Public radio audience growth extends to live audio streams

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After a dip in listenership for live audio streams, NPR says that online audiences for stations grew significantly in the last year.

Between fall 2015 and 2016, total listening hours of station streams grew 19 percent and the weekly cume grew 15 percent. News/talk streams grew more than three times faster than music station streams (24 percent versus 7 percent), according to NPR.

Steve Mulder, NPR senior director of audience insights, said station streams are growing “for all the same reasons that we’re seeing growth in broadcast,” including a strong news cycle, investments in coverage by NPR and stations, and promotional efforts like the Spark initiative.

A persistent audio player introduced by NPR.org and some stations last year has made it easier for website visitors to listen to a live stream while browsing a site. That change also “could be a very small factor in the increase,” Mulder said.

Total audience for streaming is still relatively small compared to other platforms. On a weekly basis, 2.4 million listeners access public radio programming via live audio streams, compared to the 36.6 million who tune into all NPR station broadcasts. Another 3.7 million people per week download an NPR podcast.

As recently as May 2015, Mulder questioned whether the audience for live streaming would recover from declines that began in 2014. In a blog post at that time, he theorized that “public radio streamers” were moving to podcasts and on-demand listening of story segments.

That hasn’t happened. And while podcast listening is growing at a faster rate than streaming listening, “it’s really encouraging that everything is growing,” Mulder said. “There’s an audience that’s hungry for on-demand, self-curated listening and there’s also clearly a big audience for kind of a lean-back experience, who want more of that broadcast experience on digital platforms.”

  • Even outside the U.S., it’s very interesting to listen public radio with the NPR news app or some apps like the WGBH Boston app, with streams of ‘GBH, the classical public radio WCRB and WCAI of Woods Hole. Even WCRB has their own app. Here in Chile we’re listenin’ one of my favourite programmes, “All Things Considered.”