Let’s be candid—2016 hasn’t been journalism’s best year. Fake political news ricocheted around social media faster than LOLcats, and heavyweight broadcasters were forced to fend off constant accusations of bias. So while I was personally (pleasantly) surprised to see NPR emerge as one of the 50 most relevant brands in the U.S. according to Prophet’s latest Brand Relevance Index, I wanted to find out more by delving into the numbers.
It turns out consumers consider NPR much more than just a reliable news source. It ranks at no. 44 in our Index, and the next news brand—The New York Times—doesn’t make an appearance until No. 192. Others fare much worse: Fox News ranks 261, CNN 272, The Wall Street Journal 276 and USA Today 291. And when segmenting our results to those with higher education levels, NPR does even better, zooming to 26th place.
It’s not a new brand (NPR launched in 1970) but its loyal following is growing, and that’s due to more than election-year news thirst. While overall morning news radio listenership is up 15 percent, Nielsen reports that NPR is up 46 percent. And in top markets, while commercial news radio in the afternoons gained 19 percent, NPR grew 43 percent.
An informal poll of my NPR-loving friends brought back quotes like “I love it because it informs me, makes me laugh and makes me cry.” “NPR has been a morning ritual and my favorite road trip co-pilot for over 16 years. Starting the day without it is like going it without coffee—I feel a little groggy, a little ignorant and not myself.”
Morning Edition and All Things Considered, NPR’s best-rated programs, are attracting record numbers of listeners, with audiences of over 13 million listeners a week. And it’s especially fast-growing among younger listeners, with Morning Edition increasing listeners in the 25-to-54 age group by 26 percent, and All Things Considered up 43 percent in that coveted age bracket.1 As one of my friends put it, “It sounds cheesy, but NPR is my intellectual soul food. I listen every morning when I’m getting ready for work and every night when I’m getting ready for bed…and anytime I’m in the car. I feel like I know the reporters and hosts on a personal level.”
What Make NPR’s Brand Relevant Now?
Gen Y and Gen X, flocking to terrestrial radio? Yep. Of the four dimensions in our Index that we use to measure brand relevance, NPR scores best in the one we call “distinctively inspired,” which includes measures of trustworthiness. And when asked about brands that have “a purpose I believe in,” only one – Fitbit – scores higher among more than 300 brands. (John Hopkins Medicine came in third.) NPR also scores well for being modern and in-touch, and earns high marks for innovation measures, like “pushes the status quo” and “has better products than its competitors.”
NPR Continues Digital Innovation
NPR’s growing relevance with younger audiences is no accident. Besides its conventional radio news broadcasts, NPR has been revamping its news magazines, sharpening its arts coverage, cranking up storytelling skills and creating better user platforms.
Podcasts have also been a big part of that innovation, with NPR ranking as the leading publisher, according to Podtrac. Arguably, the success of Serial, a NPR podcast, is what brought podcasting to a mass audience. In September of 2016 alone, although admittedly at the height of election frenzy, NPR podcasts had some 63 million unique downloads.
It’s also made big inroads in mobile usage and online traffic, earning more millennial love. Its NPR One app, which curates stories and podcasts based on individual preferences, is up 124 percent this year. And with nifty digital features like live fact-checking, available during the presidential debates, it averages over 36 million monthly visits to its site.
For NPR, Brand Trust is Paramount
But perhaps the biggest reason the brand is rising so quickly in relevance is trustworthiness, something consumers value more by the minute as bruised mainstream media apologize for their wrong-by-miles election predictions. The trust gap is becoming more evident as non-news brands like Facebook and Google concede that they play some role in the fake-news epidemic. Even savvy news consumers are doubting their perceptions, as fake news emerges as a bigger problem: A Stanford University study recently revealed that 82 percent of middle-schoolers can’t tell the difference between genuine news stories and fake ones, even when the latter are labeled “sponsored content.”
That makes NPR—with its mission of creating a more informed public—more relevant than ever.
Read Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index to find out more about this year’s top brands.