Indiana station to cut ‘This American Life’ in response to Pandora deal

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(Glass photo via Peabody Awards/Flickr)

(Glass photo via Peabody Awards/Flickr)

WBAA in West Lafayette, Ind., will discontinue broadcasts of This American Life in part because of the show’s partnership with Pandora, the station’s general manager wrote in a LinkedIn post Thursday.

Mike Savage, also a member of the NPR board of directors, said the station will pull TAL from its program schedule in August. Savage’s post about his decision drew several responses on LinkedIn, including one from TAL host and executive producer Ira Glass.

Savage wrote that his decision “was not taken lightly and was made for a variety of factors — but one factor really stood out — the recent decision by Ira Glass to distribute the program to paid subscription service Pandora,” Savage wrote. (Pandora also offers free streaming, supported by ads.)

The station currently airs the program Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m. on its AM news station.

Savage wrote that “public radio leaders must keep the balance between mission and bottom line in the forefront” and that TAL’s partnership with Pandora crossed a line. TAL and its spinoff Serial announced the deal with Pandora Nov. 2. It also allows the streaming service to sell advertising connected to the show.

“For a program that got its start on public radio and had some of the best on-air fundraising messages for listeners where Ira Glass says he is volunteering his time because he believes in the mission of public broadcasting, the move by This American Life to Pandora is disingenuous at best,” he wrote. (Savage’s post was later taken down but can still be read here, along with the comments.)

When asked by email whether he had heard similar concerns from other station leaders, Savage answered, “My impression is this is just not on the radar for GMs.” He said WBAA will inform listeners closer to the cancellation, but he posted on LinkedIn “to begin a conversation with colleagues … because I believe this is important.”

Meanwhile, Glass told Current that he “respectfully disagrees” with Savage’s fear that the deal with Pandora is at odds with the mission of public broadcasting.

“…[W]hen we make money from Pandora or from podcasting revenue, from podcast advertising, public radio stations are seeing a benefit because what we’re doing is we’re investing that money in better programming,” Glass said. “… We’re taking the money that we’re making in these other ways, and we’re putting that into programming which shows up on public radio stations. There are things that we would not be able to afford to do that we’re using this money for. That’s the benefit to the system.”

TAL has drawn 2.1 million listens on Pandora since it began streaming three weeks ago, according to Seth Lind, director of operations at This American Life. Meanwhile, TAL’s weekly cume on public radio stations has remained relatively stable at about 2.2 million for much of the last decade, according to Glass.

“Nationally, we’re not losing audience on the radio because people are getting us on other platforms — we’re just adding audience,” Glass said. “We’re adding to the number of people who are hearing public radio content by offering it on these other platforms.”

  • Scott Bell

    I’m with Ira on this one. With the nature of media changing so fast, you have to evolve to stay relevant. I get that the public radio stations want to stick with what they know, but this seems very short-sighted on WBAA’s part.

  • Some facts to consider. Purdue has an AM station with a decent, but not great signal and other pubcasters get into West Lafayette, so they may be losing a ratings battle. They are probably looking for ways to keep costs down, so dropping a show or two will help them pay the electric bill. And looking at their schedule, they’d have to drop a majority of their weekend and some of their weekday programming because that content is streaming somewhere, whether it be Pandora, Stitcher, other stations’ websites, or NPR One.

    Blaming your woes on streaming audio is like radio broadcasters in the fifties saying that TV would put them out of business. Let’s get a grip and realize that technology and usage habits are changing, and there’s still room for multiple distribution methods for almost any content.

  • newsbot

    WBAA is but one of many pubcasters wondering to themselves why they’re paying hefty license fees to subsidize the simultaneous availability of the same programming on other platforms. This won’t be the last time we hear about this sort of development.

    • MarkJeffries

      Oh yes. Let’s make it inconvenient for the podcast/online fan of “TAL” by taking away that access and making that listener in West Lafayette have to hear it in mono on an AM station Saturdays at noon and if you miss it, tough luck. This sort of treatment disserves the potential listener more than serves them and gives them a reason to never listen to your station at all. And oh look–“TAL”‘s lead-in and lead-out on WBAA are also shows available as podcasts. Are they going to be going off, too? Took about shooting off your own foot… (And while we’re at it, when are public radio programmers going to get the gumption to do what WNYC, WBEZ and KCRW have done and get rid of the “Car Talk” reruns?)

      • DefiantRebel

        Car Talk is one of only two things on public radio worth tuning in for. With it reduced to reruns and Thistle & Shamrock going away, I can clear that preset on my radio for something else.

  • Brad Deltan

    That’s odd….the LinkedIn post is gone. Was it intentionally removed?

    • Thanks for the heads up. We’ll look into it.

  • Adam Ragusea

    WBAA folds, TAL stays: http://wbaa.org/programming-news

    • Brad Deltan

      Is that a good thing or a bad thing…?

      • Adam Ragusea

        What does your heart tell you?

        • Frank Roosevelt

          It’s sad that WBAA didn’t educate the public that they can listen in an exciting new way. The public wouldn’t have lost anything.

        • Brad Deltan

          That I’m going to be killed by Tusken Raiders, and my death…in the arms of my son…will trigger a major step down his path to the Dark Side?