At the Public Radio Content Conference (PRCC) last week in Pittsburgh, NPR President Jarl Mohn presented an overview of the Spark 1 initiative. The goal was to boost Morning Edition listening. The results are mixed.
[Note: NPR’s Spark initiative is not related to this blog. Same name, different thing.]
NPR asked stations that carry Morning Edition in rated markets to implement an aggressive schedule of promo spots to spark listeners to tune in to the next program. NPR promised a prize: The station that had the most creative promos would get Morning Edition free for a year. Such a freebie would be worth tens of thousands of dollars to the winning station.
165 stations signed up, 56 in PPM markets and 109 in Diary Markets. The changes in listening were determined by comparing Nielsen Audio PPM data from June 2015 with June 2014. In Diary Markets the comparison was between Spring 2015 and Spring 2014.
SCROLL DOWN TO SEE THE WINNER
The results: Listening to Morning Edition grew by 2% on participating stations. Listening to Morning Edition went down by 14% on stations that did not participate. Here is the chart with the topline results:
THERE IS BIG DIFFERENCE IN RESULTS FROM PPM & DIARY MARKETS
The first thing I noticed on the chart is the difference in Morning Edition’s performance in PPM and Diary markets. Morning Edition was up on participating PPM stations but was down on participating Diary stations. But, Morning Edition was up over 4% on nonparticipating Diary market stations.
PPM and Diary use different methodologies but they both measure the same thing: hearing/listening to radio. As Nielsen Audio says frequently in its reports, these are estimates. To me, the problem is the choice of metrics for Spark 1.
As I understand it, NPR is comparing average-quarter-hour (AQH) listeners. I think AQH is the wrong metric. The better choice is weekly cumulative listeners. Cume shows total listeners regardless of what proportion of the sample is listening to radio.
NPR is now ramping up Spark 2 to boost ATC listening.
AND THE WINNER IS… WWNO, NEW ORLEANS
Keep in mind that this was contest about creativity, not measurable results.
WWNO won for a Morning Edition promo called Smart Baby. The promo featured a baby who could only be comforted by the host’s voice. A panel of judges who are marketing execs from outside of public media reportedly unanimously chose the entry from WWNO.
“We were as surprised as anyone,” said Paul Maassen, WWNO’s g.m. “Financially, it’s a nice shot in the arm, but it’s also a nice affirmation of the work we’re doing.”
WWNO said they don’t know if the promos affected listening to Morning Edition.
Maassen said he plans to funnel the year of savings into WWNO’s growing news division. The station launched its newsroom in 2012 and has since been building up its news infrastructure. “This couldn’t come at a better time for us,” Maassen said. “Growing your news side is not cheap, and this will help keep that momentum going.”