Stephen Lasko, general manager of WTMD, a public radio station in the Baltimore market, writes (11/10/2005): "WTMD recently conducted a survey of our listeners and members that included questions about their Podcasting habits. I thought I would share it with you. If you would like to go over the data, including some slicing and dicing, give me a call. ¶ WTMD currently podcasts our artist interviews (sans music) and our Media and Pop Culture Analysis program, Clear Reception. ..." To read the rest of this post to a PRX list, click the continuation link below. Used by permission. --Dennis
WTMD recently conducted a survey of our listeners and members that included questions about their Podcasting habits. I thought I would share it with you. If you would like to go over the data, including some slicing and dicing, give me a call.
WTMD currently podcasts our artist interviews (sans music) and our Media and Pop Culture Analysis program, Clear Reception.
This was a not a statistically accurate survey by any means. The survey was primarily a tool for listeners and members to tell us which songs we are considering for our first live in studio CD are their favorites. The Podcasting questions were tacked on to this. While the survey was posted on our website for anyone to answer, we solicited our High Contact folks by email solicitation. High Contact means we acquired their email address through membership, listener originated inquiry about WTMD or a voluntary sign up for our e-newsletter. These are pretty much the folks who want to super serve not only with our programming but with all our services. Nearly 350 listeners responded, 58% identified themselves as members.
And of course, WTMD is a full time AAA station, so we can’t really draw any conclusions about NPR News intensive listeners. Percentages have been rounded.
• iPods rule! 36% of respondents own an iPod. 17% own another kind of MP3 Player. Of respondents who receive any podcast, the iPod ownership jumps to 90% and other MP3 Players goes down to 10%.
• --Only-- 21% of iPod/MP3 owners actually get Podcasts. We were specifically interested in folks who take podcasts with them on their players, not folks who listen to podcasts solely at the computer. That’s the significant change here. The ability to make an out of market station’s content portable in another market.
Podcasting is hardly a universal activity among all our listeners, but it is prevalent enough among members and potential members to make the resources required to perform this activity a prudent investment. Of course the question remains---are we at the beginning, middle or end of a trend or can it be that Podcasting will evolve into a “real” media choice for the majority of our listeners?
• How Many? 45% of WTMD’s podcasters subscribe to 1-2 podcasts. 44.5% subscribe to between 2-5. 3% to 5-7 and 10% to 7 or more. Clearly most listeners are not building up huge libraries of content.
• Podcasters make us waste money! Only 21% of podcasters actually listen to every podcast they download. And only 37% listen to most of what they download. Worse, in financial terms of the bandwidth required to service these listeners, 19% listen to “less than half” or “just a few” of what they download, leaving 22% listening to half of what they take off the buffet table. My, the sounds of money being flushed down the toilet haven’t been this loud since when we thought public radio listeners would love on-line chats with the hosts!
• Podcaster Addicts don’t exist, but pigs at the trough do. While slicing the data this far down makes it statistically unreliable, heavy podcasters, subscribing to 5 or more podcasts, listen to very few of them. 80% listened to half, less than half or very few. 0% listened to all of what they download.
• iTunes is king. That’s what 82% of listeners use to subscribe to podcasts. 13% couldn’t recall what they use and only 5% use iPodder. While we didn’t ask at what site they visited at time of subscription, I think this pretty much infers that iTunes is the only thing that really matters, though we continue get a significant number of hits to our Podcasting instruction page at wtmd.org. In retrospect, we should have asked where they were when the made they subscription. But I think we can safely say that iTunes plays a big, if not nearly exclusive, part of the subscription process.
• Younger doesn’t mean hipper. Nearly 46% of listeners under 34 own an iPod with another 18% owning another brand of MP3 player. However, only 22% of these folks podcast, mirroring the over all universe. 19% of folks over 34 podcast. However, the older folks tend to subscribe to fewer podcasts, with everyone responding saying they receive five or fewer podcasts. For the younger folks, 23% said they receive more than five podcasts, but then again 46% of them said they listen to half or less of what they receive.
• What do they subscribe to? This is a tough one. WTMD believes that radio is best as an intensely local service. Therefore we only promote our own podcasts on the air. The only mention of NPRs’ portal is a promo in World Café, and frankly I believe promos for national Podcasting portals have no place in national programs. Promoting this service should be at the member stations discretion. We listed several podcasts in addition to our own in the survey. WTMD interviews were the most subscribed to, as one might expect. All Songs Considered and NPR Music were a close second along with Shortcuts from the World Café. Next was Clear Reception and then Morning Becomes Eclectic from KCRW. Other podcast cited were Sports, Al Franken, a Friends Podcast, NPR Science Friday, and (my favorite) The National Association of Photoshop Pros. A full list is in the report.
So what does this all mean? I’m not sure. Except that this is a very costly game to play with no sign that there is any real value in it to turn listeners into members. After all, even if you put a membership pitch in the cast, you’ve barely got a 50/50 chance it will be heard, let alone acted on.
Paul Marzeleck was criticized at the PRPD for suggesting that we charge for podcasts from non members. Frankly, I think he’s on to something. If I could independently set up a per download charge (not Audible, not NPR, not iTunes affiliated) where I could openly and honestly tell people that their fee directly and entirely supported the creation of the content they are downloading, I would set it up in a minute.
What concerns me is that we have a desire to provide more services to our listeners, especially in these new technologies like podcasting. It’s right and proper to claim this space, but on the other hand….we have CPB telling us that our net revenue is on a downward slope. Given the cost of these activities and the less than optimistic membership, and even underwriting, conversions are we shooting ourselves in the foot by not tying specific revenue generation to Podcasting and other innovation? After all, what would an underwriter pay for a medium where 50% of the downloads are not listened too?
One more fear. Until the internet came into full bloom, stations generally saw issues of bypass only in terms of their relationship with NPR: Major donor solicitations, streaming NPR programming on npr.org in real or delayed time, NPR supplying programming to Sirius radio. Podcasting does allow stations to extend their brand into other geographic areas with just one decision by the listener. Streaming at least requires the listener to make the decision each time to consume the out of market content.
One thing is for sure, bypass is now defined as a relationship between stations in differing markets as well as between stations and national organizations. When I look at the number of folks who are subscribing to podcasts from stations from other markets, I worry about TSL erosion for WTMD. Of course we each strive to be the best in servicing our listeners, and that now means making sure they don’t subscribe to content other providers are distributing with similar content and different packaging. Someone call Mark Burnett, it sounds like someone could get voted off dial if they don’t win the immunity challenge.
As is often said, This Changes Everything.