The Elephant in the Room
April 6, 2015
Since Mediabase began reporting the length of spot clusters in its daily monitors of stations in larger markets it’s harder to pretend that breaks in excess of six and seven minutes are uncommon.Â The fact is that breaks nearing 10 minutes are becoming more and more common.Â We’ve had the experience of running a car errand and realizing we’d heard only commercials throughout an entire journey.Â
As the array of in-car entertainment options continues to widen and lower-commercial-inventory sources like Pandora and Spotify become our competitors there, we need to swing the pendulum back the other way.Â Most agree that commercials appearing in a shorter break are more likely to be effective for the client than those appearing in a longer break â€“ and, thus, worth more.Â And, in theory, a station carrying fewer commercials should get better ratings.Â So why aren’t more stations going in that direction?Â
Of course, Entercom’s KNDD in Seattle did reduce its inventory at the end of June last year and instituted a promise that they’ll never play more than two minutes of commercials in a break.Â So, what happened?Â Year over year for February, the station’s AQH is up 70% in prime (Monday-Friday 6 AM â€“ 7 PM) among adults 18-49on 15% cume growth and 54% growth in weekly average time exposed (TSL for those of us who don’t like to think about radio as something that needs “exposure”).Â Whether or not the ratings lift gives the station the ability to raise rates sufficiently to cover the reduction in inventory is the critical component.Â But, the fact is that the station did beneficially impact the listening experience for listeners and advertisers.Â
Stations have been using the tactic of relocating and combining breaks in quarter hours where persons using measured media (PUMM) is observed to be declining in order to try to increase ratings during times where PUMM is stable or increasing.Â While the approach works, it does so by sacrificing some exposure of the station’s paid inventory â€“ enhancing the experience for one group of clients (listeners) at the expense of effectiveness for the other group of clients (advertisers).Â
Decades ago, much of FM’s success against AM was based on lower inventory levels â€“ the stations were more listenable.Â Innovative FM stations like the legendary WEBN even ran funny spots for imaginary businesses in unsold avails, adding entertainment value and, the theory went, causing listeners to pay more attention to the commercials on the station.Â While the Internet has probably brought to an end the possibility of propagating a hoax like Plummet Mall in Cincinnati, we need more reminders that radio spots really can and do work.Â
So, we wait for broader enactments of inventory reductions to make our music programming more competitive with online adversaries.Â Tony Robbins said, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”Â The trouble is, by the time staying the same is THAT painful, the damage may be irreversible.Â The time to begin swinging the pendulum back toward smaller inventories is now.Â Here’s to shorter breaks with better exposure for clients and a better experience for listeners.