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How to Measure NPR’s Success in a Digital Age


Is NPR’s performance on the digital front a sign that radio’s digital evolution has stalled? Or, worse, that it’s just a big hairy mistake?

Harker’s basic point is right on: Broadcasters should direct some of their innovative attention towards content on traditional radio channels and not only experiment with all things digital.

I agree!

But saying innovative effort should be spread around is different from saying initiatives on the digital front are a waste. Yet that’s what Harker seems to say with the example of NPR, where he steps into a nasty quagmire.

Harker’s comments, as reported by NTSMediaOnline:

[Despite an] all out digital effort by NPR, the pubcaster’s streaming listening is reportedly down and over 93% of its listening still takes place on FM and AM radio. NPR is radio’s canary in the digital coal mine. If a multi-million dollar attempt to transform (‘don’t call it radio’) NPR into a digital product is already sputtering, what’s the likelihood we’ll be melting down broadcast towers and turning them into wind turbines anytime soon?

The piece Harker links refers to a decline in cumulative audience. But according to the most recent Triton ranker, “NPR Member Stations” current AAS for domestic streams is just over 34,000 – down slightly from the prior month, but up almost 50% since April 2013. In that same time, Pandora AAS are up by 30%, by the way. AAS is not Cume, of course, but clearly the numbers look different depending on how they’re sliced.

But there’s a larger issue: Harker sees only distribution channel silos, while modern consumers see content and solutions to their problems across platforms. Like many broadcasters, Harker is obsessed with distribution, while consumers care only about content wherever, whenever, and however they want it.

You may be selling radio, Mr. Broadcaster, but as an NPR consumer I’m buying information – knowledge – filtered through a perspective I consider trustworthy and authoritative. Whether or not it’s on the radio. As long as it comes from NPR.

Harker is judging a digital transformation by the degree to which radio listening translates into streaming listening where the totality of the brand is the totality of linear listening, only linear listening, and only listening!

That is a view of consumer behavior that ended with the first smartphone and the first millennial.

Instead, the transformation of radio in general and NPR in particular should be judged by whether or not consumers get what they want from the brand the way they want it and via the channels of their choice.

In other words, NPR is not radio, it’s a public service specializing in news and information and aimed at a particular audience. The goal of that service is to give that audience what it wants the way it wants it on the platforms fans choose. Radio is an important piece of that distribution platform just as DVD’s are an important piece of Universal Pictures’ distribution platform. But Universal is more than DVD’s and NPR is more than radio.

If I want my NPR news in article form, voila! There it is!

If I want my favorite NPR shows on demand rather than on a linear stream or radio station, thank you iTunes! Or Stitcher! Or Swell! Or AGOGO! Etc.

Indeed, the challenges of mobile consumers and their bite-size demands should feed back on NPR and stimulate more innovation for short-form content of all sorts, something which has generally not been their specialty. In that way, content innovation and technology innovation are united in their mission. It’s not one or the other, Mr. Harker, it’s both.

I don’t have the data at hand, but I’ll bet today more consumers are touched by more NPR-created content on more platforms and in more ways than ever before. And THAT is what digital transformation is all about.

You have to reach people where they are using the platforms that occupy their attention and their time in a form that matches the content to the platform. Traditional radio can’t reach consumers when they are substituting other technologies for radio.

For example, exactly how can traditional radio reach these folks right now?

(Not seeing the video? Click here.)

As I said at hivio last week:

Consumers don’t fall in love with a distribution channel.

They fall in love with content.

Be the content. Leverage the distribution.

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