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Pew Looks at State of Public Broadcasting

Listenership is down, but revenue for NPR is up

Despite some declines in listenership, public radio remains on a stable financial footing according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. The State of the News Media project report looked at NPR, PRX, and local public radio stations.

The report found a mix of positive and concerning signs for public radio. Nationally, total operating revenue for NPR was $316.7 million, an 8% increase from 2021, but PRX saw a fall in total revenue of about 17%, down to $36.1 million, in that same time period.

Local public radio stations had a total revenue of about $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2021, about half of which, $647.6 million, came from underwriting and donations from “listeners like you.” To study local public stations, Pew looked at public filings from 129 of the largest organizations operating local public radio stations. In total about 2.4 million people donated to the 129 licensees in the prior year.

Nationally, 249 member organizations operating at least one station carried NPR programming in 2022, down slightly from 251 in 2021. In 2022, 936 stations carried programming from PRX.

The report noted that local stations also scaled back some of their investment in newsgathering from 2020 to 2021, investing $480.2 million in 2021 in program and production expenses compared to $539.4 million in 2020.

In terms of audience, the report noted that the average total weekly listenership for the top 20 NPR affiliates fell to about 8 million people in 2022, down about 10% from 2021. Looking specifically at NPR-originated programming, the weekly over-the-air audience declined about 6% from 2022 to 2021. The over-the-air audience for PRX-originated programming fell about 24% to 6.7 million in the same time period.

Nationwide about 23.5 million average weekly listeners tuned to NPR programming in 2022, down from 25.1 million in 2021 and a high of 30.1 million in 2017, according to data provided to Pew by NPR.

NPR saw mixed results for listening via it’s NPR One app, with lower average number of sessions for Android users in 2022 compared to 2021, but the opposite trend for iPhone users. The NPR News app saw decreases in use by both iPhone and Android users in 2022 compared to 2021.

Although NPR podcasts remain popular in the Apple Podcasts charts, the broadcaster also saw a decline in downloads from 10.6 million in 2020 to 8 million in 2023.

The NPR News app, which offers livestreams from individual stations and digital content, increased sharply in completed sessions among iPhone users in 2020 but has since declined.

The full fact sheet for the public broadcasting report is available, along with an explanation from Pew on the report’s methodology.

[Read a commentary on the study by consultant Fred Jacobs.]