CRS 2016 Preview, Part 2: Survey Says: “Ear Wars”
January 14, 2016
“Radio is still the overwhelming choice for audio.”
That’s the good news, direct from Edison Media Research President Larry Rosin, when sharing a few tidbits with me from the upcoming annual Research Presentation, scheduled for Tuesday, February 9th during next month’s Country Radio Seminar (CRS). Rosin, along with Edison Dir./Research Megan Lazovick, has dubbed the study “Ear Wars,” the findings of which were culled from 1500 online surveys, multiple one-on-ones with radio listeners, plus interviews with radio station employees. That data, along with video – “video galore,” said Rosin – will help shape Edison’s broader look at broadcast radio’s place in the universe for CRS attendees.
“For decades, Country Radio has defined its competition as the ‘other’ Country station on the dial, or at most as all the other broadcast stations in the market,” explained Rosin. “Today, that competition still includes these other stations but now also includes invaders such as SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, podcasts, YouTube, TV channels, and who knows what else. And the smartphone has emerged as a modern transistor radio that can connect to any of these.” A top-down cultural and philosophical shift may be necessary in order for broadcast radio to effectively compete with this ever-growing roster of music audio sources posing a threat to it.
Says Rosin: “The overwhelming majority of people in the audience are probably not being told by their leadership that their company needs to think about these other competitors when they’re putting together content that goes out over the air. Most people are being told to define the competition as their local market ratings. And as of today, those local market ratings don’t even include the streams, let alone other forms of audio content. So, I acknowledge that there’s only so much a local programmer can do to think more expansively when their own bosses – or their boss’ bosses, or their boss’ boss’ bosses are not saying ‘Hey, this is how you have to think.’ I’m hoping to not only communicate with the PDs who mostly make up the crowd at CRS, but am also trying to send a message through them and broadly to the industry that we have to think this way. The leaders should not bonus people on their local market ratings alone, and should not be defining the competition solely on what Nielsen is currently measuring.”
Maintaining Listener Loyalty
I wondered, after hearing Rosin reel off what seems like more of these “invaders” than ever before, are we now past the point where – as recent as several years ago – Country users were still considered slower adapters to new technologies, versus other core music genre users?
“People are too quick to chalk it up to Country fans being laggards,” Rosin told me. “It’s partially because Country radio is really strong and provides a lot of that that keeps radio more competitive against these new options. Maybe Country fans are a little slower on technological updates, but they’re also, for good reason, more loyal to Country radio. So the study and this presentation is about how to make sure that continues.” I was also curious, given the format’s recent – and consistent – performance among younger demos (18-34), is the usage of so many different music audio sources driven by newfound, younger Country consumers?
“I think they’d [Pandora, Spotify, Etc.] be invading no matter what,” believes Rosen. “And yes, the 18-34s are the most likely to use new technologies and things of that nature, but 25-54s are also using these. Maybe not in the same numbers as a 12-24 group, but no one can say ‘That’s a young-people thing, and we’re a 25-54 radio station, so competing with online radio or satellite radio or YouTube or all those other things is not a problem for me.’ That would be a mistake,” Rosin cautions. The traditional mindset for Country radio programmers, and their automatic “go-to” when designing a station, is focusing on the ideal, pristine music mix. Still true, to a degree, says Rosin, adding, “Music is every bit as important as it has always been, but believing that you can win through just a better playlist is receding in its effectiveness against all these new kinds of competitors. You still need a great playlist, but it’s going to have to be a lot more than that going forward.”
A Pyramid Shift Means A Paradigm Shift
Rosin believes that – back to the opening statement of this week’s column about radio as the overwhelming choice for audio – listeners choose it because radio still goes beyond that perfect playlist with elements that transcend the music. “There are endless sorts of connections radio provides that, to date, none of these other options provide in really good ways,” he says. “So the question is, what are those connections, and how can you accentuate them?
That’s not a new mantra for Rosin. In the past couple of years at his annual CRS Research presentations, while sharing recommendations, Rosin has challenged radio to connect more – to extend themselves in providing the point of difference these other threats like Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music are just not designed to accomplish. They’re not providing personality and other compelling content, or the priceless emotional connection radio is so naturally good at.
“There are things we can do to enhance and create a relationship, even around music,” says Rosin. “But beyond the music is really where the story can be told, in terms of relationship to the community of listeners. We’re going to show examples of that, and we’re going to talk about the filter through which you have to put everything you do in order to compete this way.” Rosin says that will require adjusting radio’s mindset. “For decades, we’ve kind of said – or some radio consultants have said – ‘Oh, well, it’s a pyramid! Music is the base of that pyramid, and everything else is kind of smaller chains.’ But I think the story is really changing, because music is so freely available in so many places, that it’s the everything else in terms of what will matter more when people are choosing them.”
But don’t think for a second the invaders aren’t paying attention to “the everything else.” On the heels of recently launched Apple Beats 1, there are whispers of more where that came from. “It’s widely rumored that there’s going to be an Apple Beats 2, and Apple Beats 3, and Apple Beats 4 – and how can one of those not be Country?” wonders Rosin. “ Maybe it won’t, but it’s hard for me to believe they’re building this tier of online radio stations and one of those won’t be.” As Rosin points out, when launching Apple Beats 1, the tech giant hired Zane Lowe, the BBC’s top DJ, and Ebro, a premier morning personality from Rhythmic Top 40 WQHT (Hot 97)/New York. “I have no idea if they’re launching a Country station or not, but they might launch one with great talent,” warns Rosin. “And obviously that would be national or international in scope, but it changes the game if that happens; we’ve got to be prepared for that.”
As I said last week, I’ll be perched in the front row and taking notes during this session. Larry Rosin and his team at Edison have given CRS attendees some incredible, actionable research data through the years. I believe it cannot be understated that his catalogue – his body of work, if you will – of findings and recommendations about Country radio and its listeners have been instrumental in shaping Country radio’s ability to remain competitive, viable, and dominant for the past two decades. Don’t miss the latest chapter.