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Audience

Audience

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

Introduction

Traditional radio, although falling behind newer forms of audio, remained a highly popular source of news for Americans in 2008.

One reason for that popularity is its ubiquity. Radios are found in almost every home, car and workplace.

But traditional radio is also increasingly sharing time with other forms of listening. Among the emerging forms of audio, satellite saw the most impressive growth again in 2008, although there are still signs of consumer resistance to the idea of paying for something that has always been free. Far more people say they don’t intend to subscribe to satellite radio than say they will.

A technology having an even harder time gaining a foothold in the market is HD radio, which broadcasts on digital rather than analog signals and offers several advantages, including clearer sound, finally drew some interest from carmakers but has stayed below the radar of consumers.

The Internet offers yet more options for listening. Podcasting continued to gain popularity, although not as the mobile medium many thought it would be.

And cellphone-based radio, in which AM/FM receivers in cellphones pick up traditional radio signals, grew as well but was hampered by the advent of high-speed wireless broadband networks. People on such networks can connect to the Internet and stream their favorite radio station online with their smartphones and cellphones instead of picking up AM/FM signals.

Broadcast Radio

Traditional, or “terrestrial,” radio remains the most popular form of listening, but it is declining, while usage of online, satellite and HD radio is gaining.

Arbitron, the radio rating service, reported in fall 2008 that radio reached 235 million people over the course of a week, up slightly from 232 million in the fall of 2007.1

More precise comparison with past years, such as the number of people 12 and older listening in each quarter, was made more difficult.  Arbitron began a transition from relying on diaries kept by listeners to portable people meters to gather the data. Initial data from the meters have created considerable controversy and have prompted the A.C. Nielsen Company to re-enter the radio ratings business in some markets in 2009. (see below for more information)

One thing that has remained fairly stable is where people listen to traditional radio. It is widely dispersed. Over all, 39% of radio listening is done in homes, followed by 35% in cars and 23% at work.2

News/Talk Listening

Among all the formats available on the radio, news/talk remains a major one, although, as many analysts point out, it is increasingly more talk and less news. 3

The term encompasses news, talk shows and other forms of information programming aside from sports. It is the second-most-listened to format on radio, behind country music, with 48 million listeners and 1,533 stations, according to Arbitron.

News/talk is also either the No. 1 or No. 2 format in every region except one, the south-central part of the U.S. (Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky).4

Listeners of news/talk radio tend to be older than those of other formats, plus more educated and affluent.  More than half (57%) are over the age of 55 and three-quarters (77%) are over 45. Nearly half (45%) are college graduates and more than 4 in 10 (41%) have a household income of $75,000 or more.

Age may be a factor of the differences between AM and FM listeners. Traditionally, most news/talk has aired on the AM band, where listeners tend to be older. And Jim Farley, vice president of news and programming at WTOP radio in Washington, D.C., told PEJ that some broadcasters have seen their audiences get younger when they moved their signals to FM but otherwise kept the programming unchanged.5 “I hypothesize that it is AM radio, not news or news/talk, that skews older,” he said. “It’s the band they listen on, not the subject matter.”

Slightly more than half of Americans report listening to news/talk at home. The next highest location is the car, 34.4%, followed by work, 12.8%.

After declining earlier in the decade, there is some sign that the listenership to news and talk may have stabilized.

Arbitron data find that the amount of time people spent listening to news/talk remained the same as two years earlier: an estimated 9 hours and 15 minutes per week.6

Listeners to News/Talk/Information, by Age
2002-2008
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio, 2008 Edition,” March 12, 2008

Another survey found similar stability in recent years.  In 2008, just over a third (35%) of Americans said they listened to news on the radio “yesterday,” according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, substantially unchanged from 36% in 2006.

Those numbers were down more strikingly from 43% in 2000, the early days of the Internet, and also meant that radio had fallen behind cable news, local television and the Internet as a regular news destination.

If the numbers continue to be stable, however, audio may have begun to sort out its place in the new landscape.

News/Talk Radio Growth
1990-2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio, 2008 Edition,” March 12, 2008

No figures available for 2000

HD Radio

Another form of listening, HD radio, failed to expand in 2008, although its backers saw signs of hope.

Like its better known counterpart, HD television, HD radio promises better fidelity and more choices.

But, unlike television, the HD for radio does not stand for “high definition.” It is a brand name for a technology provided by iBiquity Digital. Unlike television, radio broadcasters have not been required to convert their analog signals to digital ones. Many stations have decided the costs are too high for the potential benefits.

The appeal of HD is that it is a digital signal with several advantages over traditional analog AM and FM.  HD radio signals offer a clearer sound that is less prone to interference and static than analog signals.

HD stations also have the ability to “multicast” programs. That means they can broadcast more than one program simultaneously, often referred to as HD1, HD2, etc. This provides stations with the ability to hone their content more specifically to niche markets.

For example, 96.9 WTKK-FM in Boston has one HD main channel that is mostly devoted to talk and a second HD2 channel on which it broadcasts only Irish music.

For consumers, HD radio’s digital signal also offers an interactive element with potential applications. For example, listeners can, with the push of a button, “tag” a song they like. Later, they can dock their iPod with the HD radio and buy the song.7

Real-time traffic updates and mapping may soon be available, a technology that is in development by iBiquity.

The drawback to HD radio is that it requires consumers to buy a new receiver to get the HD signal, and sales of the devices have been slow. As of July 2008 an estimated 500,000 HD radios had been bought in the U.S. since their debut in 2002.8

With no requirement to convert to digital, and with only modest sales of receivers, fewer and fewer stations are making the switch each year. Just 185 stations switched to HD in 2008. This is down from 394 in 2007 and 522 in 2006. In total, 1,828 radio stations were broadcasting in digital in 2008. Of the stations broadcasting in HD, 844, or about 46%, were taking advantage of HD’s multicast capabilities.9

Number of Stations Converting to HD in 2008
1999-2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: BIA Financial Network database, PEJ Research

*PEJ has updated figures from 2003 forward to reflect changes in the BIA system regarding what year stations went digital in the past.

The sharp drop-off in HD conversions could be the result of radio’s difficult economics and the cost of the conversion.  According to iBiquity Digital, the transition to HD transmission costs stations on average $50,000 for AM station and $100,000 for FM stations.

HD has also failed to gain much excitement from consumers. Most people don’t even know it exists. Awareness of HD radio leveled off in 2008 to 24% of people 12 and older, compared with 26% in 2007, according to Arbitron.10

Of those who are aware of HD radio, only 6% said they were “very interested” in it and 23% said they were “somewhat interested.”  Most, 41%, said they were not at all interested in HD radio.11

Part of the lack of interest may have to do with the cost of HD units.  New HD units cost $100 to $400.

Dave Van Dyke of Bridge Ratings, a media research firm, said, “The economy is now affecting the growth of it.  Most people just don’t see the need.  The industry has to show people why they need it.” He says there is low interest in HD radio and tough economic times aren’t helping.12

An important hurdle for HD radio is that most cars come standard with AM/FM radios instead of ones that receive HD.

The industry is working to have HD radios come as standard equipment in cars and has made some progress.  In October 2008 Audi of America announced that it would make HD radios standard in all of its cars starting in 2011.13 According to Advertising Age, 14 other auto companies are on board to do the same.

How much news is there on HD radio?

Of the total 1,828 HD stations on air currently, news/talk is the most popular format for these stations with 376 news/talk stations.  The second more popular format is adult contemporary (a broad category of music) with 259.14

Top Formats on HD Radio, December 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: BIA Financial Network database, PEJ Research

Satellite Radio

When it came to another listening technology, satellite, 2008 was a year of some new answers. Previously, the heated competition for subscribers between the two satellite rivals, Sirius and XM, meant big promotional budgets that helped the emerging technology gain recognition among consumers. A major question going forward is whether the economies of scale brought on by the merger will allow the financially struggling company to finally turn a profit.

The company that resulted from the merger, Sirius XM, expected to end 2008 with 18.9 million subscribers.15 That would amount to an increase of 1.6 million people, or 9.2%, from 2007 when the two companies had 17.3 million subscribers between them. Sirius had 8.3 million and XM had 9 million.16

Satellite Radio Awareness, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: Arbitron, “The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Platform,” April 25, 2008

Some other indicators, however, hint at trouble. Consumer awareness of satellite radio, for example, failed to grow in 2008, despite the media attention the merger proposal attracted and promotional efforts by the companies.  Only 59% of survey respondents in early 2008 said they had heard of XM and 60% said they had heard of Sirius.17 This is down slightly from 2007 when 64% had heard of XM and 60% had heard of Sirius.

Moreover, the number of people who said they intended to subscribe also showed no growth. Only 14% of people surveyed said they were somewhat likely to subscribe to satellite radio in the next year and 2% said they were very likely, this is down from 15% and 3% in 2007. This could be a sign of a maturing market: as more people sign up there are fewer consumers left to convert to the medium.  But, for satellite, the subscriber base is still relatively small so it would be an earlier maturation than those in the industry would prefer.

This decrease in awareness and in the willingness of people to pay for satellite radio may be a temporary blip related to a suspension of promotions by both companies and the declining economy. But if it continues, it could indicate a resistance among consumers to buy subscriptions when terrestrial and even HD radio (once receivers are purchased) are free.

The overwhelming majority of people surveyed by Arbitron, 84%, said they were “not at all likely” to subscribe to satellite radio in the next year.

Satellite radio is an option in most new cars and packages for the service range from $6.99 to $16.99 per month. Satellite radio also offers in-home options, portable satellite radios that are the size of MP3 players, and dock-and-play radios that can be heard in a car and then taken out and used in the home as well.  These options range from $40 to $300 per unit.

One bright spot:  satellite radio listeners tend to have high household incomes. An estimated 23% have incomes greater than $100,000 a year, which should appeal to advertisers in search of consumers with disposable income.18

Internet Radio

Internet radio, continued to represent a slowly moving growth area. The number of people who listen to the radio on the Internet crept up slightly in 2008 but remains a fraction of terrestrial radio.

Some in the industry think Internet radio holds great promise for the business of terrestrial radio. Many terrestrial stations now simulcast their programs on the Internet, opening up whole new markets for listeners and advertisers with little additional cost.

But the Internet also means new competition for terrestrial stations from those on the Internet that have no corresponding terrestrial broadcasts. The Internet-only stations tend to cater to very specific niche interests — jazz and classical music, for example.

Whether tied to a broadcast station or not, online radio has developed an audience.  Nearly a quarter of Americans over the age of 18 (24%) in April 2008 told the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press that they had listened to newscasts online. They could have been listening to a multitude of things, including a live stream of a terrestrial program, a downloaded version of something previously aired on terrestrial radio, an audio download from a cable website or even an online-only radio site.

Moreover, there are signs that more people are making online listening a habit.  According to the survey, 13% of people reported in 2008 that they had listened to Internet radio in the last week, compared to 11% in 2007.  This slow increase in online listening corresponds to the simultaneous loss of listeners in broadcast radio.19 (The survey did not distinguish between terrestrial simulcast and Internet-only radio programs.)

Who is listening to radio online? First, high-tech people who work with computers tend to be big users. Also, men are more likely to listen to Internet radio than women, 52% to 48%. The listeners tend to be older than the population at large, with the largest demographic slice being 35-to-44-year-olds with full-time jobs. 20

Podcasting

Podcasting — downloading audio and video snippets and programs for later listening and watching — enjoyed a fast-growing but still small audience in 2008.

According to survey data from Pew Internet and American Life Project, 19% of people reported they had downloaded a podcast at some point in 2008; this is up markedly from 12% in 2006. On the downside, though, frequency is low: only 17% said they downloaded a podcast on typical day in 2008.21

For a broadcaster, the appeal is obvious: no longer is its audience limited to the people within earshot of a radio or television while a broadcast is in process. Now people can download shows or features from a computer to listen to there or to load onto an MP3 for later playback.

For now, more people are choosing to listen on their stationary computer rather than on a mobile device like an iPod, for which podcasting is named. In one survey by Arbitron, 69% of people who downloaded podcasts said they listened to them on their computers, while less than half as many, 28%, said loaded them onto mobile devices.22

What does it mean for news? Not much, so far.

Of the 48,903 podcasts that are tracked by podcastalley.com as of November 2008, only 1,023 are devoted to news and politics.  Of the top 10 most listened-to podcasts, only 3 are categorized as news and politics. 23

The largest number of podcasts are categorized as general and do not have a specific focus. The largest specific category is music with 8,038 podcasts, followed by technology with 4,254. 24

Top Podcast Topics, December 2008
Number of Podcasts
Design Your Own Chart

Source: www.podcastalley.com

Not surprisingly, most of the people downloading podcasts are young. Half are under 35. This tracks with MP3 ownership: three-quarters of people aged 12 to 17 owned an MP3 player at the beginning of 2008, up from 54 percent just a year earlier.25 Among all people 12 and older, 37% owned an MP3 player, up from 30% the year before.

The people who use podcasts are relatively affluent, something that should appeal to advertisers, which pay to have a message run before or after the content. Specifically, 22% of people who download podcasts earn more than $100,000 a year, while 68% earn more than $50,000 per year.

This has not yet cut into the market for broadcast radio, according to Arbitron.  Only 10% of people surveyed said they spent less time with broadcast radio because of their MP3 player, while 21% said their MP3 player had no effect on their broadcast radio listening.

However, MP3 owners who say the device has cut into their radio listening tend to be the young ones, a red flag for radio marketers. Over all, music still drives MP3 usage, not podcasts.

Cellphone Radio

As with so many of the new technologies over the past few years, the use of cellphones and their more advanced cousins, smartphones, also continued to grow in 2008.

This is encouraging news for those who think cellphone radio is the next big thing for broadcasters. That is because smartphones, which connect to the Internet, can be used to listen to the radio.

According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 83% of people aged 18 and above owned a standard cellphone in 2008, and 15% said they owned an iPhone, Blackberry or other smartphone.  This translates to 189 million people over the age of 18 who own cellphones, according a 2007 Census Bureau estimate.26 And as most people carry their phones with them at all times, the radio industry sees this as a huge market for radio.27

However, as of the end of 2008, very few of those phones were equipped to pick up radio broadcasts, something the radio industry is trying to change by encouraging cellphone manufacturers to include the capability in the devices.

In a sign that the radio industry understands the potential, one broadcaster, Regent Communications, released a free application in 2008 for the iPhone and iPod that allows users to connect to all of the company’s AM and FM online streams using their cellphones.

The Regent effort, called Radiolicious, also allows Regent stations to sell advertising aimed at mobile listeners, in addition to the ads already playing on the station.

Another company sought to bring talk radio and other audio content to users of ordinary cellphones. That company, Foneshow, based in Portland, Maine, sends registered users phone numbers as text messages that they can use to listen in on programs they have previously selected.

The service is tailored mostly to short-form audio, much like podcasts, and many podcasts have signed up for Foneshow and a cellphone owner can sign up for the service from the Foneshow site or from the podcast’s site itself.

In April 2008, Foneshow started a service tailored to reporters and news organizations with a platform to deliver breaking news.  The service allows reporters in the field to file audio reports with their cellphones that are then sent directly to their editors, who in turn can post them for public listening.  Users will also be able to sign up for news alerts that they will receive via text messages as breaking news is happening.28 Foneshow is supported by ads that listeners hear before or after the program.

In the landscape of radio, one form of news has carved out a particular brand and audience for itself — public radio. The players here include National Public Radio, American Public Media, and Public Radio International, among other public radio groups.

Of these, the largest is NPR. More than one in ten Americans say they routinely get most of their news from the nation’s chief noncommercial news source, National Public Radio.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2008 media consumption survey, 13% of Americans said they regularly got most of their news from NPR.

NPR listeners tend to be highly educated and older than listeners of commercial radio: 54% are college graduates and 42% are over the age of 50. Most, 58%, are men.

NPR listeners are also well informed. They performed well on a series of current events questions posed by the Pew survey, second only to those who read The New Yorker and Atlantic magazines.

NPR’s believability is among the highest of the news outlets. Among those surveyed, 27% said they believed all or most of what NPR broadcast. That ranked it higher than the three broadcast television networks as well as MSNBC, Fox News and “The News Hour With Jim Lehrer” On PBS. It ranked lower, however, than CNN, “60 Minutes” on CBS and the local television news.29

Portable People Meter

One of the major issues in radio is the advent of the new technology for measuring audiences. As it did when introduced for television, the switch from using people filling out diaries to machines automatically measuring what people listen to has come with controversy.

In 2008, criticism of the so-called portable people meter increased as its use grew.

The meters, issued by Arbitron, are small, electronic devices that detect inaudible codes hidden in broadcasts. When worn by a participant, the devices track listenership very specifically. For example, the meters are able to determine whenever the wearer gets close enough to a radio broadcast to listen. The devices track what program is on and how long the listener is within its range.

Arbitron started using the devices in 2007. The company says it expects all top-50 radio markets to turn audience measurement over to the portable people meter by the end of 2010. In the meantime, the company blended data from meters and diaries to construct a national snapshot. Work on the 2008 report was not completed by the end of the year.

Arbitron asserts that the devices are a vast improvement over the old system of self-reporting with paper diaries. Major radio ownership groups agreed and opted to use the system.

Critics say the meters undercount minority groups or rely on a sample that is too small to provide an accurate snapshot of listening habits.

Complaints about the sample size, including from radio goliath Clear Channel, prompted Arbitron to increase its sample size.

Concerns about minority representation, however, persist. Initial meter ratings showed a sharp drop in listenership for certain minority stations.

The issue has been taken up by some state attorneys general. New York’s Andrew Cuomo filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Arbitron in which he alleged that the Arbitron meter discriminated against minorities by undercounting them.30 The suit also charged Arbitron with false advertising of the validity of the meter’s measurements and not disclosing flaws in its methodology.

Arbitron countersued, arguing that New York’s efforts to prevent the release of meter data violated its First Amendment rights.31

In October 2008, New York expanded the suit to include securities fraud.  The state alleged that Arbitron executives sold stock in the company before an announcement that the portable people meter would be delayed, which caused the stock to fall sharply.32

New Jersey also sued Arbitron in the summer of 2008.

The company also faces a class-action lawsuit on behalf of some of its investors who argue that it falsely advertised the capabilities of its people meter.

In January 2009, Arbitron settled the lawsuit with New York and New Jersey.  In the agreement Arbitron vowed to improve its sample and minority representation and  will pay New York $260,000 and New Jersey $130,000 to resolve the suit.  Arbitron will also pay a trade group that represented minority radio stations $100,000 and pay for an ad campaign supporting minority radio.33

Nielsen Enters the Fray

In a sign that the controversy may have attracted competition for Arbitron’s long-time dominance in radio ratings, Nielsen announced in November 2008 that it will begin to track radio ratings in the U.S.

Nielsen, known best for its television ratings, already tracks radio ratings in other countries. But Nielsen gave up tracking radio audiences in the U.S. in 1964 and Arbitron has been the industry leader and the only company offering comprehensive U.S. radio ratings.

There were signs that Nielsen may return as a serious competitor to Arbitron. Cumulus Media and Clear Channel agreed to start using Nielsen ratings for some markets.34

Nielsen’s radio ratings will be compiled through self-reporting by listeners, similar to how it measures television viewing. Arbitron said the people meters will be more accurate.

NPR (Updated March 24th, 2009)

In the landscape of radio, one form of news has carved out a particular brand and audience for itself — public radio. The players here include National Public Radio, American Public Media, and Public Radio International, among other public radio groups.

Of these, the largest is NPR. More than one in ten Americans say they routinely get most of their news from it, the nation’s chief noncommercial news source.

NPR said the weekly audience for its news programs hit a record average of 20.9 million in 2008, a 9% increase from 2007. NPR had 271 member stations and was heard on 866 public radio stations nationwide as of March, 2009.

NPR’s website, NPR.org, attracted an average of 8 million unique visitors each month, according to the organization, in early 2009.35

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2008 media consumption survey, 13% of Americans said they regularly got most of their news from NPR.

NPR listeners tend to be highly educated and older than listeners of commercial radio: 54% are college graduates and 42% are over the age of 50. Most, 58%, are men.

NPR listeners are also well informed. They performed well on a series of current events questions posed by the Pew survey, second only to those who read The New Yorker and Atlantic magazines.

NPR’s believability is among the highest of the news outlets. Among those surveyed, 27% said they believed all or most of what NPR broadcast. That ranked it higher than the three broadcast television networks as well as MSNBC, Fox News and “The News Hour With Jim Lehrer” On PBS. It ranked lower, however, than CNN, “60 Minutes” on CBS and the local television news.36

Footnotes

1. Arbitron, Radar 98 report, September 2008.

2. Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio,” 2008 Edition,  March 12, 2008

3. PEJ conversations with Dale Willman executive editor of NPR Field notes; Adam Clayton Powell III, senior fellow at the  University of Southern California, and Chris Sterling, professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University

4. Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio,” 2008 Edition,  March 12, 2008

5. PEJ interview

6. Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio,” 2008 Edition,  March 12, 2008

7. “Greater Media Embraces New Technology,” Advertising Age, October 20, 2008

8. Mike Snider, “HD Radio sends strong signal, but audience weak,”  USA Today, July 8, 2008

9. BIA Financial Network and PEJ research

10. “The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Platforms”, Arbitron, April 25, 2008

11. “The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Platforms”, Arbitron, April 25, 2008

12. Mike Snider, “HD Radio sends strong signal, but audience is weak,” USA Today, July 8, 2008.

13. “Audi Adds HD Radio,” Radio Ink, October 22, 2008.

14. BIA Financial Network and PEJ research

15. Sirius XM Press Release, November 10, 2008

16. PEJ, State of the News Media 2008

17. “The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Platforms,” Arbitron, April 25, 2008

18. “The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Platforms”, Arbitron, April 25, 2008

19. “The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Platforms”, Arbitron, April 25, 2008

20. “The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Platforms”, Arbitron, April 25, 2008

21. “Podcast Downloading 2008,” Pew Internet and American Life Project,  August 2008

22. “The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Platforms,” Arbitron, April 25, 2008

23. The technology of the Internet makes tracking podcasts very difficult. Several companies try, and we rely on podcastalley.com, the largest of them. The figures may not be comprehensive but still offer a glimpse of trends.

24. www.podcastalley.com

25. “The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Platforms”, Arbitron, April 25, 2008

26. U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, July 1, 2007

27. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Pew Research Center Biennial News Consumption Survey, August 17, 2008

28. “ ‘Foneshow Breaking news’ Introduced to Broadcasters,” Reuters, April 23, 2008

29. “Pew Research Center Biennial News Consumption Survey”, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press August 17, 2008

30. The suit alleged that certain minorities, such as Hispanics and young blacks, were under-represented in the sample. The suit also asserted that non-English speakers and cellphone-only households were being missed because participants are recruited by Arbitron through phone solicitations.

31. “New York files suite against Arbitron,” Radio Business Report, October 6, 2008

32. Sass, Erik.  “Cuomo Opens Arbitron Insider Trading Investigation,” Media Daily News, October 31, 2008

33. Brian Stelter, “Arbitron Settles Lawsuit Alleging Bias in Radio Ratings System,”  New York Times, January 7, 2009

34. “Nielsen to Issue U.S. Radio Ratings,” New York Times, November 18, 2008

35. Data provided to PEJ from NPR.

36. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Pew Research Center Biennial News Consumption Survey, August 17, 200