Digital audience grows for NPR and stations, but live streaming stalls

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NPR and its member stations have seen growth in on-demand listening in the last year, but audiences for their live digital streams are flat, according to data shared with station executives Nov. 19 at the Public Radio Super Regional conference in San Antonio.

Attendees heard that among 163 stations tracked by NPR, total downloaded hours of on-demand content increased 18 percent from January to August 2015, according to Steve Mulder, NPR’s senior director of audience insights. Unique users fell slightly, however.

The audience for NPR podcasts grew 21 percent from fall 2014 to fall 2015, and the total hours of NPR podcasts downloaded rose 45 percent over the same time frame, aided by the success of NPR’s Invisibilia early in the year.

“That’s just tremendous growth,” Mulder said. “That’s faster growth than any other channel, for sure, in terms of where listening is happening.”

As of spring 2015, roughly 5 to 10 percent of hours spent listening to public radio was to podcasts, though Mulder warned that “we don’t have a collective understanding yet of just how much listening there is to station podcasts.” Meanwhile, listening to live streams, once a growing part of public radio’s online listening, was flat from August 2013 to August 2015.

“I find that strange, to be honest,” Mulder added. “Because I think that we know how many folks are still moving their listening experiences from broadcast to digital, connected cars coming online slowly . . . . A lot of that still is growing, and yet we are seeing a whole lot of flat nothing going on here. To me, that is a warning sign.”

Radio still accounts for the great majority of listening to NPR and stations, Mulder said.  Yet recent data shared by NPR shows that those audiences have dipped as well over the last five years, especially among younger listeners.

The growth in podcast listening has also benefited Radiotopia, the podcast network helmed by Public Radio Exchange. The network’s 13 shows have reached a total of 9 million monthly downloads, according to PRX COO Kerri Hoffman, up from 6 million monthly downloads for 11 shows in May. Hoffman shared the data during the Super Regional session.

In a fall fundraising campaign, Radiotopia also raised contributions from over 19,000 people, Hoffman said.

Hoffman encouraged public radio execs to embrace side projects in podcasting that staffers might be working on, even if it’s not immediately clear how to make money from them. Discouraging them, she said, could lead to a loss of new content ideas or staffers leaving. And podcasts have the potential to attract a younger audience, she added.

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