Wednesday, February 4, 2009

GAO: Radio Marti audience under two percent

Radio Marti and TV Marti have been on the air for 25 years and 18 years, respectively. They are the subject of a new report by the General Accountability Office, released today by Representative Bill Delahunt and available here. A statement from Representative Delahunt is here.

Past GAO reports have focused on financial and management issues. This one is interesting for the comprehensive background it provides on the broadcast stations, and because it focuses on the essential issues of audience size and programming strategy.

The bottom line: after a quarter century on the air, and with a $34 million annual budget, “the best available audience research,” GAO says, indicates that “Radio and TV Martí’s audience size is small, with less than 2 percent of respondents to telephone surveys since 2003 reporting that they had tuned in to Radio or TV Martí during the past week.”

By contrast, GAO reported, “over 90 percent of telephone survey respondents said they watched Cuba’s national television broadcasts during the past week,” and 60 to 70 percent report that they listen to three Cuban radio stations. Also: “OCB [Office fo Cuba Broadcasting] officials said that the quality of Cuban television programming has recently improved and includes popular U.S. programming (such as The Sopranos and Grey’s Anatomy). Telephone surveys indicate that TV Martí has a smaller audience than other international television broadcasts. For example, about 30 percent of respondents in 2005 and 2006 said they watched CNN during the past week.”

The GAO report says that the Radio/TV Marti management recognizes that “the competitive media environment in Cuba is a key challenge for OCB in attracting and maintaining an audience,” and that “OCB senior officials said that Cuban radio attracts listeners because of its high-quality music programming.”

GAO also reports that Radio/TV Marti management, in contrast to other U.S. government international broadcasters, doesn’t seem to have a complete handle on the competition: “While OCB and IBB have gathered information relating to OCB’s competitors, OCB has not compiled comprehensive information regarding the number, nature, and quality of other radio and television programming available to Cuban listeners and viewers.”

Recently, dissidents have complained about Radio Marti and said that Cubans don’t listen because it is boring; the programming “is so bad and so uninteresting to the Cuban people that no one listens,” Vladimiro Roca said last month.

It is good that GAO highlighted the issue of Radio Marti’s competition in Cuba. I think there’s a general assumption that Cuba’s radio and television stations are dull, propagandistic, and political, 24/7 – and from that, it follows that all the United States has to do is to get a signal through, and a huge Cuban audience will materialize. That’s not the case – while one can watch or listen to the Mesa Redonda for a full dose of politics, Cuban media are more varied and interesting than I once assumed, with lots of music, sports, movies, and entertainment programming. It’s quite a challenge for Radio Marti, which aims to deliver a political message to an audience that probably doesn’t tune in for politics, even less so when it comes from abroad.

The recent statements by dissidents about Radio Marti are here and here. GAO’s report from last July is covered here.


Anonymous said...

good info. GAO is most non-biased account we'll ever get of outcomes realted to radio marti.

I thought it was GOP that believed in performance based measures of program effectiviness and 'work incentives'... guess what? radio marti is ultimate PORK, just for trhe crazies in miami, not for the real cubans

jsb said...

But aren't most areas of Cuba that could receive the signal blocked by Cuban government jamming equipment?

Anonymous said...

jsb, you haven't been to cuba in a while... Its the content of radio marti that is the problem.. I know so many people in cuba who not fidelistas, but laugh when they hear radio marti - b/c its so unprofessional, transparent, and one-sided and made for Miaim consumption not Havana consumption.

Havana, free or not, will never be like Miami in terms of culture.... this is one reason why radio marti seems silly and frankly stupid to the vast majority of real cubans.

Anonymous said...

Radio Marti is a common sound in many homes.

TV Marti however is a complete joke and really should be shut down. That money would be better spent on the radio transmissions that actually have an audience.

So, the GAO is right on the one hand and wrong on the other.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this could be an easy starting point for chipping away at the embargo for Obama. Get rid of both of these wastes of taxpayer dollars right away!!!!!