Country Radio's Success Isn't Just In The Country
February 26, 2013
As far back as I can remember, each year when Arbitron releases its "Radio Today" national listening study, Country radio is perched on top as America's #1 format for total audience share. The 2012 rendition is no different. Country and New Country formats reach 66 million people each week (aged 12+) and account for more than 14% of all the radio listening in America.
Look deeper into the Radio Today stats and you'll likely be impressed by the across-the-board dominance of Country nationwide. It's at an all-time high for listening share, and in 2012 broke the record for the highest share of any format we've ever measured in our Radio Today studies. It's also the most widely programmed music format in the U.S. with nearly 2,000 over-the-air and digital station -- and there are 70 markets where more than a quarter of all radio listening is attributed to Country.
For the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, I was asked to give a presentation about how the format performs specifically in the 48 Arbitron PPM markets. So, I've been digging through the data comparing Country's performance in the electronically measured world to how it fares in the 200+ diary markets.
What I found is that while PPM markets account for less than 15% of all the Country stations in America, the format still pulls over a 7 share in PPM (ages 12+), ranking it 4th behind News/Talk, AC, and Top 40. That's a pretty remarkable accomplishment considering there are only seven PPM markets where Country outperforms its national share average (meaning, there are only seven PPM metros where the total Country audience accounts for at least 14% of all radio listening).
I also discovered three key insights about the Country radio audience in PPM: how 18-34 year-olds are driving the format's growth; where those listeners are coming from; and, what the leading Country stations have in common when compared to their competition.
Country's Youth Movement
Since the Fall of 2010, when Arbitron completed the final roll out of the PPM methodology, the percent of Country audience aged 18-34 has increased by a quarter. Today, nearly a full third (29%) of Country listeners in PPM come from the 18-34 demographic, while at the same time the makeup all of the other age cells have either remained flat or decreased slightly.
When you dig into the 18-34 breakdowns, you'll find that 18-24 year-olds are really the ones pushing the youth movement in the format. Since 2010, Country's 18-24 listening share has jumped 41% and is now into double-digits (10.5) and the time spent listening for this age cell has increased by 25%. Put into perspective, Country currently ranks 2nd behind only Top 40 as the most listened-to format among 18-24 year-olds in PPM markets.
These are remarkable findings for a format that traditionally has not targeted such young demographics. But by grooming some of radio's youngest listeners today, Country is well positioned for the future.
Speaking of format similarities, another interesting finding jumped out at me when I was dissecting the 18-34 explosion for Country: Rock listeners are listening to more and more Country every year. Using Scarborough national data, which combines all of the PPM-measured markets, I analyzed how the sharing trends between Rock and Country have changed since 2010. Two years ago, 44% of Active Rock listeners (aged 18-34) also listened to Country. Today, that number has risen to 50%. And there are similar stories for Alternative (increased from 34% sharing with Country to 40%) as well as Classic Rock (rising from 30% to 40%). This may signal an opportunity for even more growth if Country stations can find strategic ways to actively lure more Rock listeners to the format.
Daily Tuning and Position
Even though the vast majority of Country stations are located in markets measured by Diary, more than half of the PPM markets have two or more successful stations in the format going head-to-head. To try and get a handle on what sets the "leaders" in these markets apart, I looked at more than 30 stations from the top 15 PPM markets for Country listening share during the Fall of last year.
Not surprisingly, the basic metrics that we know move the needle in PPM prove to be a delineator between the "leaders" and the "followers." Leading Country stations are a full 2 share points ahead of their competition when you average them all together, and they attract 30% higher daily cumes than the other stations.
More people listening each day also mean more occasions of listening. The leading stations generate both 10% more daily tune-ins and have listeners that tune in more days each week (also by 10%) than their lower-ranked competitors.
But, the differences end there. Nearly every other key metric that we capture with PPM looked to be nearly identical when comparing the leaders to the followers. P1 audience, median age, and gender breakout showed no statistical difference. Even the amount of music and spots each hour (as captured by Media Monitors) during the weekday was nearly identical despite the leading stations having that 2-share-point lead. The leaders and the followers even tend to break for commercials in similar patterns during the hour.
This leads me to conclude that aside from convincing listeners to tune in every day, multiple times a day, multiple days a week, the most important factor that sets leading Country stations apart from their competition is their positioning in the market - how well each station has built, maintained and executed their brand to match the expectations of the audience. Even with younger listeners who might not be as aware of the station's heritage coming into the format, many of the top-ranked Country stations I examined are brands that have been in place and maintained their position for many years.
That's not a coincidence. When everybody is playing the same music, at the same times, in the same amounts, it has to be the intangible factor of a great brand that creates the separation between the leaders and the followers.