One of the most interesting things about working for Jacobs Media is that we’re a company that is equally comfortable in both the commercial and public radio sectors. We have learned a great deal from each side of the broadcasting aisle, allowing us to share insights with each respective group of radio operators. It wasn’t always this way. Back in college, I did research for East Lansing’s public broadcasting outlets, WKAR-FM and TV. But the foundation of my career was spent in the commercial radio sector.
That was until the year 2000 when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting brought us on board to conduct an industry scan for public radio, analyzing the landscape during those years when emerging technology was in the air, and most broadcasters were grappling to figure out what it all meant. It was called “The Territory Project,” and it ended up being the equivalent of a PhD dissertation on the state of media at the turn of the century – or millennium.
We never looked back. And over the years, we’ve valued our association with networks like NPR, American Public Media, Public Radio International, and the Public Radio Exchange. We’ve worked closely with numerous local public radio outlets, and we now have eight annual Public Radio Techsurveys under our belt, providing insights to the system about the changing nature of the audience.
These studies continue to reveal a schism in the public radio core audience. The bedrock has traditionally been made up of the massive Baby Boomer audience. They comprise not just the biggest listener group, but also the core of membership and donation – the financial lifeblood of public radio.
But as that audience ages out, and many iconic public radio shows and hosts retire, attention turns to the up and coming generation – Millennials. In many ways, public radio networks and individual stations have done a masterful job adapting to new technology and cutting-edge distribution outlets. Public radio has long led the industry in podcasting, and has been well-situated in the mobile environment with apps, whether on smartphones, tablets, or dashboards.
Platforms like NPR One are perfectly positioned to connect with young listeners, eager to personalize and customize their public radio experience. Our new Public Radio Techsurvey 8 reveals increasing usage for this innovative app, especially among members of Gen Y.
There are now more Millennials than Baby Boomers – a cold, hard statistical fact of life. And you'd think that marketers and content creator would be on firmer footing in connecting with this generation. But there are so many misnomers and misconceptions about these young consumers. And that hit home for us when we saw this clever video ad for Chevy Cruze that gets everything wrong about Millennials in the process of getting it right.
The Millennial challenge is a profound one – something that we see each year in the aforementioned PRTS studies. In the newest edition presented to stakeholders earlier in the month, our Media Usage Pyramid starkly compares tech habits and usage patterns between Boomers and Millennials. I’ve designated areas where Boomers outperform their children with little Bob Dylan icons – and it’s mostly traditional media consumption, like radio, TV, newspapers, HD radio, and satellite radio.
But then there are the dimensions where Millennials eclipse their parents and grandparents – marked with Jack White (White Stripes, Raconteurs, etc.) icons. From streaming to social to mobile to podcasts, Generation Y not only embraces new media but it is part of their DNA.Like our PRTS studies, there's no shortage of revealing, informative data. A new report from Vision Critical landed in my in-box last week. Their study is called “The Everything Guide To Millennials,” and it's a well-executed generational comparison across multiple generations that's worth your time.
But this statistical evidence, along with any number of other research studies and Nielsen ratings, merely scratch the surface of the Millennial mindset in the public radio space. They may address behavior, but almost always fall short when it comes to providing context and a narrative that programmers and marketers can use to guide their decision-making. That’s why the Public Radio Program Directors association – or PRPD – has stepped up to dig deeper and untangle the Gen Y conundrum.
A group of 15 stations – from markets as big as New York (WNYC) and Chicago (WBEZ) to regional entities like Vermont Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio – has come together to fund a nationwide qualitative study designed to take a deeper dive into the attitudes, opinions, and lifestyles of Millennials and their media habits. PRPD President, Jody Evans, has been the driver of this project, championing the importance of public radio being in the forefront of this endeavor.
Jacobs Media will be conducting both one-on-one interviews among members of Gen Y, and then we’ll dust off our ethnographic chops and spend entire days with young consumers, studying and observing their media and entertainment lives, while uncovering insights about how to best connect with them in this rapidly shifting environment.
We’re no strangers to this research regimen having conducted ethnographic studies for Arbitron with “The Bedroom Project” in ’07, and “Goin’ Mobile” three years later. The former was comprised of all young people, while some of the richest mobile info we uncovered in the latter came from Millennial consumers who were already well ahead of the pack when it came to smartphone emersion.
For PRPD and this “station-sourced” research study, we hope “The Millennial Project” will be groundbreaking, providing a deeper understanding of the changing media world and the generation that’s driving the change.
Like so many other industries attempting to adapt, pivot, and adjust, the radio industry needs R&D investment to provide the intelligence to guide programmers, strategists, and marketers as they navigate the roiling waters of societal and technological change.
We applaud PRPD and the “coalition of the willing” stations that are investing in their collective future.
Now let's get to work.
For more information about involvement in “The Millennial Project,” contact Jody Evans here.
I will be presenting the key findings of PRTS8 at the upcoming PRPD Conference in Phoenix next month.
- In Radio, Whatever Happened To “4 And Out The Door?” - December 7, 2023
- An Open (News)Letter To Radio - December 6, 2023
- The Case For Handcrafted Radio - December 5, 2023