With people stuck at home for months on end and hungry for news, this could have been a golden time for radio—but NPR ratings took a dive this spring as the pandemic stopped people from commuting. Ratings for most of its shows are down by around a quarter year-on-year, with people who already listened from home still tuning in but former commuters failing to do so, writes media reporter David Folkenflik. Some stations, however, including Chicago, Minneapolis, and Detroit, bucked the trend with a sharp rise in home listening. Lori Kaplan, the network's senior director of audience insights, says the pandemic has accelerated a "sea change" that was already taking place. More people have turned to the network's digital offerings and this year, NPR expects to generate more revenue from podcast sponsorship than radio sponsorship for the first time.
"It's important for us to reach our future audiences where they are, whether or not it's in their car, or on other digital platforms," says NPR CEO John Lansing, a former TV exec. He says the network has made preventing layoffs a priority, but nobody is expecting it to return to how things were pre-pandemic. "Not unlike World War II, you just don't come out the other end and everything's back to being 1939," he says. "Certain habits are going to be changed." Commercial radio has seen even sharper declines in listening during the pandemic, which radio veterans blame partly on the trend toward syndication, which has left stations disconnected from their communities, Rolling Stone reports. (Read more NPR stories.)