Vivian Schiller, former CEO of NPR, just won’t give up. An incurable new-media zealot, she just can’t stop talking about the death of radio:
Your continued existence is not guaranteed. The monopoly advantage of the radio tower will begin to fail.
New digital-only startups will enter the marketplace in audio, and you will find yourselves longing for the days when the competition was that public radio station that overlapped with your broadcast signal.
It was a stern lecture directed at public radio stations to get over their reservations about NPR streaming shows and essentially competing against its own member stations.
She has repeatedly predicted the demise of broadcast, going so far as to give a timetable. As we discussed last year in a post, she flatly declared that in five to ten years, Internet radio would replace broadcast radio.
Schiller’s fervor for new-media and her conviction that broadcast would soon disappear led to a feverish push to make NPR available on every platform. Only Pandora has been more aggressive than NPR in making itself platform agnostic, to use her phrase.
There’s an app for every cell phone. Most shows are available via podcasts. As we explained in a 2010 post:
NPR is following the game-plan of those who declare that radio must move faster, lest it miss the digital revolution all together. Today, NPR listeners can find the same quality programming on pretty much every digital device they own.
But apparently she believes that even public radio stations are not moving fast enough:
If you don't aggressively reach out to new audiences on new platforms, someone else will. There is no such thing as lasting media loyalty. Public radio needs to "let go of the nostalgia" of the craft.
Perhaps Schiller has been so busy trying to save her job these last few months that she hasn’t kept up with NPR research.
It turns out that despite NPR’s tremendous effort to make its products available everywhere, only 2-5% of NPR’s listening is on some platform other than that quaint old obsolete radio tower she rails against.
Despite computers, iPhones, Blackberries, Androids, and iPads, more than 95% of NPR’s listening continues to be done through the broadcast signals of public radio stations.
Nostalgia of the craft, whatever she means, is not the reason.
The contrast between Schiller’s dismissively strident contempt for broadcast radio and the continued use of local broadcast stations on the part of nearly all her listeners should be a warning to both public and commercial operators alike.
Don’t listen to the siren song of new-media zealots. Listen to your listeners. They will tell you when it is time to tear down your broadcast towers.
Radio people (a group of which Shiller is not a member), may have nostalgia for the craft, but it is nostalgia recognizing the power of radio. Public and commercial broadcasters serve well over 300 million listeners every week, NPR 26 million alone.
Vivian Schiller was to NPR what David Rehr was to NAB. Both were leaders who never fully understood the power of broadcast radio, and consequently pursued misguided goals.