$90M San Francisco public media group shares keys to success, product innovations

KQED, a non-profit, public media organization based in San Francisco, has developed a variety of innovative products and services to build out its 200,000 member community and $90 million revenue.

Those taking part in this year’s National Innovation Mission, June 9-13 in Silicon Valley, will learn what’s been key to KQED’s success, as well as insights from other big companies like Google, LinkedIn and Salesforce.

To learn more about what’s happening at KQED, we caught up with Tim Olson, chief digital officer at KQED. Here’s what he had to say.

Tim Olson

First, can you tell us a little about KQED? You know, the “About Us” info?

KQED is the Bay Area local, non-profit, public media organization.

KQED is a “joint licensee” of both PBS and NPR. KQED is the most listened-to radio station in the Bay Area (commercial and non-commercial), and one of the most listened-to and watched in public media.

KQED has a newsroom of about 100, and about 400 total staff.  KQED has a robust digital operation with original content, social, video, audio and voice/smart assistants.

You have more than 200,000 members. Being a public media company, membership must have always been important to you, but tell us how your strategies with membership have changed over the years.

KQED has grown our “sustainers” program – where users contribute each month – to over 40 percent of our total donors. KQED is also increasingly leveraging digital channels for donation appeals. KQED leverages “Passport” — a vault of public television programming available to donors. KQED also has a pledge-free audio stream for donors.

It seems you are heavily invested in podcasting. What are some of the more popular shows and where do you see this form of media going for you in the future?

Yes, many podcasts.  Here are three to check out:

The Bay – focuses on one story, one conversation, in depth per episode.

Bay Curious – allows people to submit questions for the show to investigate, then posts the most interesting questions for votes to decide which to investigate next.

Truth Be Told (new) – a podcast advice show for people of color that premiered May 16.

Has listening with radio transitioned more to online, or do you see that happening in the coming years? What does that mean overall for your business?

• Live steam listening has grown for the last several years

• 23 percent of our live radio stream now comes from smart speakers

• Overall radio over-the-air audiences remain strong, but long-term we are growing investments and strategies in online, podcasting, and smart assistants

Are there initiatives or innovations happening at KQED you would like to showcase?

• Voice/smart speakers (funded by Google News Initiative) – News on Assistant. KQED produces 17 weekday briefings and 11 weekend briefings per week for voice assistants, and average listening duration is 1 minute 40 seconds.

Regional news and information

Truth Be Told (new)

* You can sign up here for the National Innovation Mission*