Expand your audience by dumbing down or expanding your platform – NPR

The Holy Grail in Pub Media was to get a younger audience. For most this meant finding a way to alter the content mix – the CBC has done this with the result of losing its traditional audience and not gaining the young – who DON’T watch TV or listen to a radio!!!!! NPR is winning this by expanding the platform to include who the young want to get their media.

One of the Holy Grails of the Public Radio system when I worked there back in 2005/6 was to attract a younger audience. At the time – even though the context of my involvement was the web – the CW on the solution was to add more younger programming – Hence Bryant Park. Of course this failed as what station manager was going to give up the BlockBuster Morning Edition to have an alternative that the mainstream would not like. The CBC has gone full on to find a younger audience by changing the POV of its programs. I wonder how they are doing? They have largely driven me away.

But the guys at NPR are smart and they learn. They went full on into the use of Social Media. New data out shows that their drive into social media – Twitter in particular – has given them what they wanted a new and younger and larger “audience” that have been attracted to NPR’s programming – not because of a content shift but because they made it easier for a younger audience to connect to content on their terms! The secret was in the flexibility of the new connection NOT the content.

In a survey of more than 10,000 respondents, NPR found that its Twitter followers are younger, more connected to the social web, and more likely to access content through digital platforms such as NPR’s website, podcasts, mobile apps and more.

NPR has more than one Twitter account; its survey found that most respondents followed between two and five NPR accounts, including topical account, show-specific accounts and on-air staff accounts.

The data on age is hardly surprising. The median age of an NPR Twitter follower is 35 — around 15 years younger than the average NPR radio listener. This lines up with data we recently found about other traditional news media; the average Facebook user reading and “liking” content on a news website is two decades younger than the average print newspaper subscriber.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the future of news media lies in successful integration of social media to get the attention (and click-throughs) of a younger generation — a generation whose news needs are vastly different than those of the generations that preceded it.(My emphasis)

Of NPR’s Twitter followers, the majority (67%) still do listen to NPR on the radio. But the other ways they access NPR’s content are indicative of a growing trend:

Of survey respondents, 59% said they use NPR.org, 39% listen to NPR’s podcasts, around half use an NPR mobile app and 28% say they access NPR via Facebook. All told, 77% of NPR’s Twitter followers said they get all or most of their news online.

And Twitter followers are more likely to expect breaking news, too, likely because of the real-time nature of the medium.

At KETC we found the same thing when we ran out project to help people find a safer more trustworthy route to help in the Mortgage Crisis. KETC helped many people who never watch our programming and who never will. They got connected to KETC because they found what they needed on the web. It was how we connected that was the key.

When NPR hosted the New Realities Project back in 2006/6 – the intent was to imagine our value in 2009 and beyond. We did this. Most saw that one of the things we had to do was to do a Burger King and offer our content up “Your Way”

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The guys even wrote a song – but while some – mainly at NPR really got this – of course as we know today about adoption – most did not and have not and still hope that all of this will go away.

Want a larger and more committed “audience” – let them find you “Their Way” – Integrate the web into what you do fully.

NPR at the Tipping Point

With the launch this weekend of the new NPR Mobile App, I can look back over the last 4 years and see a pattern emerge that tells me that NPR is poised to be the first major new organization to break through into the new Media Reality.

That’s a bold statement so let me try and back it up.

First of all, NPR and the public radio system have got something that no other media has in America – Growth in audience.


Why? I suspect that a large part of the answer is to be found in one word – “Trust”. As our world becomes more uncertain, it is also clear that much of the media was either complicit in hiding the truth about what was going on or that they just missed it. The non profit aspect of NPR and its system, I suspect helps keep it more trusted. The second point is just good journalism. As all other sources of media have retrenched on their staff, NPR and its stations have continued to invest in great staff.

But there is more going on here than the core journalism – NPR – like no other organizations except the BBC – is there a pattern here too? – Has made a decisive push to make the web work for it, for the stations and for the audience.

Here is the “Story” as revealed in a “Power Curve”.

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This suggests that NPR is at the Tipping Point. Why? Because we can see both the acceleration and also the growth of the supporting system that will facilitate the growth.

We see a long gestation period from 2005 – 2007. Podcasting began then – greatly facilitated by iTunes.

It is in 2008 that we see progress begin to accelerate. In 2009, NPR is positively rocking.

How did this happen when so many other media organizations are merely hiding behind the castle walls?

I think the answer is in the New Realities Process that NPR undertook at the end of 2005 – May 2006. Over 800 people were involved in “Exploring” what the web might mean to NPR and the system of stations.

This was the basic problem presented to all.

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Please let me explain. Remember this was done in early 2006. The core assumption was that by 2009, the web would be ubiquitous. NPR’s relative position versus the web at the time was that tiny black line.

The question was this – How did we get to scale on the web in time AND still not piss off the audience AND the Stations?

Looking back, the time line we posed was correct and it seems that we have solved the key question.

So how did this process of mutual exploration help NPR and the stations do this? My answer is this – It gave everyone a real voice. ALL the issues were on the table. A real common view emerged.

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In every meeting, groups came up with the same big idea. That we had to be able to offer the audience what we did “Their Way”. This appears to have been an underlying idea that has been realized by the Mobile App – many groups even envisaged a device like the iPhone that would enable this.

Surely this is no small thing? Most media organizations still insist controlling everything.

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The underlying constraint was what would be the role of NPR and of each station? At the time, many believed that NPR had a “secret plan” to go it alone. In truth many at NPR also did not know what to do. They talked about working with the stations but were uncertain.

A major result of the process is that the senior NPR folks realized that they HAD to work with the stations. It has taken years for much of the fear that NPR would go it alone to dissipate but it is. NPR have proved by their actions that they are in this together.

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For another common theme that kept coming up again and again was this. That the end game would look like this – a REAL NETWORK based on Natural Systems. This was the systems’ great hidden strength.

This idea of a large natural system is now even bigger than anyone envisaged in 2006. For the CPB has been making major investments in creating a Public Radio AND TV system. The Facing the Mortgage Crisis project is one of these investments where radio and Tv stations in 32 markets are working together. NPR and the NewsHour are working together to offer the best news service in the nation. Key local stations are creating local news hubs.

All this is going to come together in late 2009 early 2010.

2010 will be I think THE year. The product will be unparalleled. The Web approach will be ideal. The resources will be all that such a network can supply.

With the audience, with the engagement and with the web fully supporting the air all that is left is this..

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I think that with the underlying audience, engagement and a network – it should be possible to make the money and the system work – don’t you?

So in closing I return to the question of our time. How do large organizations make the changes that they have to? How do they do this when the New is often the opposite of what they are and what they do today?

I think that the answer for NPR and Public radio is that they overcame the huge natural resistance by investing in a shared and deep exploration of what confronted them. What they have done since has come from the genuine emergence of ideas and of a language that they created for themselves.

It has not been easy. I admit to being in despair in 2007 when I could see no visible progress. But in retrospect I was naive. The laws of nature demand a period of gestation. 2007 was that time.

What is remarkable now is that NPR and the system has fully met the challenge set out in the starting question of the process. They have kept their audience, kept the system together AND become a leader in the web.

Now they have to turn this into revenue. I think that they are up to this.

Hybrids Don’t Work in Media – you have to go all they way

It was announced this weekend that NPR will have to cancel their new News program The Bryant Park Project for cost reasons. The NYT story is here. The BPP site with comments on the closing of the show is here. You can see that I was not the only fan nor am I the only one who is upset!

Laura called me this morning for an interview on how I felt. Obviously I am very sad. But she also asked me for what I thought might be some reasons. It is only day 1 – but I do have some ideas. They are only mine and they are my immediate reactions. As I have promoted the show and its apporach to the web so much, I think that I owe you some reasons as well.

I think a couple of things are becoming more clear to me. The show was seen as a Radio show with a strong social web element. This is I think the key error that drove the costs and the expectations. If you want to do the new today – you have to break away from the costs of the machine – if a paper, no press and no paper! I would have launched BPP as a web show with a bit of radio. No small distinction.

So much of what BPP did on the web – the use of Twitter to build community – the use of Facebook to give us a weekly review. The use of video on the blog. All this broke down the barriers of power/distance and time. Many of us felt part of the show. Our ideas were heard and acted upon. We even went on the show now and then.

A lot of what pulled us in was the personal. We learned about the food obsessions, the drilling, we chatted 24/7 with the staff and with each other. We met and made new friends.

The NYT mentioned that in April and May they had a million unique visitors on the web. This is brilliant.

As a web based show you can build the audience until you have enough momentum to add more radio. I would also have made it easy for “members” to donate to BPP. What about the stations? I would have had a split. Try the new economics for real all the way.

So what went wrong? The show was conceived as Radio!

In St Louis, many of the best staff of the Dispatch left the paper and started a new one. The one thing they did not consider was using paper!

This is a picture of the pride of the RN in 1860. Called HMS Inflexible, she looks modern. She has a “website”. She is made of steel. She is driven by steam. She has big guns in turrets. But she was not modern. Because, she was set up to fight as Nelson’s wooden ships were. The culture was to engage closely. The culture was that those dirty engineers had to stay away from command roles.

HMS Inflexible was a hybrid. Looked new but was in reality based on the rules and the culture of 1805.

This is HMS Dreadnought.

Launched in 1906, she was the complete vision of the new in its reality. She was designed to fight at 10 miles. She was designed to be led by people who understood engineering. She had the power to sink the entire German Fleet at the time. In launching her, Admiral Fisher knew that he had made all the RN’s fleet of Hybrids obsolete overnight. But he could not afford not to go to the new. His concern was that Germany or America would beat him to it.

I think that this where we are in media on this sad July morning.

It’s all the way or not at all. Just as the presses and the paper is a cost that is killing the Newspapers, so the transmitters are killing TV and Radio.

All that can remain for a while are the established shows such as ME and ATC.

But if you want some thing new that will scale and make you money – it’s the web all the way. Look back at what BPP did so well there and know that they paved the way for you.