10 Questions with ... Jon Miller
September 3, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
College: University of Maryland, College Park (2002). Degree in Broadcast Journalism; worked at the college radio station (WMUC) in the sports department as a color commentator for football and basketball broadcasts.
* Interned in the news-room at WBAL-A/Baltimore during college
* Worked for Clear Channel in Washington at WTEM-A (programmer, producer and reporter), then for Westwood One in the sports affiliate department before coming to Arbitron in 2004.
* I started at Arbitron in the customer service department answering calls and helping customers with training and technical issues. Moved from there into a trainer role before landing the CBS Embedded PPM Account Manager position, which was the first of its kind in the industry. Held that role for five years before being named Dir./Programming Services in 2011.
Today I work with PDs, consultants and researchers all around the industry to continue learning as much as we can about how audiences use radio. I consider myself lucky to have such an interesting job day-to-day, and every day I learn something new about how radio listening is evolving.
1. After years of people proclaiming terrestrial radio's end, what's your outlook on where the medium is headed and the role that Arbitron is going to play in that effort?
Well it's hard to proclaim a medium as dead when it continues to reach 92+% of all Americans every week, and I'm lucky to every day get to work with broadcasters who are committed to figuring out what the future holds for our industry. So much is changing so fast, but at its core, radio is about a strong local connection to the listeners, and nobody has been able so far to create a truly competitive service that offers the same things. Here at Arbitron we are actively looking at new ways to utilize the PPM technology in order to address different ways of audio consumption across a variety of platforms. One thing that is pretty certain is that the future is "device agnostic;" people will be consuming content across a wide variety of platforms.
2) As our society becomes more mobile and as time spent in cars increases, in-car radio listening becomes of increasing importance to programmers. Is it true that in-car listening is the only location that is actually increasing in AQH ratings as both at-home and in-office listening declines?
The car is certainly one of, if not the most important venue for radio listening, especially for having a more captive audience compared to the rest of the day. Some trends that work in radio's favor is that we are absolutely a car culture in America, with no signs of commuting or driving habits changing drastically anytime soon. In the "connected cars" of the near future, it will be important for radio programmers to continue promoting their strong brands and unique local content in order to win the daily battles that occur for listeners limited time in a world with more and more media choices. In the 200+ diary markets where we measure in-car listening (PPM only measures in-home and out-of-home), total in-car ratings have increased 3% over the past four years.
3) Recently you wrote an article on "Days In The Life of PPM Listeners," in which you talked about the "new math." You talked about the difference between the diary and the PPM; with the meter we build ratings one day at a time looking at daily cume and TSL. With PPM, the rankers are another issue. There could be a 12-way tie for eighth place in a market. You can literally be just a few thousand from the top five and find yourself tied in 13th place.
This is one finding that we've uncovered through PPM that I believe applies no matter what market you program in: In today's hyper-competitive media world, winning the daily battle by getting somebody to tune in and then building that into a daily habit is paramount. The only difference is that in PPM we're counting the audience on a daily basis. We've also found that because audiences are exposed to many different stations during the day (and not just the primary ones they recall when writing them down), the separation between stations on the ranker can be quite narrow. The upside is that just a small increase in your actual audience size can affect your rank dramatically, and it's important to find key times during the day where you can work on increasing your listening. Instead of trying to move an entire daypart, find the most listened-to hour and start there to see what you can affect. It could pay big dividends for your ratings.
4) For first-time programmers in a PPM market, how important are effective teases? Is it possible that teasing and moving the audience forward into the next quarter-hour, or giving them a reason to come back the next day, really does have a big effect on ratings?
Absolutely. As you mentioned in your last question, this is a subject I've written a lot about recently including several columns on my weekly programming blog. The bottom line is that getting listeners to come back again is one of the most important factors in PPM. What we've started to look at this year in particular is not just recycling the audience through the day, but getting them to tune in more days during the week. Making radio a daily habit is absolutely critical to your station's ratings success.
5) How important are morning shows in 2013? Does it really matter if the morning show is live or syndicated, as long as it is connecting with the audience?
I don't think so, and the ratings prove that out. As long as the audience feels a strong connection with the hosts and the content, we are seeing all around the country that there's no one recipe for morning success that works better than the other.
6) What does radio do better than any of its media competitors?
A couple of things. First, there's no other audio provider out there, even if you total up all of the various services that exist today, that can match radio's critical mass. When 92+% of the country is using the medium on a weekly basis, that's a pretty strong indication of how important our medium is in people's everyday lives. Second, radio continues to stand out because of its local connections that it forges with the audience. Once again if you compare radio to all of the other sources offering similar products, nothing comes close to being as plugged into the fabric of the local community as radio does.
7) One of the issues that many Urban programmers raised in a recent poll we conducted had to do with wobble. (Hopefully, this is an issues that be discussed in the upcoming Arbitron Client Conference and Urban PD Clinic December 11th-12th at the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore.) Sometimes numbers go up one month for no apparent reason, and the inexplicitly drop back down the next. Generally, the wobbles are small, often a few tenths of a share, but because the swings are continual and seemingly random, we tend to dismiss small changes in either direction. What explanation would you offer?
I'm very excited to be hosting this year's Urban PD Clinic as part of the Arbitron Client Conference and Jacobs Media Summit, and for your readers who are interested in joining us, you can find out all the details and sign up here. It's very important for PDs to always keep things in context when it comes to ratings changing over time. What's the medium-term (say, three to six months) trend looking like? How has total market listening in my key demo changed recently? Is seasonality playing a part? What about the competitive landscape, and not just the other Urban stations, but including general-market formats that may draw a considerable amount of African-American listening? One thing I can say for certain, which PPM has taught me, is that nothing occurs in a vacuum, and there are almost always a large number of factors influencing your ratings month-to-month.
8) What's your read on the Urban/Urban AC formats nowadays and how do you feel about their future?
Both formats are looking very healthy. According to our Black Radio Today 2013 national study, Urban AC hit an all-time high for listening share in PPM markets last year, and remains the #1 format among African-American listeners nationwide. In second place is Urban. which also saw shares climb last year, hitting levels we haven't seen since 2009. If you combine Urban AC, Urban and Rhythmic Top 40 (the third most-listened-to format for Black radio), you reach three out of every four African-Americans in the country, which is pretty impressive.
Furthermore, we've also learned based on studies such as the Arbitron/Edison Research Infinite Dial Study that Urban P1 listeners are more socially engaged online with their favorite stations compared to any other format. That bodes well for the future when you think about all of the ways we have to connect with our listeners across multiple platforms.
9) What can attendees expect in this year's Arbitron Client Conference and Urban PD Clinic?
After last year's record attendance for the Urban PD Clinic, we are really working hard to up the ante this year with our content. We're working with visionaries from both inside and outside the radio business, along with thought-provoking speakers, authors and celebrities. The themes you'll find running through the entire conference this year include branding and marketing, the latest and greatest Arbitron insights for programmers, what radio can learn from other industries, and the art of great storytelling. We'll be announcing our content lineup starting soon.
10) As you look back over your career ... any regrets? Missed opportunities?
I'm thankful that my answer hasn't changed since last year, which means I must be doing something right! First, I've only been at my career for a little over a decade, so I have a long way to go and a lot to learn! But I can honestly say that professionally, I don't have any regrets looking back. Certainly everyone makes mistakes along the way but by learning from them you come better prepared for the next challenge. That's the best thing about working in the radio industry...every day presents a new and unique challenge. It's never boring!
How can Urban radio best bridge the gap that exists with the younger/future listener base that exists today?
Based on some of the data I mentioned previously, about how connected Urban listeners are to their favorite stations from a social media setting, this is a clear area of opportunity for reaching and influencing radio's youngest listeners. Formats that are most savvy at building credibility and brand image by utilizing the platforms of choice for younger audiences are setting themselves up in the best way for the future.
What the best piece of advice that someone has ever given you that you still use on a daily basis?
Always consider the other side of the story, even when it doesn't jive with your worldview.
Name the one gadget you can't live without.
It's clichéd, but true: my smartphone (Samsung Galaxy Note 2). I am amazed at how far and how fast smartphone technology has come in only the past few years. Each time I get a new phone it becomes the greatest device I have ever owned, only to be replaced by another greatest device the next time!
At what store would you max out your credit card?
There is a wonderful local outdoor store here in Burlington, VT called the Outdoor Gear Exchange, and if you're into pastimes such as skiing, hiking and climbing as I am, it's basically a huge toy store. My wife limits the number of times I am allowed to go there each month.
Any advice for broadcasters?
In the 30+ years of Diary measurement and 6+ years of PPM, nobody has been able to find the "secret sauce" of ratings success. And not that it's not worthwhile to figure out all of the rules of the game for your market, but one thing that troubles me is the single-minded focus of programmers I see sometimes on beating the ratings system at the expense of everything else. Good radio is part science (Arbitron), but also part art (brand, image, gut feeling, etc.) ,and I worry sometimes that the art part of the equation keeps getting pushed to the side in the programming world.