs are growing in this sector. There's more than $40 billion in digital advertising out there.  And local news in trouble. Revenues are way down. More than 20,000 jobs have been lost. There is a dearth of local reporting and this represents opportunity for public media.

This is the same logic that was used to program public radio in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Public radio was the place to program dying formats.

The problem, as public radio learned by the late 1980s, is that picking up the failed scraps from commercial media does not make for a viable business model.

We often forget that the success public radio has enjoyed over the past several decades came from inventing something new -- a national news, information, and entertainment service delivered locally that created a non-geographic sense of community among  like-minded listeners.  Public radio built a great multi-stream revenue model on this service.  It is the same model being pursued by the start-ups in the national digital new business.

Focusing on local to the detriment of national is to abandon what has made the public radio business model work.

So what does this have to do with classical music?

There has been somewhat of a classical music radio revival in major markets of late. Stations such as WQXR in New York, KING in Seattle, and KDFC in San Francisco flipped from commercial radio to public radio with great success.

These markets are sufficiently large to accommodate the financial needs of classical music radio stations. But most markets are not. That's why they import their classical from syndicated services.
More important, these are brands committed to classical music full-time. They succeed because of their singular focus, their singular appeal.

News is not the singular appeal of public radio.  National and local news can have very different appeals.

This valuable lesson, first learned in the 1980s, still applies today.  Putting too much local content into today’s service is the same problem as trying to have NPR News, Classical, Jazz, Folk, and 8 others types of programming on a single station. It works against the principle of focusing formats based on the appeal of the content. 

If there is a future in local news for public radio, it is establishing a separate service with a separate brand. It is inventing something new that stands on its own. Adding too much local to the current public radio station brand will diminish, not enhance, the brand.