There is a really interesting piece on Slate telling an all too familiar story.
Seeing that the median age of its listeners has been creeping slowly up from 45 to 54, NPR is in the throes of trying to make itself relevant to…yes, you know this one…a younger audience.
In some respects NPR’s problem is worse than that of the non-profit arts. In one case, the person telling NPR’s Foundation they need to appeal to a younger demographic had, unbeknownst to them, been hired away by Amazon subsidiary Audible. He is only one of many that were hired away or choose to strike off on their own.
Just as there is a recurring conversation in the arts that they are too beholden to a narrow segment of stakeholders, NPR also finds itself conflicted between innovation and catering to the demands of its funding sources.
The tumult was touched off in late March, when an NPR executive announced that the network’s own digital offerings—most importantly, its marquee iPhone app, NPR One—were not to be promoted during shows airing on terrestrial radio.
The ban was widely viewed as proof that NPR is less interested in reaching young listeners than in placating the managers of local member stations, who pay handsome fees to broadcast NPR shows and tend to react with suspicion when NPR promotes its efforts to distribute those shows digitally. After the gag order was made public, dozens of public radio and podcasting people set about picking at an old scab—discussing, spiritedly, in multiple forums, whether the antiquated economic arrangements that govern NPR’s relationships with its member stations are holding it back from innovation.
I was totally unaware of the NPR One app but according to Slate author Leon Neyfakh, it is pretty awesome and replicates the car based NPR listening experience- “it makes me wish my commute to work was longer.”
If you have read or participated in any conversations about the problems faced by the arts, you will find that NPR is wrestling with many of the same issues: Trying to appeal to too wide an audience versus focusing on specific segments; losing audience to other media channels (podcasts in this case); addressing serious topics vs. providing entertaining content (which is not to say you can’t do both, but there are some serious topics that require a serious approach.)
In other respects, NPR is way ahead of the non-profit arts in general. They may be playing a little catch up with podcasts and losing talent to other companies, but they are gathering valuable data about their audience behavior via the NPR One app. One of the things they have learned is that people skip the serious news content fewer times than anything else. People see value in one of their core activities and they have the data to prove it.
Certainly thanks to the efforts of many research projects, the arts also have data about what audiences value. The data collection method just isn’t as nimble yet.
Since there are a number of NPR and aligned radio shows/podcasts that take to the road for live shows, I wonder if there is any opportunity for adoption/sharing/development of data collection techniques.