Our blog post yesterday, focusing on the dilemma commercial and public radio broadcasters face in the area of digital asset promotion, struck a nerve. Actually, a number of them. The thorny issue of radio promoting its digital assets is at the core of the industry's transformative challenge as it adapts from a transmitter/tower only model to one where content is available on myriad sources.
Regarding the NPR side of the post, their memo focusing on curtailing the promotion of podcasts and their NPR One app (at least for now) has been widely discussed and frequently misinterpreted.
Among the many different voices that weighed in on the topic, my friend and colleague, Mark Ramsey, took a very different stance than mine. And so I’m making optimal use of this space by respectfully calling him out (knowing full well that a response from him will likely be forthcoming). These are the dialogues that make radio a continually fascinating industry, especially at times like these when so much is at stake.
Mark’s position (please check out his post here) is that NPR’s policy on not promoting its podcasting effort is crazy like a fox (to use his words) for two reasons. First, the move will make its legions of local stations happy. But more to Mark’s point, on-air promotion of these digital assets is largely unnecessary because most NPR listeners have already discovered this content on their own.
Mark uses himself as an example, but in fact, he’s a bleeding edge, enlightened pro who knows his way around the media block. After all, it takes a smart, savvy media guru to pull off a conference like his Hivio.
Mark suggests that research would probably back him up. But the fact is, many in public radio have already conducted the survey Mark is volunteering to create, only to discover that a sizable percentage of fans simply aren’t aware of all the different ways they can enjoy NPR and local public radio station content. In fact, many regular listeners are hard-pressed to know what time On The Media Airs on Saturday morning, much less its on-demand workaround on the NPR or local station websites.
Yes, even core NPR members (many of whom are north of 50 years-old) don’t have all the digital avenues and pathways figured out. Part of the larger difficulty is the more complicated media times in which we all live. Between smartphones, “connected cars,” smart TVs, and all the other hardware and software in our lives, only digital natives have sorted it all out.
For the rest of us, there may be that awkward feeling of constantly falling behind because of the proliferation of new social media platforms, clever new mobile apps, and other must-have gadgetry designed to improve our lives.
Over the years, we’ve heard and seen a lot of this in public radio studies. Even as P1s may appreciate the new pathways and content options, simply keeping up with the programming and how, when, and where it can be accessed can be challenging for many in the public radio community.
And that’s why radio has such an incredible advantage over other media. You see this particularly at events like Podcast Movement where the number one challenge facing content creators is how to get the word out about their beloved podcasts. When you work for a radio station, however, this isn’t a problem because of the medium's powerful reach and its ability to move audience to different programming streams and outlets.
Many point to Serial as the breakout podcast that started the recent flurry over on-demand programming. But in fact, Serial‘s debut was originally broadcast on the air on a little show called This American Life. Would the word of mouth and buzz have happened anyway because of the quality of Serial? Of course, but it sure didn’t hurt that it was originally showcased on one of public radio’s most successful shows.
Interestingly, one of the key campaigns launched by NPR’s resourceful CEO, Jarl Mohn, is the “Spark Initiative.” Kicked off nearly two years ago, the idea behind “Spark” is a more creative, focused promotional effort to build greater awareness and create listening occasions for two of NPR’s “tent pole” shows – Morning Edition and All Things Considered. The fact this campaign has been effective speaks to the wisdom behind marshalling local station efforts to better market these shows to an already loyal audience.
But this isn't a public radio thing. It's a radio thing. Despite the digital competition, there is no better medium for building audience than radio. The greater good for both public and commercial radio is smart, consistent promotion of its efforts, both terrestrial and digital.
Radio has what everyone else wants – the chance to reach nearly everybody.
In the long run, public radio would benefit from more aggressive promotion and marketing of its digital assets. But of course, it’s complicated.
In fact, it’s gnarly.
Hopefully, we'll hear from Mark and many of you, so please share your comments below.