Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Slate is taking steps to reduce its page load time by 75 percent
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
April 26, 2011, noon

Internet radio might keep FM company, not kill it

You may have heard the worries of public radio leaders: When in-car streaming radio gets better, it’ll be a serious threat to all those stations built around a terrestrial FM signal. Is that true? Arbitron, the radio ratings authority, says one in five Americans (22 percent) is streaming audio on a weekly basis, and the number of people doing so in cars has nearly doubled from a year ago.

A study released yesterday by research firm knowDigital — based on interviews with about 30 heavy streamers in the Raleigh-Durham area who commuted a half-hour or more per day — found that listeners tend to stream Internet radio as a complement to, not a replacement for, AM/FM radio. Most report starting their listening day with terrestrial radio before switching to an Internet stream. And listeners tend to reserve Internet radio for longer drives, not five-minute trips to the dry cleaner. That would seem to corroborate a data point from an earlier Arbitron report: A whopping 89 percent of online radio listeners still used over-the-air radio.

Why? “They all still wanted to be connected to locale,” knowDigital president Sam Milkman said, a need that Pandora and Howard Stern can’t satisfy. Listeners in the study reported turning to FM radio for traffic, weather, news, and morning shows — the kind of local programming that public radio stations can still deliver. Ex-NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, in her advice to stations last week, said local programming will be the strongest way to remain competitive.

Moreover, many participants reported streaming traditional radio stations through their smartphones, even though the hassle-free FM equivalent is often available right there in the dashboard. Those participants said they preferred what they perceived as the higher quality of the static-free streaming version. “Get your app going,” Milkman advises local stations. “Sell the idea that you’re available anywhere, anytime.”

Finally, the listeners interviewed said they only wanted a handful of streams, even given the Internet’s endless choices. The researchers asked participants to pick 10 inputs for a mock car stereo. No one filled up all of the available slots; most programmed no more than five. The most popular presets were, in order: a smartphone, an FM radio station, an input for the consumer’s digital music library (e.g. an iPod), Pandora, and a second FM station.  “You better fight for your brand and your position right now,” Milkman said. “People aren’t going to program 27 presets on their dashboard.”

Photo by S. Diddy used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     April 26, 2011, noon
Show comments  
Show tags
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Slate is taking steps to reduce its page load time by 75 percent
Slate Group vice chairman Dan Check discusses how Slate plans to speed up its site, how it’s thinking about ad blockers, and why it’s participating in platforms like Apple News.
This portable FM transmitter brings information to people in crisis
“When there is no existing infrastructure that is stable for any kind of media, we thought, let’s come back to good old radio.”
How Esquire built Esquire Classic, a new standalone digital archive
The process took about a year and required the scanning and tagging of more than 50,000 articles dating back to 1933.
What to read next
As giant platforms rise, local news is getting crushed
The quest for scale, driven by the distribution power of a few enormous technology platforms, is killing the business case for local news. Will anything take its place?
890What happened after 7 news sites got rid of reader comments
Recode, Reuters, Popular Science, The Week, Mic, The Verge, and USA Today’s FTW have all shut off reader comments in the past year. Here’s how they’re all using social media to encourage reader discussion.
699Facebook woos journalists with Signal, a dashboard to gather news across Facebook and Instagram
Signal helps journalists find, source, and embed content from Facebook and Instagram.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Associated Press
Connecticut Mirror
The Miami Herald
Talking Points Memo
San Francisco Chronicle
Ann Arbor News