Wired.com is running an article on their site about National Public Radio’s podcasting efforts hurting their fund raising.
“Why would I sit through all of that if I can get what I like for free online, listen to it on my own time and not be guilted for weeks into giving money?” says Michaels, a real estate agent who says her husband donates to the station on behalf of her family. “I’ve even found a whole bunch of NPR shows online that aren’t on NPR here, which is so great.”
That kind of thinking reflects both the blessing and curse presented by podcasting. On the upside, the medium is expanding NPR’s overall audience and boosting some shows previously unavailable in many markets. While most NPR programming has been streamed online for several years, the portable, time-shifted, on-demand nature of podcasting affords a new level of convenience and access.
As some one who worked for an NPR affiliate and tried to create podcast content from there, this is interesting. Fund raising happens at regular times of the year for nearly all affiliates. Some stations do this more times a year than others, but it happens. The other major thing to note is that there is a lot of cooperation from NPR themselves, sending satellite feeds of fund drive programming out at specified times.
I subscribe and listen to a handful of NPR podcasts. I really like what they are doing, they get what this medium can do for their programming. What I don’t get is how they can ignore the fund raising issue. It would be very easy to tag something on at the beginning of podcasts to remind listeners to support their local stations, specifically on podcasts that are timely, such as the NPR news podcasts.
The project I tried to head was rejected due to licensing issues. It was a news magazine with original content of a program locally produced in Iowa City. We experimented with it for a few weeks, but the operation was canned by the station manager. The concern came from the music used in the stories and how that applied to copyright laws.
I think that as an affiliate, a station could stem to gain exposure to other potential donors through creating their own, original programming for podcast. It’s obvious that people want to listen to programming on their own time. If you give them that ability, they might be more willing to donate to their local station, and not just during fund drives. Use podcasts to spread that message. They are already listening through online avenues, so why not donate through the web?
The other fact of the matter is that a lot of people don’t understand the funding model of NPR and its affiliates. I’ll try to briefly explain it.
You donate to your local station. That keeps them running, but the affiliate pays fees to NPR, PRI, or whoever for airing their programs. “All Things Considered”, “Morning Edition”, and “Car Talk” all cost the radio station a hefty fee to play that program. So when you hear, “Support for NPR comes from member stations,” there is a tiny portion of the money you donate to your local radio station that goes to NPR in Washington. No money comes back down from them. I am always amazed by people who don’t understand this and are long time listeners of public radio.
NPR was given two hundred million dollars from Joan Kroc in 2003 after her passing. That money all went to NPR. None of that has or ever will be in the hands of affiliated stations. You have no idea how many times we heard about that from people calling up phone volunteers during fund drives; “Why should I donate money to you when you guys got that $200 million?”
The message is clear. You have people who love radio and podcasts in their own right. You have to make them work together, and Tod Maffin seems to be on the same page of this as well. Affiliates need to harvest this technology to increase that listenership. With podcasting, the world is your audience, not just how far your signal can reach.