In partnership with the Public Radio Program Directors Association, Jacobs Media has released Public Radio Techsurvey 2020 (“PRTS”), its latest annual study exploring the ongoing digital media revolution and its impact on public radio. PRTS 2020 takes a continued look at the ever-changing media consumption behaviors of core public radio listeners, and particularly, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming November election.

The pandemic cuts both ways. While more than one in four respondents says they have increased their public radio consumption in the past year, more than one in ten cites less listening to public radio. In both cases, COVID and its tentacles are behind these changes in listening.

Jacobs Media President Fred Jacobs comments, “In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impending election, the data in this year’s Public Radio Techsurvey, our 12th study of public radio listeners, reveals how the traumatic environment in 2020 is impacting public radio listening behaviors. The march to digital had already been well underway, and the events of this year show further seismic shifts in listening by location and platform.”

Abby Goldstein, President of PRPD, adds, “As 2020 has proved challenging to the public radio system on many levels, the data revealed in this year’s PRTS is a valuable resource for programmers and managers seeking actionable information to track and navigate these choppy waters.”

Highlights from PRTS 2020 include:

  • Overall radio listening is down, with in-car listening most impacted – The percentage of the public radio audience who say they do not listen to broadcast radio for more than one hour on an average weekday (on any device) increased to 17%, from 14% last year (and 11% in 2018). Listening to public radio on an AM/FM radio in a vehicle saw a precipitous decline as well, down to 30% of overall listening (down from 39% in 2019).
  • The presence of “regular” radios in the home is showing a pronounced decline – The pandemic appears to have sped up the decline in AM/FM radios in the home, as only 77% now say they use a “regular” radio where they live, sharply down from 82% one year ago.
  • Digital listening is up sharply – More than one-third (36%) of typical weekly public radio listening is to digital sources (computer, mobile, podcasts, smart speakers) – the highest since we started tracking this data – showing a marked increase, up from 31% one year ago. Younger generations lead in digital listening, with half (50%) of public radio listening among Millennials via digital platforms and 46% listening to public radio using digital sources among Generation X. Additionally, nearly four in ten smartphone/tablet owners (38%) have downloaded their primary public radio station’s mobile app (up from 32% in 2019) – another sign that listening is shifting to the digital arena.
  • Podcast usage remains robust – Now just under four in ten (38%) listen to podcasts/on-demand audio weekly or more (vs. 34% one year ago), led by Millennials (74%) and News/Talk partisans (46%). However, one-third (33%) of weekly podcast consumers say they are listening to less “real time” AM/FM radio as a result.
  • The political climate and the effects of COVID-19 are impacting public radio listening in myriad ways – Among those listening to more public radio in the past year (26% of all respondents), more than half (55%) say it is a result of the current political climate, while half (50%) report it is due to a lifestyle change (e.g., triggered by the COVID crisis), and 39% are listening more for COVID-19 news coverage. On the other hand, three-fourths (76%) of those listening to less public radio in the past year (11% of the total sample) cite spending less time in a car as the culprit, followed by more than half of this group (54%) who point to those same lifestyle changes.
  • Most feel there is a long way to go with the pandemic  Two in three (67%) believe that when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak, the worst is yet to come. That pessimism has grown (up from 49%) since our COVID study conducted this past May. And the vast majority say they are engaging in few or none of their pre-pandemic activities.

PRTS 2020 data was gathered online from June 23-July 19, 2020. Overall, 53 public radio stations across the U.S. participated, contributing 19,015 respondents, most of whom are members of these stations’ databases.

Download a PDF of the study here: https://jacobsmedia.com/prts-2020-results/

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