Are Public Radio Websites Losing Audience?

The Shorenstein Center’s (pdf) Creative Destruction: An Explanatory Look at News on the Internet report has interesting data, particularly on public radio.

 

NPR’s website attracts more than a million unique visitors each month (see Figure 13). This amount is small in comparison with most brand-name sites, but large in comparison with most news-based sites. However, unlike the norm for brand-name sites, NPR’s site lost audience during the past year, falling from 1.8 million unique visitors in April 2006 to 1.4 million unique visitors in April 2007, a decline that exceeded 20 percent. The website audience of local public radio stations also declined during the period studied (Figure 14). On average, those in large and mid-sized markets had a 14 percent decrease in traffic, falling from 19,500 unique monthly visitors to 16,800.

Dan Kennedy posits that the decline in audience could be due to public radio’s podcasting success.

If you go to the podcast directory at the iTunes Store, you’ll see that NPR programs do very well. (Actually, so does the aforementioned “NewsHour.”) It could well be that the most Net-savvy of public radio’s listeners are going straight for the podcasts and not bothering to visit the Web sites. Podcasts are powerful; streaming audio (and video) is a loser.

Besides: I’m willing to bet that more than 90 percent of public radio is consumed in people’s cars. Even though public stations like Boston’s WBUR (90.9 FM) are trying to beef up their Web presence, the Web-print synergy that exists in the newspaper world has no analogue when it comes to radio.

Or, is Shorenstein’s data flawed? Beth Lawton summarizes criticisms of the report, and suggests we look deeply into the methodology.

the second sentence of the executive summary is: “In light of the continuing migration of Americans to online news, the evolving nature of Web technology, and the limits of our survey of websites, our assessments are necessarily speculative.”

The report writers noted in the methodology section, “We chose to take a thinner but wider look at Internet-based news, examining traffic to 160 sites over a yearlong period in an effort to compare categories of sites.” The sample size within each category was small, and numbers from some cities with two newspapers (Chicago, New York) were combined. The sample choices were intentionally not random. Further, the researchers chose to use statistics only from Compete.com, deciding to forgo cross-referencing numbers, rankings and trends from other site traffic measurement firms.

 

 

National Public Radio (NPR) is both a

national radio network and a national brand name.

NPR’s website attracts more than a million unique

visitors each month (see Figure 13). This amount is

small in comparison with most brand-name sites, but

large in comparison with most news-based sites.

However, unlike the norm for brand-name sites, NPR’s

site lost audience during the past year, falling from 1.8

million unique visitors in April 2006 to 1.4 million

unique visitors in April 2007, a decline that exceeded

20 percent.

The website audience of local public radio stations

also declined during the period studied (Figure 14).

33

On average, those in large and mid-sized markets had a

14 percent decrease in traffic, falling from 19,500

unique monthly visitors to 16,800.

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4 thoughts on “Are Public Radio Websites Losing Audience?

  1. Hi John,

    It’s Maria Thomas, VP & GM, NPR Digital Media. Thanks for your post. I wanted to share with you a few facts from NPR Digital Media and my observations on the Shorenstein report. Overall, I found the report simplistic in its approach and erroneous in its conclusions.

    First, some numbers. According to our internal measurements (we use Visual Sciences Web analytics software), NPR.org received on average over the last 12 months close to six million global unique monthly visitors. Nielsen NetRatings measures only U.S. unique visitors to NPR.org but even their figure is roughly three times the figure Compete.com is showing for NPR.org in July 2007. And, NPR.org is not alone in experiencing these differences.

    http://venturebeat.com/2007/02/22/traffic-measuring-continued-why-compete-doesnt-work-and-why-quantcast-does/

    There are all sorts of issues associated with different web metrics collection methodologies. In addition to Beth Lawson’s critique which you highlighted above, the Shorenstein report authors do point out in the footnotes:

    o “It should be noted that Compete’s data tend to differ from Nielsen//Net Ratings data on the “visits” variable. The latter’s numbers are higher across the board for news sites.

    Beyond the use of Compete.com as a measurement tool, I am disappointed by the author’s overall approach to considering audience measurement across multiple digital platforms.

    • Their conclusions seem to be narrowly based on site-by-site comparisons of one metric from two single months.

    • A month-over-month comparison provides a limited basis for conclusions. It’s more important to examine trends over time. One big story, exclusive or viral hit on any of these sites in April 06 or April 07 (included Virginia Tech tragedy) can cause a big shift in single-month numbers and possibly lead to erroneous conclusions.

    • Lines like this one: “An alternative variable [to "people count'] would have been “visitors,” which counts each visit to a site, even if it is a visit by an individual who has previously been to the site that month” (this is an incorrect definition according to standards set out by the Web Analytics Association; the metric they are defining is “visit” or “session”) betray a lack of familiarity with web analytics and a misunderstanding of the nature of how traffic ebbs and flows on the Web depending on many connected variables which are sometimes difficult to identify.

    • The report contains relatively little informed discussion of how audio and video streaming, podcasting and other forms of disaggregated content delivery (widgets, RSS, etc) build audience. For example, the suggestion that podcasting may be responsible for a decline in our NPR.org audience carries an implicit assumption that our podcasting audience is entirely duplicative of our online audience (not true). Also, what about the fact that companies like Compete.com (and Nielsen NetRatings too) don’t know how to incorporate audio/video streaming into their measurements. I care as much about an audience member who may have accessed NPR audio content directly through Yahoo! or through a NPR station site without ever going to NPR.org as I do about an audience member who consumes the same piece of audio content from NPR.org. The challenge is how to add those audience members.

    Incidentally, a few weeks ago I emailed the folks at Compete.com to invite them for a discussion of their methodologies and to explain what we see in our Web analytics. They did not write back.

    Maria Thomas
    VP & GM, NPR Digital Media

  2. Maria, thanks so much for this thorough response, i’m only sorry it’s taken me so long to acknowledge it. Good points all– I certainly fall into the category of a consumer of NPR.org content, though I rarely visit the site.

  3. I like and often admire the content of morning edition but the quality of the voices really irritates me. Rene M’s sing-song, high pitch entry sentences, ascending shrill questions, etc. cause me to switch stations; also her fliippant terminal comments. Steve I. talks too fast, interrupts at critical moments, is too dismissive and rude. Can’t some professional voice teacher also hear this? Can’t it be fixed?

  4. Number up or down it does’nt matter if NPR has the best input possible to work with, check out

    I find some of the climate info could be down better particularly
    on the oceans and current info and how the weather is being generated , and therefore drought, rain and snow, hot and cold weather. Everyone is leaning including NPR.

    I wish I had a contact person at NPR i could depend on. Call me
    at 208-578-1557 Thanks
    Max Casebeau CEEI Director
    208-578-1557

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