Would you like to look into the future to see what radio will become if broadcasters follow the advice of their harshest critics, the critics who say that radio is moving too slowly?
Look no further. The one organization that heard the digital herald calling most clearly was National Public Radio...I mean NPR. (They don’t want people using the R word when referring to them.)
NPR, under the leadership of NYTimes.com alumnus CEO Vivian Schiller, has pursued an aggressive agenda preparing for a digital future:
We are agnostic about whether somebody listens over broadcast or listens to the exact same radio stream on the Internet.
As younger generations are consuming content on their cellphones or on their iPhones or on their iPads or on their Android phones or whatever, we want to make sure that we're there. So it's very important for us to be on every platform.
So NPR is following the game-plan of those who declare that radio must move faster, lest it miss the digital revolution all together. Today, NPR listeners can find the same quality programming on pretty much every digital device they own.
Why the rush? Because Ms. Schiller thinks broadcast radio will be history in as little as five years:
In the next five to 10 years, Internet radio will take [the broadcast tower's] place, and there's no reason why we should be fearful about it. In fact we should embrace it, especially on mobile. Mobile is the second coming of radio. It has been a godsend for us, because mobile devices are so easy to take with you, and you can listen to any stream you want.
NPR's Audience Insight & Research group recently analyzed hour by hour broadcast, web, and mobile audiences to see how the three audiences vary through the day. You can find their analysis on the NPR research web site.
We looked at three key hours, 7:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, and 5:00 p.m. We graphed the number of broadcast, web, and mobile listeners separately during the three hours.
Based on their data, a whole lot has to change in a short period of time if Ms. Schiller’s predictions are to come true.
NPR’s digital audience is a tiny fraction of the organization’s total audience.
Despite the availability of NPR on virtually every digital device whether it be computer, iPhone, Blackberry, iPad, Android, or almost any other, only 2-5% of NPR’s audience is listening to the digital product in mornings, midday, or afternoons.
To hear Ms. Schiller speak, one would think that the death of broadcast radio is right around the corner. Yet to match NPR’s broadcast audience, the organization’s digital audience has to grow well over 2,000%! Even Pandora isn’t growing that fast.
NPR has reached radio’s digital utopia with its programming available on every possible digital platform, yet 95% of NPR listenership is still broadcast. Maybe NPR is National Public Radio after all.
What does the slow adoption of digital platforms on the part of NPR listeners say about the digital future of broadcast?
If NPR’s affluent well-educated tech-savvy audience is still overwhelming analog after NPR’s tremendous investment in digital, what is the chance that commercial stations will soon see a significant migration of listeners to digital?
None, certainly not in the time frame Ms. Schiller is predicting.
In a recent post we wrote that people who most confidently predict the future rarely fully understand the present.
The hyperventilating broadcast critics who tell radio that the sky will fall unless broadcasters abandon their analog ways need to first explain NPR’s overwhelmingly analog audience.
They need to explain why an organization that followed their advice and rapidly mobilized for a digital world is still primarily a group of FM radio stations.
Before declaring radio hopelessly out of touch by not rushing to embrace this brave new digital world, explain National Public Radio.