Jacobs: When frequent listeners go to cable news or Jon Stewart . . . 

‘You’re losing your biggest fans’

Published in Current, March 2, 2009
By Karen Everhart

Public radio can “stop worrying” about competition from satellite radio but must overhaul its strategy for web distribution, advised radio researcher Paul Jacobs Feb. 19 [2009] at the Integrated Media Association’s Public Media Conference.

Jacobs based his remarks on findings of last fall’s Public Radio Technology Survey by his consulting company, Jacobs Media. NPR, IMA and the Public Radio Program Directors Association commissioned the survey to begin tracking media-usage trends year to year. Researchers polled 30,000 listeners, mostly donors to the 70 participating stations.

The survey, fielded during the fall election campaign, asked listeners to name their “heavily used sources” for election coverage. Nearly 60 percent said NPR News reports or NPR programs; 51 percent said they relied on their favorite pubradio station. But cable news, national newspapers, PBS and The Daily Show outranked NPR.org, which was a source for 16 percent of those surveyed. Five percent cited their stations’ websites.

“This struck us as the weakest thing about public radio from this study,” Jacobs said, referring to the online-news rankings. “A lot has to be done to beef up the web strategy of this whole system. . . . “You’re losing your grip on your biggest fans. . . . [T]hey’re going to Comedy Central instead of you to follow the election.”

Jacobs contrasted the differing habits of two pubradio audience segments: “young” listeners, ages 25-54, and extremely loyal listeners 55 and older with more traditional media habits.

The challenge for public radio is to figure out how to keep the younger listeners “on their own turf, on their terms,” Jacobs said. “If you’re going to engage this audience, this is where they are living,” Jacobs said, flipping to a slide on MP3 usage. Sixty-eight percent of the younger listeners own MP3 players, compared to 36 percent of those 55-plus. More of the younger segment also have embraced Internet radio and video streams.

Twelve percent of respondents listen to Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, but based on their satisfaction rate and commitment to continue subscribing, Jacobs discounted satellite radio’s continued viability. “Of all the threats you have to deal with, this isn’t one of them,” he said.

Listener response to pubradio’s addition of local HD Radio channels is seriously lagging, the survey indicated. Only 3 percent of surveyed listeners own receivers capable of picking up the digital broadcasts, even though nearly half said they are aware of HD Radio. Eleven percent said they were “very likely” to buy a radio for as much as $200, compared to 65 percent who were “somewhat” or “not at all” likely.

Survey findings, including analysis for various station formats, are posted at prpd.org. IMA offers a video stream of Jacobs’ presentation at integratedmedia.org.                    

Web page posted March 6, 2009
Copyright 2009 by Current LLC


The full report is posted on the site of the Public Radio Program Directors Association.

Jacobs Media of Southfield, Mich., bills itself as the leading rock radio consulting firm, but works for other broadcasters as well.


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