January 24, 2012
Another PPM Side Cume Secret
When we examine what we have learned so far about the PPM, one of the interesting things that stands out is that we find nearly everything we do is a derivative of inducing interest. The audience must be interested before they think about our stations. In order to get new and different people to listen, which is the whole basis of cume, they must recognize benefits before making our station an actual part of their consumption.
To better understand the effect of inducing interest, we need to be aware of real Time Spent Listening (TSL) differences. TSL is built around repeat tune-in. The more occasions of listening, the longer your TSL. TSL per listening occasion has dipped from the diary numbers of an hour-and-a-half to around 35 minutes with PPM. But the number of listening occasions doubled from approximately 10 to nearly two dozen. Those times occurred throughout all dayparts.
Then there's the issue of commercial placement and stopsets. Recent ongoing studies have shown that with PPM almost 75% of the audience will sit though an entire stopset, except for some of those in a car who may become impatient, and for whom it's a simply one-button motion to switch. But generally speaking, it's better to run longer, but fewer stopsets. That little defensive programming move helps to ensure you're not giving your audience more opportunities to tune out.
Even experienced programmers struggle to understand format fluctuations and are always looking beyond the music for new ways to create side cume. Everything you play on your station matters, including when, where and how often. Lots of jams sound good, but which ones are just taking up three or four minutes of air time and which ones really matter to your audience? What are the difference-makers? We need to find ways to update and fine-tune our station's sound and improve our marketing and production skills with constructive content. What we're really looking for is something I like to call fringe cume or "side cume." And naturally, we have to do this sifting for side cume within budget (sometimes with no budget) and along with everything else we've been assigned.
One of the secrets to getting some side cume with PPM is to treat the format like a restaurant. Listeners are like customers who come for the food (music) but stay, return, tell friends about the ambience, food, fun and the service (air personality). Today, consumers have many more kinds of specialty restaurants to choose from; Urban and Urban AC formats are very much like specialty restaurants. And now consumers can create dishes at home they used to have to go out for. So if we treat our stations like restaurants and work harder to get listeners to return to us and tell their friends about us (the friends are new cume), we can score. Cume is critically important in the PPM world. If we use restaurant parlance, we better give them not only fine, well-prepared food and ambience, but also a consistently engaging wait staff and a free interactive dinner show.
Content-driven Urban and Urban AC stations need to be providing listeners with occasions of listening, making appointments and then keeping those appointments. We hear stations all the time that promise things they can't or don't deliver on time. If you offer something in the next 20 minutes and then forget to provide what you promised, you have not only lost an opportunity to build cume, you may have caused tune-out or run listeners to your competition because now they're angry or disappointed. You've disappointed them. You've failed to induce and maintain interest.
Realistically, this process has to continue even though you may have a syndicated show in place. You have to know what's coming up on those shows as well and you should insist that the syndication company provide this information to you on a regular basis. Then you need to check to see if what they sent you is what they actually did. These shows have been known to change up on you. That can cause a music scheduling problem. If you find this is true, call them on it!
Here are a couple more things to look for. Does there appear to be a breakdown in the music rotation when the shifts change? This is a very common problem - one that with syndication you may have little or no control over, but one that can affect your ability to pull some side cume from your competition. And when you are not syndicated, what happens on the weekends when the part-timers take over for the full-timers or the syndicated shows run? The two are inexorably entwined. It's important to answer all these questions honestly and completely and then take appropriate action.
The New Numbers Game
It's important to understand the numbers that can make a difference in our careers and lives. The numbers we're referring to, obviously, are Arbitron numbers, and there is a story behind the numbers. If you had a good book or monthly trend, you could easily say that yours has become a favorite station for your core audience, but that's somewhat illusory. Favorite station is a value judgment, not any measure of listening. Those meter wearers who tuned to your station may or may not be partisans.
Another common usage term is "loyal audience." That doesn't mean anything, either. There's no definition for loyalty. It's whatever you want it to be.
Another thing that affects audience levels is the question of what really constitutes a so-called P1 or "heavy user?" It is probably best defined as anyone listening to a single station for more than 100 quarter-hours in a given week. Imagine someone who spends 25 hours a week with your station. Approximately 39% of your quarter-hours will come from heavy users. If they credit our station, we're glad, but it can't help but make us wonder what some of these people do with their busy lives in these fast times. Regardless, these heavy users dramatically affect our station's ratings. When our station is up in the Winter and down in the Spring, we should immediately look for these heavy users. Sometimes, a holiday music switch or a really strong, well-executed contest or promotion can cause these ratings swings.
Not surprisingly and regardless of format, if you're being measured by the PPM you have to induce interest and then maintain it. This triggers survey enthusiasm; you very typically find people get more involved with stations that induce their interests. Now let's look at some listening patterns. PPM-measured stations get nearly 60% of their total week's cume on Monday. Friday is about 55%. The quarter-hour is at about the same percentage level. In examining successful Urban stations across America, we've also seen Mondays, Tuesday and Fridays as the days in which the highest listening occurred. Sample size and the size of the audience are also key determinants of theoretical error and range around an estimate in which weighting and sampling vagaries must be considered.
Finally, in these tough times with expanded responsibilities, programmers have to find a way to induce interest, provide compelling content and give their listeners some hope. Make them feel good. Don't lie to them. Get them pumped. Provide the kind of excitement that's like a person at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain, but who is excited about the trip.
In the end, the key to inducing interest is directly related to the effort expended to align innovation with strategy and your listeners -- and then to manage the entire process with discipline and transparency.