January 15, 2013
It has been a little less than three years since Jacobs Media Pres. Fred Jacobs discussed the ever-evolving radio environment and the just-released Tech Survey 6 and the launching of its own JacAPPS division in a Power Player interview. Today, just as they company is preparing to start compiling data for Tech Survey9, there has been a lifetime of change in radio's world. Back then, Facebook and iPods reigned supreme. Today, the digital playground has also been invaded by smartphones, apps and tablets. Now, as Jacobs notes below, it's imperative for radio to know how radio is being used by its audience on the plethora of platforms. Here's what's at stake:
As with every survey, there are new questions and analytics incorporated into Tech Survey 9. What are they and how did you come up with them?
The beauty of having done eight of these surveys is that it's not just research; it becomes more of a narrative about the industry and where it's headed. A big story can emerge from a survey that we don't always anticipate. Our first survey discovered that the cell phone-only situation was a big deal. More people were dumping landlines than was initially thought - and Arbitron wasn't including cell phone-only households in their samples at the time.
Then there was the Facebook explosion, which one of our surveys identified early on. And last year one of the biggest findings was the importance of radio in fulfilling the emotional needs of its audience. Even though there's all this new technology, people still depend on radio to fill their basic emotional needs - companionship ... something that make them feel better.
Last year, 57,000+ respondents took part, and we took a look at the results across 12 different formats, which was amazing. These surveys have expanded from just being about rock listeners to all listeners.
We would love every station in North America to participate, and they can do so for a small fee or for no charge at all. This could be the best research many stations do all year - and it's all about providing data to help managers better understand what their audience is doing when they're not listening to radio. If you're looking to build a coherent and successful digital strategy, this is the tool you need.
This year, we're going to find out if there's different media usage consumption depending on market size. A lot of people feel that listeners who live in major cities are considerably more sophisticated in technology than those who live in smaller towns or flyover states. We'll see.
We're also going to break it down like we've never done before -- generationally, comparing Baby Boomers with Gen Xers and Millennials. It'll be interesting stuff.
But the data point I'm really geeked about -- I think it could be a game-changer -- is asking respondents to think about how they consume content from the station that sent them the survey. We've made a list of all the different ways to listen to a station -- listening at home, or at work, or in the car, to streaming the station on your computer, or listening to the station via a mobile app on a smartphone, or on a tablet.
Respondents will assign a percentage to each so we have a richer picture of how they use radio brands. Our goal is to provide data that can help the radio industry tell its story, and helps radio monetize all these different platforms that are playing a bigger role in consumer consumption.
This is going to help radio operators better understand who they're targeting, how the perception of their brand changes by platform, and how audiences access our content. It will end up being a major finding, but the key is to get hundreds of radio stations around the country and North America to participate in this survey. The more we have, the more complete picture we get. You can visit www.jacobsmedia.com/techsurvey9 to learn more and sign up, but you need to do so soon.
How will the Tech Survey reach and attract participation by the younger demos, since they're universally hard for ratings services to monitor?
We will be going after listeners as young as 12 and 13-year-olds -- and you're right about reaching them. While some kids don't listen to much radio, many are still very much involved with it. Look at KIIS FM, Z100 and how big Top 40 radio is. There are still young people involved in radio, but as we're beginning to see in some of the research we're doing on proprietary-based surveys for our stations, the real opportunity is to keep younger people interested in your brand by providing content that reaches them on other platforms.
Clearly there are a lot of young people who don't have a radio in their bedrooms or dorm rooms, but they all have smartphones or tablets, and if our content is good and that matters to them, the platform becomes everything. That's what we want be able to show in TS9 -- how platform consumption differs between the generations.
Are there any common threads you've discovered over the years about not just radio listeners, but about how radio tries to reach them?
One of the things we learned after doing eight of these studies is that most radio stations don't have a great grasp on exactly who's in their databases. They've dutifully built them and used them for e-mail blasts, coupons and station events, but who's in the database and how they break down demographically ... they may not know.
One great benefit of doing this kind of research is that we can put it in context with a national footprint. We really do gain an understanding of who the core audience really is and what they're doing. To me, that's why this is so important, because stations, clusters and companies have to develop viable digital strategies -and the only way to do that is by understanding who the audience is and what they're doing at any given point in time.
In general, does the new insight coming from your data more often shed light on undiscovered truths, or dispel commonly held notions?
I would really say more the former than the latter. At some level, the data settled some arguments, especially in the early years when things were moving really quickly. Some of the early surveys showed some incredible leaps from year to year with smartphones, iPods, and especially for Facebook ... it's mind-boggling, the speed at which things can move in the digital world.
Most broadcasters now have a pretty basic idea what their audience is doing at any given point in time. What our surveys do is really break it down, showing them what their audience is doing -- by platform, by gadget, by device -- what's really going on.
Some of our participating stations have been with us for the full nine years, so this is standard operating procedure for them - like taking their annual physical. For those stations, what we provide is probably more like a movie about how their audience is changing. Other stations that will be first-time participants will get a snapshot of how things are now -- which is cool. That's how you start. You need to get benchmark numbers on your station in context with broader format information. That's how you begin the learning process.
When you think about how much money is at stake here, the chips that are already on the table, many stations don't have the financial wherewithal to do everything. Whether it's a big company that has hundreds of stations, or a small family-owned station in Mendocino, CA, everybody has their own financial challenges. The beauty of this survey is that it can help you better understand where to deploy your resources to reach your audience in the digital space. When you know where you're headed, you work with greater efficiency.
Besides showing what platforms radio listeners utilize, do your surveys also reveal the type of content that best reaches them on the various platforms?
In past surveys, we asked questions that got pretty granular on the types of things fans wanted stations to do on their Facebook pages, and what elements of their websites were most important to their listeners. But at the end of the day, good programmers will tell you what content best works for them.
You read the research like radar; it helps you understand what the battlefield looks like, and what you're up against. It ultimately comes down to the skill set and decision-making acumen of the programmer. It's like Bill Bellicheck vs. Jim Harbaugh. Those guys are hunched over their laptops every Monday looking at their data, which is in the form of game film and stats. It's the same thing here. Fewer and fewer stations can afford to do proprietary research. Most of the research they do have more to do with the meat and potatoes of testing music, the DJs and contest prizes. That's great; it's something you need to do to beat the station across the street. But more and more, it's not all you need to do to win in the long haul. Very few stations are asking the kinds of questions we ask because they don't have the resources to do so.
Recap what you're offering to stations.
There are two ways to participate. Stations can pay a fee ($300-$500 depending on market size) to access all the information for their listeners and the national sample. But if stations just don't have that in the budget, they can still participate at no charge. They won't get their local market data, but they can still access our webinar and see the national data and the numbers for their format of choice.
The thing is, it's critical to participate in the survey, whether you end up paying or not. The more stations we bring into the study, the better data we generate - and that's good for everyone.
Having just returned from the CES, do you feel there's a danger that radio's obsession with new technology hardware can come at the expense of content development for that technology?
If you mean in terms of getting distracted, that's a great question. It's another reason why our Techsurvey9 is so important. To a great degree, the results of this survey will help you better understand what your audience is really doing, versus what you think they're doing.
Once you know that - and I know it sounds like a cliché, but the reason it is a cliché is because it's true -- it still comes down to content. In that sense, it doesn't matter if a lot of your audience is on Facebook or own smartphones or a tablet, if the content you have isn't compelling and engaging, then it doesn't matter.
This data is useful only if you have a solid brand and know what kind of content appeals to your audience. With our Techsurvey, we're simply providing a guide for the most efficient way to reach them.
Media habits and technology are undergoing cataclysmic changes, but at the end of the day, it all comes back to content. If your air talent is spending more time composing tweets or Facebook posts than they are crafting their next break, that's counter-productive. That's when the obsession with technology supersedes the main mission - and that's something programmers and management really need to watch for.
At the CES, you announced the JacAPPS involvement with the Ford Development Program. What is the ultimate goal of this program, and long term, getting your apps in all automobiles?
Our partnership with Ford allows stations the chance for their individual apps to have prime access on the Sync digital dashboard. The apps will work with voice commands, providing safety and a great consumer experience. AppLink can work with JacAPPS apps (all the big Greater Media station apps have been adapted) or apps that were originally built by other developers.
By "unchaining" their system, Ford is looking for entertainment outlets - like great radio stations - to step up and get some great real estate in their connected cars. Last year's Techsurvey8 revealed that the lion's share of broadcast radio listening occurs while consumers are on the road, so dashboard access with all the amenities that Pandora or iHeartRadio have provides parity for broadcasters.
Our mobile app company, JacAPPS, will serve the house developer for Ford, working with brands to help make their apps Sync-compatible. It's an honor to earn this designation from Ford, and we're excited about the partnership. This is also a major step for the tech scene in Metro Detroit and all of Michigan.