Podcasts Helping NPR Grow While Others Are Shrinking

Apr 26th, 2009 | By | Category: Audio Podcasting, Commentary, Podcasting

Traditional radio, like newspapers, faces a bleak future, with audiences turning into portable media and radio ad revenues plummetting. National Public Radio, though, is beating the odds, growing while other broadcasters and news sources are collapsing.

Fast Company suggests that early adoption of podcasting may be one of the reasons for NPR’s success:

“We have to skate where the puck is going,” says NPR CEO Vivian Schiller.

An hour-long episode of This American Life about the financial crisis, The Giant Pool of Money, demonstrated how easily a strong NPR show can be repurposed as multiple digital streams.

It has been downloaded as a podcast more than half a million times and spawned a thrice-weekly NPR podcast and blog, Planet Money, which are getting 1 million downloads and 400,000 page views a month, respectively.

But NPR’s digital efforts are much broader. It was the first mainstream-media organization to enter podcasting and often has several programs in the iTunes top 10. An open platform introduced last year allows listeners to mix their own podcasts and otherwise play around with NPR content — one fan built an NPR iPhone app. And NPR is putting all of its editorial employees — every editor, producer, and reporter — through multimedia training, with support from the Knight Foundation. Traffic on NPR.org grew 78% from 2007 to 2008.

NPR’s numbers show how powerful it can be to let people download and listen to content on their own schedule.  This American Life‘s Ira Glass has said his podcast increased his audience by an half million people.

And podcasts aren’t just growing NPR’s audience, they are helping to ensure NPR’s future: the age of NPR’s median radio listener is 49; its median podcast listener is 33.

While podcasts have been wildly successful at growing NPR’s audience, they haven’t saved the organization from the pressures facing many other broadcasters. NPR is still struggling to figure out how to make podcasts help its bottom line and NPR member stations see the podcasts as competition.

What do you think? Do broadcasters need podcasts to survive? Will NPR’s bold leap into podcasting pay off?

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3 Responses to “Podcasts Helping NPR Grow While Others Are Shrinking”

  1. Rob Blatt says:

    The main thing that NPR realizes is that most of their shows have little value NOT being in the hands of the public. This American Life posts the previous week’s episode for free and that’s it. If you’re really interested, you’ll either buy it on iTunes for $0.95 or on Audible. The shows that are time sensitive are pretty useless a few weeks after the news has broken. There’s little value in selling an episode of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me that’s two years old, so it only makes sense to get value through advertising in the mp3s.

    NPR gets it more than any other radio company, but CBS is coming close with their online player. I love the idea of listening to any CBS station nationwide online.

  2. LMAZUR says:

    I recently sent an email to NPR giving them props for the excellent podcasts they create from their on air programming. I also asked why they hadn’t yet tried the flip side – using a group selected podcasts to create a block of on air NPR programming. Comedy, commentary, talk have some great examples in the world of podcasts and it would be a great source of cheap programming and great publicity for the emerging media of podcasting to have NPR get in front of adopting. Package 3-4 ten minute podcasts with multiple episodes with a few short ones thrown in between in a one hour daily or weekly NPR show.

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