The Young And The Restless
June 4, 2015
Last week in "The ‘Ville," I took a broad look at what could possibly be Country radio's shifting target demo, wondering if we're evolving into an 18-34 beast after years of living well off 25-54-year-olds. I also looked at Top 40's quiet-yet-steady growth with 25-54s and how we've shared listeners with it during the last few years, because I'm curious - and concerned - if that has current and future ramifications for Country ratings.
This week, we'll take a deeper but more targeted dive, once again with the help of Nielsen's Jon Miller, plus input from my unofficial in-house consultant for "The Ville," Glasco Media's Bob Glasco, and day-to-day programmer JR Schumann, OM of Cumulus Country KSCS-KPLX/Dallas.
There were two specific drill-down stats I asked Miller to share:
- The gender split for Country: Is the format still female-dominant? That's always been the prevailing thought and seems to be especially top-of-mind now, given the recent conversation about whether ladies really want to hear music from other ladies.
- We looked at Country listeners' format duplication last week, and found 55% of our 18-34s also listen to Top 40, with 34% using Hot AC. But what about the other side of the mirror? What's the format duplication from Top 40 listeners to Country; what effect does that have on our long-term usage, and how can it help us better understand what it means to truly be 18-34-focused?
What's Good For The Goose
Let's begin with the gender ratios at Country. Spoiler alert: We're still mostly a female format. I know we're talking mainly about 18-34 today, but we need to include 25-54 here for the sake of comparison.
As of April - and this is among PPM markets - the female share is 8.7% and 6.7% for males. In general, Miller points out, "25-54 has remained pretty consistent over the past few years, [females trending 8.0-8.2-8.9-8.7 from April 2012-April 2015; males moving 6.1-6.7-7.1-6.7] with female growth outpacing that of men during this time."
It's a different story 18-34 though, and a more promising scenario for males. While male shares trail 25-54 females by two shares (8.7-6.7), the gap is just .09% male to females18-34 as of April 2015. And compared to 2012, when the 18-34 rise began in earnest, male shares have improved a full share to their current 8.5%. Female 18-34 shares were 9.0% in 2012; in 2015, the ladies are at 9.4%.
Again, as I pointed out last week, the high-water mark for 18-34s was April 2014, with females 10.8% and men at 9.1%. It's down in April year-to-year, but still looks terrific from a few years ago. As Miller notes, "With the 18-34s, both genders have grown, but Country's growth in this cell in particular involves men, more so than in upper [25-54] demos."
Is the smaller gap between male and female 18-34 listening, and the stronger male growth in that demo in recent years an opportunity for Country to place a greater focus there than 25-54 moving forward? Also, if the hypothesis about female artists having less appeal to women is true (a big 'if'), should we conclude that because Country has been -- and will continue -- to grow with younger guys, this opens the door for more female artists on the air?
Hold that thought while we get to audience duplication.
Share And Share Alike
To review, we saw last week that 55% of Country's 18-34 audience duplicates with Top 40 and 34% also listen to Hot AC. And, adding some context, since 2009, those numbers have increased from 44 and 24%, respectively.
Quick sidebar, but a relevant one: That increase coincides with Country's movement toward swapping spin percentages of gold and current titles. According to a slide Miller shared at CRS this year, the ratios back then ('09) were 35% current/45% gold, with the streams crossing at 40% each in mid-2012. In 2014, those ratios were just about completely opposite from 2009, with currents dominating playlist percentages at the rate of 45% on average.
Okay, so we've seen outbound listening duplication; how about inbound? Does Country have the same appeal and pull from Top 40 listeners?
The answer is no.
In fact, 36% of Top 40 fans also listen to Country -- better than the 28% in 2009 but 19% less than Country's duplication with Top 40 in 2015.
Apparently, Top 40 is more important to 18-34 Country fans than Country is to Top 40 fans, and so is Hot AC. Ditto among 25-54-year-olds, with 37% of Country fans also listening to Top 40 and 31% of Top 40 fans sharing with Country.
"That's kind of a scary statistic when you look at it," observes JR Schumann. "If Country radio doesn't start paying attention to this, more of our 55s will become their 36s - meaning we'll start losing P1s."
That disparity of audience duplication between Top 40 and Country gives me concern, too. If the music cycle and/or appeal for Country 18-34s hit a bump in the road, Country could be in trouble. Because to my point last week: with programmers putting so many eggs in the younger basket, 35-54s are potentially less satisfied than before.
"Those 35-54 Country listeners have no other radio place to go unless we go crazy with '90s-early '00s-based stations," said Glasco. "That will split the format and water all stations' ratings down. Of course if we go too crazy going after the youth vote, they could just choose the off button." Glasco says that that should be our biggest fear.
"Before Country radio starts running away from the Pop-sounding records, we need to realize that 55% of our audience is looking for that sound," added Schumann . "Once they find it, they don't come back as often."
Glasco concurs, saying he doesn't believe think interest from 18-34 will wane, "as long as we stick with our emphasis on new music. That's what I believe is bringing them to our party. It might also be worth considering that there are differences in taste and in some cases, cultural sensitivities in the demo that cause the heavy Urban influence that Top 40 has been under for the last 25 years or so to alienate some. They're left with Country or Active Rock as their two choices for a current-based station."
All of which brings me back to the original question: Can Country evolve its core, target demo to an 18-34 animal? Not if we rely solely on a consistently strong music cycle - which is sort of like people in the midst of a drought counting on the Gods to make it rain. No, Country would have to seriously alter its infrastructure to really make this move. Here's how and why.
On The Clocks
For starters, Country would have to shift to a system where we play currents sooner, more frequently, and for a shorter period of time.
Take a look at how Top 40 operates, based on the most current Mediabase singles chart when placed side-by-side with Country:
- No song in Top 40's top 20 is older than 20 weeks. There are three songs 20 weeks old -- but all of them have peaked already.
- Three songs in Country's top 10 are more than 30 weeks old; they are still bulleted and vying for their respective peak positions.
- In its #1 week, A Thousand Horses' "Smoke" had 8,186 spins and the spin leader on it was KUPL/Portland with 98 -- which is its super-power category. KUPL had accumulated 1,085 total spins on ATH by the time it hit #1.
- It took ATH 20 weeks to go #1 -- an amazing accomplishment for any Country artist, but especially impressive for a debut artist on its debut single.
- The overall spin leader on ATH was WPGB/Pittsburgh -- with 1,171 -- and they started playing ATH on January 6th -- exactly six months ago.
- Top 40's #1 song last week - Wiz Khalifa's "See You Again" had 19,078 spins for the week.
- The spin leader was WKSC/Chicago -- with 143 for the week - but 617 TOTAL -- they had only played the song six weeks (add date: 4/9).
- In fact the overall spin leader was WDZH/Detroit -- with 1,047 -- but they were the old man of the group in terms of airplay -- having played the song for a whopping 10 weeks.
I should note that the Mediabase Top 40 panel has 184 reporters on it, compared to 154 for Country, which certainly means more stations contributing more spins to the chart totals.
Recently, Taylor Swift had two songs in the top 20 on the Top 40 chart. By comparison, two weeks ago Luke Bryan's "Games," from his most recent "Spring Break" collection was #21 with a bullet. But then he sent radio a new single, "Kick The Dust Up" from a new, upcoming album and garnered 105 first-week adds. In the two weeks since, "Games" trended 21-25-29 - and was minus 533 spins last week.
No room for two Luke Bryan songs? And he's the biggest star in our format.
Here's another theory: More duplication out than in is due in part to a short attention span - 18-34s who don't want to hear a song on a station for seven months. "That's the problem," says Schumann. "On Country radio you can't play a song 125 times per week - that you've been playing for 40 weeks."
It would also signal, to Glasco's earlier point, a necessary split in the format, because 35-54s won't tolerate the rotations featured on Top 40 radio. They would require that '90s-'00s station Glasco described, because other programmers and researchers have told me there is a huge divide in musical taste and tolerance of spins that starts at the age of 35 for Country fans.
Truly being an 18-34 animal means acting like one. Can you imagine Country radio doing this? It would mean a total, all-in commitment to younger listeners and an all-out assault on Top 40's well-established hill. It would also be a drastic, risky - and most would say absolutely insane - idea that could result in us blowing our feet off. Remember: The format is hotter than it has been in years, and as Miller reminded me during our original conversation last week: "Country is special in that it's a format that has really broad appeal across a lot of different demos. Pop is sort of doing it, but there's not a long list of formats that can appeal and be just as strong with an 18-24 demo as a 25-54 demo. I think that speaks to the uniqueness of Country music as a genre."
Who wants to mess with that?
"I need to think on what this means for the long term," Miller told me, reflecting on the past two weeks of data-sharing and theorizing. "If Pop continues becoming more popular, will it suck even more listening away from Country? Or, if Country is so obsessed with 18-34s, is it setting itself up for hard times down the road when the 35-54s get disenchanted and Pop overtakes everything?"
Hell, I dunno ... the only thing I'm sure of is that PPM results for May arrive next week -- the week of June 8th and we'll just keep poking around the numbers and looking for answers. As always, I'm turning it over to you, the vast and unpaid research department.
Please share your thoughts below, or e-mail me direct here.