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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, Paul Jacobs here.

I appreciate your perspective on the talk I gave in Las Vegas this week. I knew going in that my comments had potential to be mis-interpreted, because of the importance of the Audience 98 study. My point in bringing it up was not to diminish the findings, but to contextualize them. To reinforce that intent, let me share with you direct quotes from the script:

"This was an outstanding project that set a strong foundation for public radio."

"I'm not discounting the findings and their importance on how public radio has grown due to this study. In fact, the findings should remain at the core of what public radio is about today and in the future."

"While the project's core findings remain essential, it's imperative to look through the windshield at the new landscape of public radio and view the findings in today's context."

My point in bringing this up is that the America that exists today, and the media ecosystem that public radio lives in, are decidedly different than when this study was fielded. Audience 98 does an excellent job identifying the foundation for public radio for the audience and media structure that existed at that time. That time is over.

That's why I encouraged leaders like yourself to conduct Audience 15, 16, and 17. Let's look not just at current public radio listeners (who are primarily aging, Caucasian baby boomers)and let's look at the potential growth opportunities that exist with the 131 million members of Generations X and Y who are more diverse, have different media habits, are more engaged with technology as sources for information and entertainment, have different journalistic filters, etc.

I brought this up because it's important that public radio continue to focus on its future, while building on its past. I mean no slight to the work that you and others did back in 98, and I'm encouraging you and those same leaders to approach the future with the same gusto.

Thanks for starting the conversation.

Paul Jacobs

8:15 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

Hi Paul. Thanks for writing. I don't feel you slighted my work or the quality of Audience 98 at all. And I did hear everything you said about Audience 98 that you've noted in your reply.

But I also saw you equate Audience 98 to Windows 98 and other obsolete products and services from the end of that decade. It was an extraordinarily powerful set of images and it was the context you created for your remarks. And at the end of your session, a former NPR board chair stood up and thanked you for turning Audience 98 into an historical document.

I think that's really unfortunate. I get that things have to change. We work with stations on that all of the time. But what has happened is that the audience/economic blueprint for success revealed by Audience 98 has been buried and eulogized without a even an outline of a first draft of a blueprint for the future.

Maybe this helps explain why NPR struggled for the past 5 years to find a suitable leader.

9:55 AM  

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