November 13, 2012
Fall is upon us, and here at Arbitron that means one thing: It's high season for planning the annual Arbitron Client Conference, our one-of-a-kind gathering of radio programmers, researchers and operators. This year we'll be holding the conference over two days on December 5th and 6th in Annapolis, MD ... and recently I got to thinking about last year's event and all of the great presentations and speakers who graced us with their presence and insight in 2011.
Upon reflection, I decided that a lot of what we learned last year (and may have subsequently forgotten!) is worth revisiting, especially for those who were unable to attend. For those who were there, perhaps the following will give you some reflection on how successful you've been at implementing the various best-practice tips we covered. I know from personal experience that hearing great ideas at a conference is one thing, and acting on them once you're back in the office can be something else completely.
So, to help jog your memory the following are some notes from three of the more memorable and practical presentations at the 2011 Arbitron Client Conference.
Art vs. Science:
Throughout last year's conference, we heard from speakers and experts around the industry about how to best execute your programming in order to improve ratings, as well as how to position your station's brand in the marketplace to compete for listener's attention in a crowded media world. If you were in attendance and noticed the juxtaposition between the two sides, it was deliberate (and will be again at this year's conference). That's because we recognize that there's a delicate balance between the "art" side of programming and the "science."
One way to understand this is to imagine a station with a 4 share and visualize a pyramid where one-quarter of that share is due to execution (the "science") and three-quarters to the position of the station (the "art"). In other words, this theory says that 25% of your ratings success comes from how you execute the format (playlists, talent, show topics, where you place your stopsets, etc.) and the other 75% comes from how high up on your listeners' list of media choices your station falls and their perception of the station.
However, the two aren't mutually exclusive. How you execute will of course influence the perceptions of your audience. But the point is that listeners are coming to you for a specific reason, to fulfill a need in their daily lives, and if you a) have positioned yourself as a solution for them and b) routinely satisfied that need, a habit forms. That habit translates to tuning in for the first time when you get into the car in the morning ... or instinctively flipping to your news station when something occurs in the market. The influences of how people feel about your radio station are very strong in those moments when it's time to make the choice to turn on the radio. I call it "winning the off, to win the on."
Arbitron believes, as do many others, that as an industry we may be guilty sometimes of focusing too much on the top of the pyramid ... the scientific 25% of our success. It's very easy to do, because execution is what we are paid to do and have direct control over. But by stopping to consider your station's brand position, the art, in the marketplace, you'll be amazed how differently you look at all elements of your broadcast.
Occasions, Not Duration:
Jenny Tsao, Arbitron's Programming and Operations Manager, presented a look at what drives the top performing PPM stations. She compared the stations that rank #1 18-34 and 25-54 in their markets to those that rank second to fifth and to the overall average amongst PPM stations. The biggest takeaway was a concept I find myself stressing repeatedly: When building Time Spent Listening (TSL), what really drives ratings success is occasions of listening; the number of times a person tunes in to your station.
Stations that rank #1 in the 25-54-year-old demographic average 5.5 daily occasions of listening which is .7 more per day than an the overall average. The time spent per occasion is almost exactly the same across formats (somewhere around 10 minutes) regardless of where a station ranks. This means that listeners of many different formats, in many different demos, spend about the same amount of time during each tune in to the station. What drives the difference in TSL and sets top performing stations apart are those extra tune-ins, or occasions.
This is a great reminder of why it's important to tease ahead both to later in the day and to content that will bring listeners back the next day. It also reinforces the need for having a strong station brand so that when listeners turn on the radio or are punching around, they know what to expect and why they should come to your station.
Spots Aren't That Scary
The conference also marked the debut of an updated study by Coleman Insights and Media Monitors in conjunction with Arbitron that examined how commercials actually impact listening levels. This was the second such study undertaken to investigate listener behavior during spot breaks, and the results may be very different from what you assumed up front.
We analyzed an entire year's worth of minute-by-minute ratings data for the 866 radio stations measured by Arbitron and Media Monitors across 48 PPM-rated markets. This included more than 17 million commercial breaks and more than 61 million minutes of advertising.
By comparing stations' audience levels during stopsets to the last minute of programming before the spots, we found that during the first minute of a break stations still deliver 100% of the original audience level. In the second and third minutes that number drops slightly to 99% and then 96% respectively. But even by the fifth minute of a break, stations still deliver, on average, 86% of the original audience.
Let's put those numbers into some context. In the first minute of an average spot break, the size of the audience on the station is the same as in the minute before the break started. If 10,000 people were tuning in during the minute prior to the break, then 10,000 people were tuning in during the first minute of spots. Five minutes later, 8,600 people were tuning to the station.
Another way to interpret this is to think of audience level during a stopset like riding a subway train where each new commercial is a stop. Some people will get off (tuning out) but that decrease can be offset by people getting on the train (tuning in).
There are several notable implications of this study, the biggest probably being that the age old debate about where in the hour to put your stopsets may have less to do with Arbitron methodology than with the competitive situation in your specific market.
While all this reminiscing has been fun, it's time to get back to preparing for the 2012 Arbitron Client Conference. We've got another great lineup of speakers and presentations this year including:
- Representatives from the Disney Institute teaching a special course on the company's approach to building brand loyalty.
- Valerie Shuman, Vice President of Industry Programs for the Connected Vehicle Trade Association, talking about the latest developments in automobile dashboards.
- Minnesota Twins' Corporate Communications Manager Chris Iles sharing how the team is using social media to not only build their fan base but also to drive revenue.
- The Urban PD Clinic, radio's only event specifically for programmers of Urban formats.
- Herman Cain, the former Republican Presidential Candidate, CEO of Godfathers Pizza and soon-to-be radio host, sharing his thoughts on marketing lessons he learned during a very successful career in the restaurant industry.
- A look back at 25 years of All-Sports radio, and where the format is heading down the road. We'll hear from three of the biggest content providers in the industry, and debate if the sky really is the limit for one of America's fastest growing formats.
That's just a taste of the lineup for this year's conference. We hope you can join us in Annapolis on December 5th and 6th. You can register for the conference by clicking here.