In FY17, 78 stations participated with a combined 3.5 million donors and representing a wide variety of station sizes, licensee types, formats and geographic locations. Trends through FY17 mark the first time in decades that both radio and television had significant increases in donors and revenue.
Public television in particular has struggled with declining donor counts over the last 20 years in conjunction with changing donor habits and the added challenge of the proliferation of cable television, followed by video-on-demand services. By FY13, median public television donor counts had declined by 40 percent from FY98 counts.
In FY17, median public television donor counts increased by 12 percent. Eighty-nine percent of stations in the donor Centrics Benchmarking project had an increase in donor counts; 33 percent experienced double-digit donor growth. Median new-donor counts increased by 24 percent in FY17, driving much of the overall donor growth. By far, the biggest change in acquisition in the last two years has been in digital acquisition and Passport.
Passport donors are younger and may be more interested in the service than the mission.
Radio has performed well during periods of increased news consumption. With the 2016 primaries and presidential election and the ongoing intense news cycle, tuning in to public radio news stations has been strong, and FY17 results show it.
Between FY13 and FY16, median public radio donor counts fluctuated by no more than 1,000 donors. In FY17, median donor counts increased by nearly 3,500 donors for an 11 percent increase over FY16. Donors increased for 81 percent of stations in the study in FY17, with nearly half experiencing double-digit growth.
With a younger audience and less use of acquisition methods other than on-air pledge, radio stations have been converting their files to sustainers at a faster rate than television. By individual station, sustainers as a share of total donors ranged from 27 percent to a peak of 82 percent, the highest of any public radio station for the second year in a row.
The challenge for public radio will be battling donor and news fatigue and establishing upgrading strategies for sustainers.