Today, we released an Audience and Impact Report that gives us clear insight into the needs of media consumers worldwide and how well we are meeting them. With media sources proliferating around the world, information is more available than ever. But the existence of more media does not yield more press freedom. Reporters Without Borders recently reported that media freedom remains highly threatened, with significant deteriorations over the past five years. Their global indicator of media freedom registered its worst ever value in 2017, remaining essentially unchanged in 2018. These are the countries in which we work. And despite this challenging operating environment, we have evidence showing that the appetite for independent, professional, and unbiased reporting in these communities is unwavering. Even in the most restrictive environments, our audiences are willing to buck conventional technology, and authority, to access news and information that allows them to make decisions affecting their lives and futures.
With a mission to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) networks—the Voice of America (VOA) and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB); and three USAGM-sponsored grantees: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)—deliver engaging content on television, radio, internet, social and mobile platforms, and also by working closely with media partners around the world that bring our content into local markets, establishing valuable connections to critical institutions that support civil society and democratic principles.
And it looks like our journalists and storytellers are on to something. USAGM networks are reaching larger-than-ever audiences and in some of the most critically strategic corners of the world. Here are five key highlights of our most recent Audience and Impact Report (link).
- Reaching record audiences: In 2018, USAGM programming was consumed by 345 million weekly news users worldwide – including radio, television and internet – an unprecedented year-on-year increase of 67 million from 278 million in 2017. This estimate is based on surveys conducted within the past five years in more than 100 countries, representing 3 billion people.
- Circumventing Chinese restrictions on independent media: In China, where the government tightly restricts non-government news flow, RFA and VOA-branded programming is being consumed by 65 million people, or over 6 percent of Chinese adults, on a weekly basis, mostly on digital platforms. Further, 90 percent of weekly audience members trust the content they receive from VOA; 75 percent for RFA. And roughly half of weekly audiences report that VOA and RFA increased their understanding of current events. This is remarkable in a media market which is hyper-competitive, driven by local and national brands, and remarkably restrictive to international news networks.
- Combatting the Kremlin’s barrage of disinformation: In Russia, where the media inundate audiences with disinformation about global events and depict the United States on an irreversible downward spiral, 7.5 percent of the adult population (7.7 million people), are now consuming USAGM content in the form of RFE/RL, VOA and Current Time, a 24/7 Russian-language digital network, again mostly on digital platforms. And it’s not just about consumption; majorities of weekly audiences said that they trust the content and that it had increased their understanding of current events. Again, all of this growth and reach occurred despite operating in an increasingly restrictive environment for our journalists in Russia.
- Breaking into Iran’s closed markets: Almost a quarter of Iranian adults (14.3 million people) access USAGM networks on a weekly basis across all languages and media platforms. USAGM finds its largest audience share among the critical 15- to 24-year-old audience segment. As in Russia and China, we are finding that users trust USAGM networks. Solid majorities of RFE/RL’s Radio Farda and VOA users reported that they trust each network, that the content they consumed has increased their understanding of current events, that VOA increased their understanding of U.S. foreign policy, and that Radio Farda has increased their understanding of current events in Iran. Using our survey data along with other market demand analysis, we plan to launch VOA 365 – a new 24/7 Persian-language global network led by VOA in collaboration with Radio Farda – to premiere in early 2019.
- Increasing competitiveness across platforms, especially digital: In addition to measuring audiences within each network and language service, USAGM also measures our reach via technological platform. Over the past year, consumption of USAGM’s programming increased on radio, on TV and online. Every audience has different needs, and we continue to be competitive on all platforms. Indeed, each of these platforms is important for our networks, depending on the market, we continue to be competitive on all platforms. But as the internet is becoming an increasingly regular means for our target audiences to obtain information and particularly our content, we have made a strategic decision to focus on digital platforms. Between 2017 and 2018, our internet audience grew from 45 million to 104 million weekly users. Television remains the most popular of our platforms with 201 million weekly viewers.
These highlights show that USAGM audiences are extremely diverse and our programming continues to be an invaluable resource for people in some of the most competitive and challenging markets around the world. The passion at USAGM is palpable, and according to this latest report, it is being felt all over the world. Read more about our global audience and impact.