When 2020 started, we were looking forward to the next decade of public media and podcast possibilities. A year in, it’s not the era we necessarily anticipated… and like most others, we had to adjust to the reality of 2020. Between numbers and narrative, this is a snapshot of the myriad ways our content, investments in talent, and technology fit into the year that was.
What kind of year would it be without new podcasts? Our production partners and the newly launched PRX Productions team brought new shows to listeners, lengthening our podcast queues by hours and hours.
36: characters played by podcast creator Sharon Mashihi in the meta-fictional audio drama “Appearances.”
1776: the earliest year referenced in “This Day in Esoteric Political History.”
36,506: miles driven by host Long Haul Paul during “Over The Road.”
12,000: the final bid amount on a Babes in Toyland soldier, documented on “Detours,” the podcast hosted by a long-time producer of GBH’s “Antiques Roadshow.”
900,000: pieces of space debris in Earth’s orbit that can interrupt the work of satellites, as reported in the “NOVA Now” podcast.
160: eye-opening ideas shared thus far on “TEDx Shorts,” a new daily podcast brought to listeners by TED and PRX.
4: hours spent in Zoom for the longest recording session for the podcast adaptation of the play “The Agitators: The Story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.”
The Agitators is the third podcast from the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission and the National Park Service commemorating the centennial of the 19th amendment, inspired by the suffragists who worked to secure the right to vote for American women.
Expansions into new media forms
Adaptation of podcast media continued to grow in 2020, opening new opportunities and expressions of incredible content.
400: pages in “The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design,” The New York Times best-selling book by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt.
Audio with impact
We could fill whole reports with the impactful storytelling across PRX’s portfolio this — and every — year. Here are four:
2: U.S. Senators cited reporting from “Reveal,” including the American Rehab series, in their request to the Government Accountability Office’s investigation into rehab facilities that appear to violate federal law.
3: PRX partners honored by the 2020 Pulitzer Prizes. “Ear Hustle” was a finalist in the first-ever Audio Reporting category; the winner was “This American Life,” which is distributed to public radio stations by PRX. Reporting from “Reveal” on workplace safety in Amazon warehouses, including the piece “Behind the Smiles,” was a finalist in the Explanatory Reporting category.
107: the age of the oldest person heard in theThird Coast Award-winning diary from “Radio Diaries,” “Centenarians in Lockdown.”
Content for kids
As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the day-to-day lives of millions globally, new routines and the need for screen-free activities, especially for kids, surfaced as a heightened imperative. The PRX Kids’ portfolio averaged 3.3 million monthly downloads this year, with new launches from Gen-Z Media, GBH, PBS Kids, and our podcast network for tweens, TRAX from PRX.
Of course, the eight podcasts in TRAX were affected by COVID-19 — what shows weren’t? However, we found that these shows were perfectly poised to meet this moment, both in preteens’ development and for the heightened level of anxiety, stress, and grief that was nearly everywhere we turned. In a year filled with uncertainty, we are certain that content designed with and for the profound developmental changes that come with adolescence would help this underserved audience take on the world around them.
8: shows to date within TRAX, which launched in May 2020.
8: new podcast episodes of GBH and PBS Kids’ Peabody-nominated “Molly of Denali.”
117: mentions of the color pink in the first episode of GBH and PBS Kids’ “Pinkalicious & Peterrific” podcast.
Radiotopia producers, our partners at TED and Gen-Z Media, and public media stations across the U.S. responded to COVID-19 by creating new informative, uplifting, and escapist shows.
Five alums of PRX’s Project Catapult — a podcast accelerator for public media stations — used the design thinking framework to create resonant COVID-19 podcast content for their audiences. The webinar, co-hosted by the Public Media Journalists Association, featured journalists from KPBS in San Diego, WYPR in Baltimore, WABE in Atlanta, Colorado Public Radio in Denver, and St. Louis Public Radio.
597: episodes from seven new podcasts that launched in reaction to COVID-19: “In It Together,” “Phoebe Reads a Mystery,” “Remy’s Life… Interrupted,” “Home Cooking,” “Checking In with Susan David,” “At A Distance,” and “It’s The Pictures That Got Small.”
2,504: pieces available on the PRX Exchange that include Coronavirus, COVID, or COVID-19 in the title.
10: comedians who took to the mic on “The Takeaway” to discuss workshopping material during an era of social distancing, processing trauma through comedy, and finding humor in our collective anxiety.
25: episodes of the daily smart speaker flash briefing “The Number in the News” by “The World” that include Coronavirus or COVID-19 in the title.
11: Coronavirus focused Facebook Live discussions created in collaboration with “The World” and the Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Even before we knew what 2020 would hold, we knew that nearly one million Latino citizens would turn 18 and join a record-breaking 32 million Latino voters eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Seven stations — KERA in Dallas, Texas; KJZZ in Phoenix, Arizona; KPBS in San Diego, California; KUOW in Seattle, Washington; WABE in Atlanta, Georgia; WLRN in Miami, Florida; and WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina — participated in nuanced, in-depth reporting on Latino voters, delving into the 2020 presidential election in a way only “The World” and its station collaborators could do.
8: first-time Latino voters followed during reporting for Every 30 Seconds.
61: percent of donors this year were first-time supporters of “The World.” One of the highest donor days for “The World” followed the release of the “Every 30 Seconds” video.
Weekly programs “Snap Judgment” and “Latino USA” joined the PRX broadcast and podcast portfolio this year, positioning each show’s featured voices and stories to reach even more listeners across the country.
1000: stations broadcasting PRX content this year.
562: stations broadcasting “Snap Judgment” and/or “Latino USA.”
50: states that air “The Moth Radio Hour,” as of 2020.
Podcasts on the radio? Absolutely yes! In fact, we’ve been doing so on satellite and broadcast for over a decade. The PRX Remix stream features work from novice audio producers alongside long-established shows all day, every day on SiriusXM 123, on the web, on your smart speaker, and stations around the world.
10: years of PRX Remix on broadcast radio.
46: public radio stations that carry PRX Remix.
58: percentage of new work by and about people of color added to PRX Remix in 2020, accounting for 70 hours of content.
Investing in talent
Design thinkers are familiar with the mindset of learning what is meaningful to their audience and creating accordingly. Understanding, exploring, and creating new ways to connect audio communities through virtual experiences was stress-tested immediately for the PRX Podcast Garage and training teams. Some planned programs were quickly adapted based on best practices for online learning, while new programming was inspired by reality's new needs.
Our trainers took their self-education and exploration to heart as they experimented with as many ways as possible to create online spaces that maintained community and the spark of in-person connection. The power of observation, collaboration, iteration, and of course, feedback connected more people across greater distances than ever.
210: Shop Talk sessions attended by Black podcasters, audio makers, journalists, and storytellers. Creators from 11 countries joined these 1:1 summer sessions held by 30 people from across PRX and Radiotopia. Overall, Podcast Garage attendance increased by 55% between March and August 2020 compared to last year.
9: Podcast Wine Downs attended by nearly 800 people. Podcast Wine Downs took inspiration from Boston Public Library listening events and transformed them into online gatherings that engaged producers and hosts around their creative processes. The location-independent nature of online programming like Podcast Wine Downs saw an average of 70% attendance from outside the local circles of the Boston and DC Podcast Garage communities.
118: countries represented in this year’s application cycle for Google Podcast creator program, a podcast accelerator and training program for a global community of creators from PRX and Google. Twenty podcast teams are participating in the program, receiving regular feedback on their production, training, and up to $12,000 in funding.
61: languages represented in the 2020 GPcp applicant pool.
94: countries represented at registration for Audio Recess, our day-long convention for podcast creators across the globe to connect, support each other, and play. Outside of the U.S., creators in Brazil, Nigeria, India, Canada, and the U.K. were most engaged and active with our work.
311: attendees for Project Catapult’s virtual showcase presenting the six newest podcasts developed during the third round of public media podcast training. The virtual showcase was three times more attended than past Project Catapult events at the Oberon Theater in Boston (and yes, the signature Rose, Thorn, and Bud cocktails were distributed as recipes to attendees).
PRX tools and customer services
In 2020, more than 70 new podcasts began using our best-in-class podcast hosting tool and platform, Dovetail. These shows joined dozens of others who partner with PRX for podcast distribution, metrics, and advertising as creator-owned and operated independent productions.
37: hours of one-on-one training provided to podcasters using PRX tools.
170: questions and answers documented on our self-service help center.
12,000: resolved technical support requests submitted to the PRX Help Desk.
1,238,523,327: ads served through PRX’s proprietary ad injection technology.
426: podcast ads read by our announcer.
26: health and wellness sector podcast sponsors heard across PRX-distributed shows in 2020.
12,942: voluntarily submitted survey responses received and used to inform future sponsorship opportunities for shows.
PRX technology in the podcast landscape
24: panelists and speakers at Emerging Threats to Podcasting’s Open Ecosystem, a one-day symposium produced by PRX with funding from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The podcast privacy symposium at The New School was our last in-person event of the year. More than 100 attendees from the audio, media, technology, and policy sectors explored podcast business models, podcast privacy, and the future of audio, including artificial intelligence, voice, and smart devices.
Rapid expansion and consolidation within the podcast industry feels similar to what’s happened in digital media before. Podcasting has the benefit of learning from those strategies to build a more vibrant future that recognizes that trust and privacy are not at odds with financial stability, but rather strengthened by opportunities that lay the intersection of them.
Our CEO Kerri Hoffman closed her Nieman Lab prediction for journalism in 2021with this sentiment: “My hope is that next year we protect [podcasting’s] open ecosystem, embrace new entrants, foster sustainability, and honor listener privacy, with each ideal connecting to the others.”
All this makes us particularly proud of this last number:
0: ways to identify a specific listener through PRX’s technology.
And we plan to keep it that way as we uphold these values of listener privacy moving into 2021 and beyond.