For the first time in decades, both public radio and television had increases in donors and revenue. A new article published by Current analyzed the annual State of the System report for public broadcasting. This report was written by Target Analytics, a data-analytics division of Blackbaud. The report studied over 78 radio and television stations with a combined 3.5 million donors in FY17.

The article reports that while public radio has faced challenges from new competition and delivery platforms, it is still performing well, especially during periods of heavy news consumption, like during the 2016 primaries and the presidential election. The report found that between FY13 and FY16, the median public radio donor count was steady at around 1,000 donors. However, in FY17, the median donor count for all of the radio stations analyzed increased by approximately 3,500 donors, an 11% increase over FY16.

The report found that acquisition of new donors was the primary driver of this growth. Most stations in the survey experienced donor growth, along with one quarter of all stations experiencing donor growth by 50% or more. Similar to television, it found that many of the radio stations with the most growth had on-demand services. The article mentions how radio’s typical on-demand options are podcasts and that those station’s podcast donors were responsible for 9% of all new donors in FY17.

Radio revenue also increased. Median revenue has increased by 34% since FY13 and increased by 11% in just FY17. In order to sustain this growth, the article says, “The challenge for public radio will be battling donor and news fatigue,” and, “It will also need to retain new, and especially younger, donors, who may behave like emergency donors to relief organizations.” The article talks about how an emergency donor is a donor that generally gives in large volumes when there is a big crisis, but then gives at a low level once that crisis has passed.

According to the article, public television has struggled with declining donor counts over the last 20 years but is now making a recovery with the launch of Passport by PBS. Officially launched in FY16, Passport is a member benefit that gives eligible donors and supporters extended access to an on-demand library of over 1,000 episodes of public television programming all online. Passport features episodes from programs such as American Experience, American Masters, Antiques Roadshow, Nature, NOVA and Masterpiece – which includes all 6 seasons of Downton Abbey.

The results have been astounding. In FY17, median public television donor counts increased by 12%. The article says, “By far, the biggest change in acquisition in the last two years has been in digital acquisition and Passport.”

This growth in public radio and television donors is a sign of the power these outlets have in our local communities. It will be interesting to see how they continue to be monetized as we move deeper into the on-demand era. Are on-demand options for donors the future of public radio and TV?

Stay tuned…