Sep 18, 2009

The curious case of the dwindling audience

News of a shrinking audience is unsettling, even if there are technical arguments to be made about why the news isn't what it appears to be.

As James Rainey reports, KCRW (where I work) lost a huge chunk of its estimated audience when Arbitron changed the device used to calculate its ratings. In spring 2008, under the old diary method, KCRW had 539,000 listeners a week. This year, using the new people meters, the number dropped to 289,000.

From the story:
"This has been a growing concern over the last several months, since we started seeing the new numbers," said one member of the KCRW foundation board, who asked not to be named for fear of angering station management. "You can quibble with the numbers. But even if they are just true relatively speaking, then we should be asking what they mean."
Of course, there are many explanations as to why the people meter fails to capture KCRW's core audience - younger people, people who listen on iPods or computers, people in other countries. Indeed, KCRW has the largest online audience of any local public radio station in the country and fund-raising remains steady.

Again, from Rainey:
Making all the number-crunching somewhat academic, at least for now, is the station's other bottom line. It has lost little, if any, appeal with subscribers, counting more than 50,000 of them. With corporate underwriting thrown in, the station raised a total of $12.5 million in the most recent fiscal year.

The key challenge will be similar to the one facing many media, including newspapers, Lavine said. That is: finding ways to make money off the Internet audience.
Public radio, like all other media, is still trying to figure out the Internet. While donations are stable for now, there's a real concern that a more fragmented audience may become less loyal to the programming - no matter how good it is.

No comments: