This American Life Experiments with Paid iPhone App [Updated]


[Many Thanks to @MGallivan over at NPR who corrected my mistake in the original version of this post. I had originally attributed the app development to NPR. As he told me over Twitter: “@radio2020 TAL is actually not NPR. It’s produced by WBEZ & dist. by PRI. A group called PRX made the app w/ BEZ. Enough letters for ya? ;)” Thanks for catching me there! -George]

National Public Radio (NPR) has had a huge lead in working with social media as it applies to radio. Its non-commercial basis has allowed a lot more flexibility in experimenting online, allowing it to act as a sort of crucible for new media. This is important for those of us in commercial radio to keep up with; many of their techniques and concepts are adaptable to our industry as well.

Now one of their most well known programs is pushing further into engaging the world of Internet capable  mobile users. I think it should go on your “things to watch” list. Here’s a synopsis from GigaOm:

“This American Life,” the well-loved personal narrative public radio show, today released a paid iPhone application for on-demand access to its nearly 15-year-old archive. It’s a good fit; the show’s demographic ostensibly overlaps quite well with iPhone owners, and its podcast often tops the iTunes charts. The price of Ira Glass’ dulcet monotones in your pocket? $2.99.

Now there are a few things to note in order to see the big picture:

  • The episodes are free online for several days after they first air.
  • Older episodes are available on iTunes for $0.99 each.
  • This American Life is streamed live online in addition to its syndicated broadcasts across the nation.
  • According to the GigaOm article, the bandwidth needed for all this is quite expensive: “500,000 episode downloads a week at a cost of more than $100,000.”

With an established community behind it,  This American Life has certainly got enough of a foundation to make this forray. I do wonder how the cashflow aspect will play out, though. Even non-commercial radio needs to have operating expenses covered, including the ever-increasing costs of bandwidth. Also, if massive adoption occurs, will it adversely impact the revenue generated by the 99-cent episodes? For an iPhone-using TAL fan, it’s a no brainer: all 15 years of archives for the cost of three old shows I’m sure will be the choice for many.

Another thing to consider is how the established community will react. The Internet has a history of  not being kind most of the time when free services begin to charge. In this regard, having the shows available for a limited time at no cost serves to keep good will even among those that might otherwise object fiercely to paying. To my way of thinking, that is fantastic strategy. I’m very curious to see if it plays out as well as I think it will.

Monetizing radio content on mobile platforms is a high priority in our industry. Each time an experiment is made in this direction, there is something to be learned. Besides, I always love it when I get to report on something like this. I’ve watched palpable advancement on so many fronts  in the past two years of writing this blog and it’s been amazing throughout.

Image: This American Life Logo / Fair Use: Reporting


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