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NPR ratings feel the brunt of COVID-19's impact on listeners who commute to work


Because of the COVID-19 pandemic causing many workplaces to shutter, listenership for NPR has decreased.

According to the news outlet, ratings for most of NPR’s broadcast shows took “a steep dive in major markets this spring.”

Audience research indicated that the coronavirus crisis kept many from commuting to work and school.

As a result, National Public Radio programming lost roughly a quarter of its audience between the second quarter of 2019 and the same months in 2020.

“We anticipated these changes,” said NPR’s senior director of audience insights Lori Kaplan. “This kind of change was going to take place over the next decade. But the pandemic has shown us what our future is now.”

Noting while commercial radio is likely experiencing worse declines, the data commissioned by Kaplan indicates her company’s audience is disproportionately made up of professionals who are able to work from home and who are interested in continuing to do so after the pandemic subsides.

"We're experiencing a sea change," Kaplan said. "We're not going back to the same levels of listening that we've experienced in the past on broadcast."

On the flip side, the programming at 10 major stations in cities, such as Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Austin, have experienced an uptick in audience with people tuning in at home, according to the outlet.

Moreover, more than 57 million people are consuming NPR’s weekly offerings, whether on traditional radio formats or its various digital platforms, representing a nearly 10% increase from last year.

NPR podcast downloads and its listening apps have grown in popularity with a 76% increase in users of its website.

According to company CEO John Lansing, NPR is on track to make more revenues from underwriting on podcasts than on its conventional radio shows, which had been projected before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on America this spring.

He said the growth in podcast sponsorship, however, will not make up for the projected $23 million drop in total sponsorship this year, which will be driven by losses on the radio side.

“The first thing that I see is a situation driven by habits of consumers that are not related to the content of our programs,” Lansing said. “It’s almost entirely related to the disruption caused by the pandemic to commuting patterns both in the morning and the evenings. [Most] of us, including me, are working from home.”

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