The Audience Engine
|Public Benefit Corporation|
|Headquarters||Jersey City, New Jersey, USA|
|Ken Freedman and Liz Berg, Founders|
The Audience Engine is an open-source, customizable suite of fundraising tools for public radio being developed by the Congera Corporation, a subsidiary of WFMU Radio. It was conceived by and is being developed under the supervision of Ken Freedman, WFMU general manager, and Liz Berg, the station's assistant general manager.
The platform is based on WFMU's own successful model of fundraising and listener-community relations, a project that began development in 1998 and now helps WFMU raise 70% of its annual $2.5 million operating budget via its website using crowdfunding technology. The developers explain that "by pairing online content, real-time playlist information, social media, and community interaction tools directly with crowdfunding campaigns, WFMU has not only built a positive and intelligent online community, but also a sustainable model that can be adopted by other organizations." Besides radio, Audience Engine has potential usage for online television and journalism. The goal is to "enable organizations ... to build audiences and become self sufficient."
Andrew Flanagan, of Billboard, wrote, "The philosophy underlying Audience Engine's development is the same that's kept WFMU going: experimentation and independence. The tech tumult of the past two decades has resulted in long-established business models, whether classified ads or subscriptions, being destroyed without any replacements for those models waiting in the wings." Freedman says that Audience Engine can "address the problems of legacy media dealing with new media platforms. It's much more difficult for legacy institutions to make that transition."
A large part of Audience Engine's appeal is its fundraising capabilities. "Audience Engine comes with a set of tools that integrates crowdfunding-inspired donation tools throughout a publisher's site, with on and off-site widgets for donations as well as gift reward management, and a full suite of analytics underlying it all for that publisher to gain insight on what is and isn't raising money," noted Flanagan. Freedman observed that "Kickstarter did a great job of borrowing or stealing the concept of the pledge drive, and vastly improved it as well. Public media hasn't borrowed it back yet! That's what we're trying to do."
Part of the Audience Engine's philosophy is to retain the listener's or reader's attention on the station website, rather than redirect them to external social media. "Community based radio stations have to start thinking about online platforms that don’t effectively abandon discussion and networking to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or LinkedIn, and the rest of the usual suspects," said Matthew Lasar at Radio Survivor. "[O]nce your listeners and/or website readers are off to Twitter/Facebook-land, they’re all but gone. They’re not commenting on your podcast or stream or blog post in your house. They’re far far away, helping Mark Zuckerberg bring in that advertisement and audience data cash."
“The problem for the content producer,” said Freedman, “is that when they send their audiences to off-site destinations, these giant data mining operations skim off critical information that should be the lifeblood of the digital producer – information that should be sustaining the artist or producer, not the big data enterprises.” Freedman amplified this in a 2018 interview for Radio World, in which he said, "Digital technology is much more difficult and expensive than traditional broadcasting, with constantly changing platforms, operating systems, and security and privacy considerations. Many legacy media organizations have opted to utilize large advertising platforms such as Facebook to address this problem, but this is a short-sighted strategy. Radio broadcasters should not send their audiences to third-party platforms, who will mine metrics from those audiences for their own benefit, leaving broadcasters bereft of the metrics that would benefit them."
Radio World described the Audience Engine dashboard as featuring "a responsively designed social content page for radio and news sites, engineered for live, positive audience feedback and created with self-sustaining crowdfunding in mind. Both Web and mobile pages have a built-in, interactive second screen, with incentives for positive contributions, and tools for stopping disruptive behavior."
Early development of Audience Engine was undertaken by Bocoup, a developer of open-source web technologies which has collaborated with Google, Microsoft, Walmart, eBay, and Apple. Bocoup's involvement ended in January 2016, and the project was turned over to a team of independent developers under the supervision of WFMU.
- Simpson, April, "Serving Mission, Seeking Profits Through Public Benefit Corporations", Current.org, June 16, 2016
- Video: Ken Freedman's Open Source Marriage of Audio, Music & Radio, The Berkman Center for Internet and Society, May 9, 2008
- "Audience Engine - An open source toolkit for media and democracy". www.audienceengine.net. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
- "WFMU building open source audience engine," The Wire, July 30, 2014
- Flanagan, Andrew, "WFMU Wants to Change How Media Talks to Its Audiences and Raises Money — For Free," Billboard, July 29, 2015
- Flanagan, ibid.
- Kalish, Jon, "At debut, Audience Engine offers CRM and pledge-drive tools," Current.org, November 11, 2015
- Kalish, ibid.
- Ken Freedman introduces the concept behind Audience Engine at Civic Hall, November 5, 2015 (video)
- Freedman, Ken, "Seeking Software Architect For WFMU's Audience Engine Platform," Drupal.org, March 23, 2014
- Lichterman, Joseph, "WFMU wants to build open tools to help radio stations (and others) raise money and build community," NiemanLab, July 15, 2014
- Lichterman, ibid.
- Lasar, Matthew, "Keeping Your Listeners with You: Inside WFMU’s Audience Engine," Radio Survivor, July 30, 2015
- Lasar, ibid.
- Vernon, Tom, "Keeping Up With Digital Technology a Challenge for Small Broadcasters," Radio World, January 3, 2018
- Vernon, Tom, "WFMU Keeps Audience Discussions In-House," Radio World, October 21, 2015
- Vernon, ibid.
- "Web Platform Consulting - Bocoup". bocoup.com. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
- Schneider, Henry, "WFMU’s Audience Engine aims to help make public media sustainable," Current.org, June 16, 2015
- "InsertCulture - Media Strategy & Research". 1 February 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2018 – via archive.org.
- de Aguiar, Molly, "Why Dodge Supports WFMU's Audience Engine and What it Means for Community Journalism," The Local News Lab, July 15, 2014
- Molly DeAguiar of the Dodge Foundation discusses the potential impact of Audience Engine for local journalism, Civic Hall, November 5, 2015 (video)
- "Tools for DJs - Spinitron, playlist management for Internet radio -". backboneradio.com. 8 February 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
- "Using Spinitron - KDHX Production". wiki.kdhx.org. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
- "About Spinitron". spinitron.com. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
- "Audience Engine creator merges with radio playlist company Spinitron". current.org. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
- The Audience Engine web site