Major Changes Ahead for American Public Media’s Marketplace

“Let’s do the numbers.”

*jazz music*

Public radio fans will be familiar with this intro. It is a staple of Marketplace, a portfolio of business and economics news programs heard on public radio stations and podcasts. Reaching more than 13 million listeners weekly, Marketplace shows are some of the most widely-heard economic and business programming in the country.

In many ways, Marketplace is stronger than ever. They are a critical part of American Public Media (APM), the second largest public radio content producer, and have experienced increased popularity in the past few years. Amid reports of public radio listenership declining, the Marketplace audience has been growing, and the brand has become a recognized leader in public radio programming

But Marketplace is not about to settle.

“Like many media outlets, our landscape has changed,” Deborah Clark, Marketplace Vice President and Executive Producer, told MediaFile. “I think people know, respect, and trust Marketplace, but our universe has changed so much. We have spent the last [few months] really trying to figure out what we need to do to get ahead of that. Not just keep up with it, but really have a plan and a vision for the future that allows us to thrive.”

To do that, Marketplace is transforming itself into a full-on branded enterprise. Currently, Marketplace is composed of four distinct programs: Marketplace, the flagship show that airs in the evening with host Kai Ryssdal; Marketplace Morning Report with David Brancaccio; Marketplace Tech; and Marketplace Weekend. Shifting to an enterprise will mean expanding the existing shows, creating new content, and branching out onto new platforms for distribution and engagement.

Marketplace’s full offering of programs.

“We are looking to adapt from a very legacy-oriented shop with a suite of radio programs […] to build Marketplace as an enterprise,” Clark shared. “The foundation of [the shift] is raising the economic intelligence of the country. We have done a lot of planning and thinking and modeling and are now kind of underway with that.”

The first step in this transformation will be a leadership shake-up. Last week, Marketplace posted two job positions that have never existed in the company, one of which being a chief content officer (CCO). According to Clark, the CCO will lead Marketplace’s content creation across all platforms, “whether it’s a radio program, a podcast, a social media posting, or a live event.” The other position is a chief operating officer (COO), which signals that Marketplace is setting the foundation for a strong business expansion into a more autonomous brand.

Clark herself is also part of this leadership shakeup and was promoted to General Manager of Marketplace this week. Clark says that the change “reflects having an enterprise to run rather than only running the editorial side of operations.”

A new focus for the rebranded organization, and its new leadership, will be increased investment in on-demand media and podcasting. Marketplace is creating a new team dedicated to developing podcasts and other downloadable content. This team will get to work immediately with a new podcast, Make Me Smart, with hosts Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood, that is set to launch early next year.

Marketplace also plans to expand into videos, live events, and possibly even curriculum and video games. While the plans for these new ventures are still being made, the infrastructure and thought leadership is forming, and will begin scaling these novel projects soon.

Much of Marketplace’s shift is focused on new ways to engage younger audiences. While Clark is not especially concerned about losing younger listeners, she recognizes the need to reach new and diverse populations with Marketplace content. “The goal is not to drive everyone to the broadcast audience. The goal is to reach more people,” says Clark. She believes that Marketplace has to go where the young audiences are, not the other way around.

To determine the most effective platforms, Marketplace is also building an in-house analytics team to determine what is happening with its content and how it is shared. Clark hopes that this team will be an industry leader in building “an understanding of how to marry analytics with business and editorial decisions in a way [that] public media has not embraced.”

While Marketplace typically relies on revenue from selling broadcasting rights to their programs, such a monumental expansion in operations will also require “a diversified source of underwriting revenue that speaks to multiple platforms,” according to Clark.

Although Marketplace won’t be walking away entirely from broadcasting revenues, the new COO will oversee possibilities for expanding revenue sources without jeopardizing the old ones. For Marketplace, philanthropic donations have proved  to be  essential. “There are a lot of people, now more than ever, that believe in public service journalism and understand that there is something that we can do that is different than for-profit media,” Clark notes.

Regardless of Marketplace’s upcoming major changes and increased autonomy, Clark clarified that it will remain a part of APM, which produces and distributes its content. In fact, APM invested in many of Marketplace’s new ventures. “What’s really exciting is that this is fully embraced by our parent company,” Clark says of APM’s continued support of the changes.

As Marketplace develops new positions and teams in-house, it will become more autonomous from APM, while simultaneously enjoying the benefits of a trusted, long-term partnership.  Clark notes that the change “is not about leaving [APM] or setting up on our own, but it is about changing the nature of [our] work.”

The coming year will be an exciting time, and proving grounds, for Marketplace, not only as a content producer, but as a brand. . In many ways, radio broadcasting is associated with the past. But, with coming expansions in podcasting,, digital media, and a myriad of exciting new opportunities, Marketplace is turning an eye – and an ear – toward the future.

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