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Local Content Creation
Local Content Overview
More about the Program Ledger
More about the stations in this report
About Charting the Territory
For the past year, the Station Resource Group has been working to develop meaningful tools and strategies to help public radio stations manage local content creation. We see a strong and broad impulse in public radio for stations to be community-focused and to generate their own programming, and our goal is to help stations achieve success in those efforts. While others are examining the content and presentation of local programming from a front-line perspective, we are approaching local content creation from a management perspective, one that provides oversight, guidance, thoughtful decision-making and evaluation.
To help us in our efforts, we have formed a small working group of stations. In addition, we have consulted with SRG members and other public radio leaders to delve into the issues surrounding local content creation. Our discussions have been very fruitful and have directed us to three areas. First, we have found a number of important factors in successful local content creation. Second, we have created a framework to help stations evaluate the investments and returns of local content creation. Third, because local content is performing well for a number of stations, SRG has several projects underway to identify top performers.
As we examine key factors in successful local content creation, we can build on the work of Public Radio Program Directors, Inc. Through a series of listener focus groups, PRPD found that the core values of local programming are no different from those of any other kind of programming. That message also comes through in SRG's discussions with public radio general managers:
That simple, but very important, expectation from management reflects a new attitude toward local content. At a time of increased competition for listeners' attention, managers have to make sure that everything on the air is top quality. Local content shouldn't be – and can't afford to be – below average. The general managers and program directors we consulted also made it clear:
Putting local content on the air can be driven by mission or by the desire to super-serve core listeners or for many other reasons. Often the effort of getting a program or series or segment on the air becomes the goal in itself, but that's not enough. A key factor in success is setting clear goals for local content, goals set by station leadership that are specific to that station. There are obvious metrics to use – cume and loyalty – but there can be other kinds of goals for content and production as well, perhaps for the number of newsmakers brought to the station or the number of performance groups who come to the studios.
The next step in accountability for local content is making sure the timelines and milestones are met. Managers and program directors often track the performance of acquired programming in a disciplined, structured way. The same rules apply to local content.
It's important to have a framework for examining all aspects of local content creation. Working with station leaders, SRG has created the Programming Ledger. Originally called the Local Programming Ledger, we revised the title to again emphasize that local content is not different in any way from other content. The ledger helps managers calculate and understand the impact of local content creation on the station. Again, many managers know the exact cost of acquired programming, for Morning Edition or Car Talk or Classical 24, but they don't know the cost of their own local programming. The ledger can provide an internal structure of accountability to help managers meet the challenge of managing costs and measuring impact. This kind of evaluation helps stations invest appropriately in local content, not straining the resources of the station and thus jeopardizing the very thing station leaders set out to achieve.
It's a challenge to manage both sides of the ledger, but there are many returns for those stations willing to take on the task. Planning, goal-setting and evaluation with tools like the programming ledger are all important factors in achieving success with local content creation.
There are local content success stories, and SRG has embarked on several projects to identify stations achieving success. One recent project asked a very specific research question:
In addition, these questions followed:
These questions are important for several reasons. Radio listening is at its highest during morning drive time, Morning Edition is public radio's most listened=to program and is public radio's biggest investment. Consequently, capitalizing on the audience and loyalty delivered by Morning Edition is critical to a station's success. In our project, we examined Spring 2002 audience data for stations in the top 50 markets. Data for Morning Edition had to be based on at least 15 Arbitron diaries for a station to qualify. Our project had a pool of 65 qualified stations.
To answer our research question, we had to define "success." In this case, we measured a station's performance against itself, not against a system average. We consulted with public radio audience researchers, who suggested several ways to determine a station's success in keeping Morning Edition audience and loyalty. We found there is no single metric that gives a complete picture of station performance. Here are the measures we used:
The ratios provided a way to measure how much change occurred between Morning Edition and the two hours following.
For each of the five metrics, we created a list ranking station performance. For example, Morning Edition + 2 share, ranking stations highest to lowest. We then examined all five lists to see which stations appeared three times or more in the top 20 of the lists.
(The number of gold stars above the stations indicates the number of appearances in the top 20 lists.)
The list of stations shows that there are multiple pathways to success with local content creation. No one program format dominates the list, and local content performs very well – whether it's news or music. Our next steps will be to examine what makes these stations successful and what they have in common.
Note: Check out our follow-up report, Details, Details: Keeping the Morning Edition Audience.
This project asks one particular question, but it's important to remember that no one research project can tell the whole story of the performance of local content or explain why certain stations achieve success. There are many ways to define success, and there are many other questions to ask. SRG will continue with additional projects to examine the issues surrounding local content creation and will share results as they become available. In the meantime, congratulations to the stations above.
This report was developed as part of Charting the Territory, SRG's national planning initiative for public radio that is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and SRG member stations.