NPR podcast revenue to surpass radio, as “sea change” shifts listening

If Q2 was the Covid Quarter, NPR was infected. The U.S. public radio network lost about a quarter of its audience during that period. The main influence? Loss of morning and evening car commuting. This according to David Folkenflik, in a piece called “NPR Radio Ratings Collapse As Pandrmic Ends Listeners’ Commutes” on NPR’s own media site.

That sounds catastrophic, but here are two silver linings: First, the behemoth network has a bigger reach than before. Second, NPR will make more money from podcasting than its traditional radio underwriting in 2020, for the first time.

The reach component combines all listening on all devices. While the morning and evening commutes are vanished fields of harvest for NPR, at-home streaming through all sorts of devices has risen. Here are the examples from a NiemanLab report:

  • Unique weekly visitors to increased 94 percent
  • Smart speaker streams and on-demand audio increased 29 percent
  • Live stream listeners increased 39 percent
  • NPR app usage grew 22 percent
  • NPR One app usage increased 19 percent
  • NPR Music, through YouTube, saw its traffic increase by 90 percent

It all seems to add up to a continuing stickiness benefit to NPR, with listeners finding new ways to slake their thirst for the distinctive public radio sound and content.

And here’s a another eye-opening bottom line detail: In 2020 NPR will make more money from podcasting than from its radio shows. (Keeping in mind that some of its most successful podcast are online distributions of its radio shows — or extensions of radio shows as is the case with theĀ Up First morning news podcast.)

Covid gets the last bite in this story, however, as NPR expects $12-15-million corona-related advertising loss this year.

But moving beyond that, the shifts appear to represent a sea change. Lori Kaplan, NPR’s director of audience insights, is referenced in the NiemalLab piece as predicting that jprevious levels of broadcast listening (over radios) will not return. As compensions, the audience will get younger, and the content will be streamed through many platform types including smart speakers, YouTube, and social touch points like Tik Tok.


Brad Hill