2nd order effects

The pandemic has impacted pretty much all aspects of society. From business closures (some permanent) to broad unemployment (some permanent) to strained health care systems, the world is struggling to adapt some very ingrained structures and practices.

Events like this always have 2nd and 3rd order effects – or often termed untended consequences. The latter term is usually reserved for a decision that is made consciously, while the 2nd/3rd order effects crop up following events that often weren’t anticipated. One example that has been discussed for a future with highly effective Virtual Reality that leads to increased telecommuting. A couple of anticipated side effects would be decreased commute traffic (typically thought of as a positive), but another would be lack of customers for businesses (e.g. restaurants) proximal to large employers.

In this case, NPR is reporting on NPR (which is interesting in and of itself), discussing their significant drop in radio ratings due to less work commute traffic. NPR radio depends on people listening in their cars, often while driving to work, and when people aren’t driving, it seems they’re not listening. This was anticipated but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t a challenge.

Broadcast radio has seen declines over the last decade or two for a variety of reasons, mostly due to the digital revolution and streaming/connected devices in the car. There also has been a huge consolidation of radio station owners, with most stations owned by a small number of large conglomerates. Just as print media has seen declines, audio mediums – at least broadcast – are scrambling as well, with the pandemic just acerbating and accelerating the changes and challenges.

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