The Kids Are Alright -- But Radio?
February 12, 2015
Two weeks ago in this very space, we discussed a six-month slide in radio listening levels amongst 18-34-year-olds, wondering if Country programmers have perhaps put too many eggs in that basket during the last few years, and whether those millennials aren't just too damned fickle in the first place.
One column and roughly 1,000 words is hardly enough space and time for complete resolution on a topic like that; admittedly, I've been marinating on it ever since.
Luckily for all of us, CRS 2015 is on the way, and I'm not left to my own devices on this topic. A perusal of this year's agenda revealed a timely session that will surely keep the conversation going and hopefully bring different perspectives.
Save the date: Thursday, February 26th at 4p for "Gen-Setters: 18-34 Listener Trends & How They Will Shape Our Future."
As described, this session will seek to find out, "What does Country music mean to Gen Y, who are the Millennials, and what is their impact on Country radio?"
This panel looks stout, with industry stalwarts Andrew Cohen (Manager/Brand Marketing & Digital Strategy, I.R.S. Records; Nashville), JR Schumann, (OM KSCS & KPLX/Dallas) and Tom Webster, (VP/Strategy & Marketing, Edison Research) participating.
I always like to start with what research is showing us, so I reached out to Tom Webster, who helped me re-think part of the 18-34 issue; threats to Country radio versus challenges to the Country format overall are really two different things.
When it comes to Millennials, Webster says, "18-34 year-olds love Country just as much as they ever did; Country is doing great." But, he adds, "Is it a question of their love for the format, or how they get that music delivered to them? How people get their Country music has changed immeasurably."
Delivery matters, because as Webster says, "Mobile technology, mobile devices and smart phones have thrown a big spanner in to the woods here." The issue of mobile technology is front and center for Webster, who recently co-authored "The Mobile Commerce Revolution" with Tim Hayden.
To illustrate how wide a span,Webster cited results from Edison's "Share Of Ear," study, published in June of last summer. Edison polled Americans 13-plus to determine the percentage of audio listened to on a mobile device. "Half of it goes to owned music -- the files that you've already bought, whether it's iTunes music or your own CDs that you've ripped or whatever," Webster explained. "Another 35% of it is to Internet-only audio -- which is Pandora, Spotify and things that are not simulcast from AM/FM. Next, AM/FM is 7% of the audio consumed on mobile devices." (The study defined listening to AM/FM in this context as listening to AM/FM content via streams or 'over-the-air.').
Part of the low AM/FM percentage is due to that fact that it's just not easy to get AM/FM content on your smartphone. "Unlike a lot of other countries in the world, our smartphones don't have FM tuners." That, Webster says, has changed listening habits, how people consume music, even how people might buy music. "And that's not anything that can be ignored," he cautions.
FYI -- Webster reminded me that this study of 13-plus Americans is broader than the 18-34 focus of the CRS panel. Okay, that's true, but 18-34s are still part of that 13-plus sample and before we know it, 13-17 year-olds will become part of that demo. I don't think including information about teens is off-point here -- actually, I think it's germane to the conversation, from a long-term standpoint.
And, oh-by-the-way, according to Edison's more recent, Fall 2014 "Share Of Ear" report, "American Teens now spend more time with streaming audio services such as Pandora and Spotify than they do with AM/FM radio (including both over-the-air and the online streams of AM/FM stations)."
Like 18-34-year-olds, teens love Country, says Webster, "but Country radio, as opposed to Country Pandora, Country Spotify, Country Internet sources -- that is really starting to shift. From a Country music format perspective, I think it's really important for people in the business to understand that the younger you go, the more that AM/FM radio takes a back seat."
While obviously older than teens, most 18-34s still have had a very different experience than people like Tom Webster and I did, when it comes to consuming music. It has a lot to do with what Webster refers to as the ad bargain.
"You and I grew up listening to say, nine songs an hour, and 12 or 15 minutes of commercials, and that's the bargain we made," recalls Webster. "But among 18-29s, you don't have to make that bargain anymore. Does that mean Country is less popular? No, Country is massively popular, and we can show that. People in that [18-29] age are less apt to say 'I'm willing to listen to eight minutes of commercials or four minutes of commercials to get this music,' because they have so many other sources to get that music that don't require that kind of payment in attention."
That ad bargain has broken down in the last 10 years or so, believes Webster: "The thought that free, new music that I want to hear has an economic value and I'm willing to give you three, four or five minutes of my attention for spots in order to hear that -- that's really being challenged with younger people in America. If you are in that demo, if you are a Millennial, you have so many other sources that you can access, that the ad bargain has less value."
Country music is going to be just fine, says Webster. Country radio, on the other hand, must figure out ways to add value to what they are doing if they really want to reach Millennials. "Because Millennials are getting the Country music they want to hear without having to pay the ad bargain."
But that's not to say that radio can't respond to that challenge. I asked Webster for his thoughts on how that can happen, because researchers always come armed with recommendations, right?
"What I would love to see is radio embracing personalities again," said Webster. "If radio simply becomes a jukebox, it can't compete with Pandora and Spotify. But if they can play in to what their strengths really are -- developing humans who carry music, developing personalities who are passionate about Country and who educate people about Country music and the artists -- then they have a premium seat at the table." Internet-only kinds of streaming choices for Country are not able to do that, nor do they seem interested in doing so. "If Country radio can really sell the aspect of what makes the individual songs and artists great, I think they can stand apart, because there aren't jocks on Spotify and there aren't jocks on Pandora," Webster says.
Additionally, radio needs to reconsider who its real competition is … and what spot loads are, presently. "If you are a radio station in a major market and you think that your competition is Station A or Station B, that is not entirely true," Webster asserts. "Your competition is Pandora, Spotify. We are talking about the Millennials, and they're consuming music in very different ways. Reaching them and actually promoting Country to an 18-34 or 18-39-year-old audience is a different thing than it used to be, and AM/FM radio no longer has the monopoly on that. So if it no longer has the monopoly on that, and it no longer has as much economic value as it used to have, then it has to reconsider what it charges for spots and how many spots it plays."
I'll be fascinated to hear what JR Schumann and Andrew Cohen have to say about all this when these three guys sit down at CRS in a couple of weeks. I'll be in the front row for this one, and definitely will follow up with this topic after CRS.
As always, let me know your thoughts on Millennials, Country music, and how radio can compete for their attention. Comment below, or e-mail me direct here.
Quick aside and circling back to where I started: As long as I can remember, I've scoured the CRS agenda ahead of the actual seminar, looking for sessions I might be interested in. It dates back to when I worked for Michael Owens and Larry Daniels at KNIX/Phoenix. They used to assign me a written synopsis of at least two CRS panels of my choosing, a summary which was to include what I learned and how it could be applied to KNIX.
What began as a dreaded homework assignment has become a valuable routine and ironically, part of my job here at All Access. A lot of people have a tendency to drift in and out of panels at CRS, never fully digesting the entire topic. I would urge you to pick a few panels, stay with them from start to finish, and yes -- take notes. You'll have a much greater feel for the topic at hand and seminar as a whole. Sure, you may miss out on the conversation of the year in the hallway, but trust me when I tell you, that's mostly a disposable interaction compared to a great session, with strong panelists sharing actionable information.