Jan 4, 2022 - Economy

NPR doubling down on podcast subscriptions

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Data: Podtrac; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

NPR plans to add a slew of new shows and subscriber-only bonus content to its new podcast platform NPR+, executives tell Axios. It also plans to launch an on-demand podcast bundle as a benefit of membership to local stations in the second half of the year.

Why it matters: Subscription podcasting offers a new digital business model for NPR and its member stations. But its long-standing mission to inform the public limits how much content the non-profit can put behind a paywall.

  • Podcasting also attracts a significantly younger and more diverse audience than terrestrial radio for NPR. Offering podcast content to local members could grow station membership, which NPR relies on for revenue via affiliate fees.
  • The majority of NPR's revenues come from affiliate fees and corporate sponsorships.

Driving the news: The new subscription podcast bundle will give local station supporters extended access to an on-demand library of podcasts and digital content, akin to the on-demand service from PBS called "PBS Passport," said NPR's Joel Sucherman, vice president for new platform partnerships.

  • This differs from NPR's current podcast subscription offering, NPR+, which allows listeners to pay to subscribe to their favorite NPR podcast, free of sponsor messages, for $2.99 monthly or $29.99 annually.
  • To beef up that offering, which launched in August, NPR is adding more shows and subscriber-only benefits to NPR+. NPR shares NPR+ revenue with member stations and co-develops podcasts with some of its local members.

Details: On Tuesday, NPR will launch a new podcast available on NPR+ called "The Limits with Jay Williams," hosted by the ESPN personality and former college and NBA star.

  • "For the first time, we'll be adding some bonus content that's available to subscribers," Sucherman said. "There will be a separate drop each week in the feed that subscribers to that podcast will have access to."
  • Sucherman notes that NPR may also test things like unedited interviews, member-only events and merchandise, like laptop stickers.

The big picture: NPR has been experimenting with podcasts for well over a decade, but it's pushing more aggressively to produce podcasts, particularly daily shows, that it can include in subscription efforts.

  • On Saturday, NPR will add a sixth weekly episode to the schedule for its daily afternoon news podcast "Consider This," hosted by Michel Martin, weekend host of NPR's flagship news program "All Things Considered."
  • On Sunday, it will add a seventh weekly episode its news podcast "Up First," hosted by Rachel Martin, who hosts NPR's Morning Edition radio program. The show will feature the best of NPR's long-form reporting.
  • Neither podcast is yet available as part of NPR+, but "will be at some point" said Neal Carruth, senior director of on-demand news programming at NPR.

By the numbers: With the launch of "The Limits with Jay Williams," NPR will have a total of nine podcasts available as a part of its NPR+ podcast subscription service.

  • It expects to add several more in the next few months, including "Life Kit," "NPR Politics," "Throughline," "The Indicator" and "Book of the Day," said Sucherman.
  • Other popular shows currently available through the subscription include "How I Built This," "Code Switch" and "Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me."
  • Sucherman declined to say how many people currently subscribe to NPR+, but noted "we were happy with the start of the subscription service, (and) we're happy with where we are at the moment."

The bottom line: For now, mostly everything in NPR's content portfolio is available in a sponsored format for free where audiences listen to podcasts, and NPR plans to keep it that way.

  • Podcast subscriptions will be used to drive revenue from loyalists who want to support their favorite shows and hosts, similar to radio memberships.
  • "It's about the relationship that our journalists, our producers, our editors have with their audiences and their ability to create and craft new relationships," said Sarah Gilbert, vice president for news programming.
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