New Year's (Ratings) Resolutions For Program Directors
January 17, 2012
Happy New Year and welcome to the first in a series of monthly articles from the Arbitron Programming Services Team. These columns are written with two goals in mind: to help you build your knowledge of ratings data, and use it to maximize station performance.
My name is Jon Miller and I'm the newly appointed Director of Programming Services; I work with a group of talented individuals whose daily goal is to provide the best insights and resources for PDs and consultants. I've been with Arbitron for seven years and have spent my entire career in radio; my first paying job out of college was overnight board op at WTEM-A/Washington, DC.
By the time you read this, there is a good chance you will have broken, or are close to breaking, your New Year's resolutions. So I wanted to offer you a chance at redemption by providing five resolutions for program directors that are easier to keep than losing weight or quitting smoking ... and could lead to better ratings.
Resolution #1: Look At Daily Estimates
For decades we have judged our stations on Weekly Cume and Weekly Time Spent Listening -- the two elements that combine to produce Average Quarter-Hour (AQH) share. In Diary markets this still rings true, but in PPM the mathematical equation has changed: DAILY cume and DAILY time spent listening (TSL) are now the periodic elements of share. I can't stress that point enough; the weekly estimates in PPM are nice to look at and a great way to judge total audience over the week, but the daily estimates are what directly affect your share.
This actually plays to the PD's advantage, making listeners who are with your station on a daily basis more important to the ratings than someone who listens intermittently.
So, every time you look at a PPM monthly book or weekly trend, make absolutely sure to evaluate your station's daily numbers. Look at the weekly numbers if you want -- but never at the expense of analyzing daily cume and daily TSL.
Resolution #2: Increase Occasions
Since we know that the amount of daily TSL your station receives is a key element of share, I'm sure you want to increase it.
TSL is made up of two distinct components: duration and occasions. Duration is the amount of time a listener spends with a station each time they tune in, while occasions are the number of times they tune.
Diary tells us to focus on the former because a recall-based methodology is naturally suited to capturing longer listening sessions that diary keepers will remember when filling out the survey.
However, with PPM's ability to look at minute-by-minute habits, we've learned that people tune out all the time for a multitude of reasons you can't control. So, doing everything you can to bring listeners back again for another occasion is a more fruitful use of your efforts than trying to get them to stick around for another 15 minutes. Each additional occasion you generate equals another quarter-hour of TSL, and that builds bigger shares.
Resolution #3: Make Every Minute Count
I know the concept of making every minute count sounds like something from a self-help book, but the fact is, for radio, it has a very practical application. An analysis of PPM data shows there is meaningful audience on every station who are within a minute of increasing your station's share.
Regardless of PPM or diary, for your station to get credit a listener must tune in for five minutes during a quarter-hour. The only difference in PPM is that the five minutes may be cumulative -- any combination of listening that adds up to five - while diary listening has to be contiguous or unbroken.
What we've discovered is that, on average, a 10-15% increase in share is possible simply by getting listeners who have logged four minutes inside a quarter-hour to listen for one more minute.
You can increase your ratings just by squeezing another sixty seconds out of these listeners: that's a lot easier than trying to attract new audience that isn't already tuned to your station.
The next time you or your talent is on the air, what could you do to convince someone to hang for just another 60 seconds of their day? If you can, that qualifies as another occasion ... and adds to your share. Make every minute count.
Resolution #4: Know Your Market
A lot of time has been spent, both by Arbitron and the industry, searching for the elusive "secret sauce" of PPM. Everyone wants to find a magic format, playlist or commercial break position that will guarantee good ratings.
The reality is, while there are some good basic concepts that contribute to high performance, it's virtually impossible to duplicate the same success across markets because no two cities are alike. In the same way traffic patterns are different in Los Angeles and Detroit, the way listeners consume a Classic Rock morning show in Cleveland will differ wildly from how Bay Area listeners use the same program.
It's important to use Arbitron's tools to examine these differences because they can play a huge part in the radio landscape of your market.
Try creating a combo of all the stations in the market and run an hour-by-hour report to see how total radio listening changes across the course of the day. Then compare your station's audience flow to the market. You may discover things you never knew and find ways to program to the fullest potential of your market.
Resolution #5: Build And Maintain Your Brand.
Since the launch of PPM, the industry has focused on tactics that build cume, TSL and occasions within the new methodology, several of which I've described above. But this has come at the expense of the one concept that trumps them all: building and maintaining a strong station brand.
Branding is the heart of all marketing. Giving consumers a reason to choose your product over the competition is paramount regardless of whether you are programming radio, selling toothpaste or building houses.
Unfortunately, the discussion of branding has faded as PPM ignited a movement towards more music and less "clutter." I can't argue that either of these ideas is bad, but with multiple distribution vehicles and increased format competition, music is less of a differentiator than ever before.
By talking less and playing more music we are voluntarily limiting our branding opportunities. Without a strong brand that delivers a unique experience for the audience there's no reason for listeners to choose your station over the competition and that can hurt your ratings more than anything else I've mentioned. A strong and identifiable brand is the foundation for all of the other factors that make a successful radio station.
Again, I want to wish you a happy new year filled with huge cume and lengthy TSL. I'll be back next month with another column designed to help you grow your ratings.