How Important is Radio?
May 5, 2014
When asked to report if they keep the station on when they’re in the car and commercials start, among music radio listeners, the most optimistic predictions came from Urban AC P1’s.Â The most pessimistic predictions came from Country P1’s â€“ who were even less optimistic than the CHR P1’s we stereotypically expect to be impatient.Â
While Media Monitors might show something different in terms of real world behavior, these numbers represent the expectations of these consumers.Â Regardless of format, a majority predicts they’ll be gone when the commercials start. It used to be that competing stations would try to counter each other’s spot breaks; each trying to get IN to the break a little sooner than the other â€“ in order to be the first back OUT to music.Â In the days of big CHR battles in diary markets, we wondered how often the desired behavior was achieved (change from station A to station B when station A went to commercials, flip between the two waiting for music to start, and end up with station B because it went back to music sooner), only to be erased in the recall game when filling out their diary on Wednesday night.Â
We applaud broadcasters who are consciously locating their commercial breaks differently than their competitors.Â In the work we conduct for clients, we’ve seen the complaint rising for years that “all the stations break for commercials at the same time.”Â While playing the game that way may have been good for share, it’s bad for the radio business as a whole.Â In the old days, consumers didn’t have many options when radio wasn’t making them happy.Â Today, playing in an arena that increasingly includes commercial-free satellite and internet pure-plays, we’re arguably better off losing a battle to prevent the medium from losing the war.Â
We’re hearing more experiments with cluster programming where co-owned stations offer listeners the option to tune to a co-owned station that’s playing music.Â How that plays out over time in audience flow â€“ and how clients feel about stations telling listeners to avoid the commercials â€“ remains to be seen.Â But, working to make radio more listenable for consumers is always good business.
After all, let’s not lose sight of where we are even today.Â When we asked consumers how important things are in their daily lives, most music format P1’s put their favorite music station ahead of their favorite smartphone app, their favorite website â€“ and even social media.Â
AC showed up as the one broad format where P1’s rated their favorite music station less important than a favorite website, smartphone app, and social media.Â When we think historically, this makes sense.Â Remember that AC was born of EZ.Â And the mission was “stay unobtrusive,” which, when turned sideways and contemporized, means “be something they don’t care about.”Â Hopefully a new generation of AC’s will be able to find ways to better engage and connect with listeners.Â
With more and more competition for the ears, minds, and hearts of consumers, it’s critical that operators keep the big picture in mind when programming.Â Deeply counter-programming a competitor may not be the best move today if it risks the health of the medium in general.Â Remembering to contribute to making radio listening a good experience overall is increasingly important today.
Radio starts from a very strong position in terms of consumer importance.Â But, as a “thing” in their lives, we’re facing more and more competition for the attention and affection of those consumers.Â It’s daily â€“ and sometimes minute-by-minute â€“ attention to how we fit into their lives that will allow us to maintain that position.Â