July 17, 2012
A Better Shuffle Means A Greater Chance Of Winning
We've passed the halfway point of 2012. This is the best decompression time to look back and then look ahead. We need to see what we've accomplished and then set new goals. One of the things we've observed so far this year is that the so-called cookie-cutter, "off-the-rack" formats may be saving money, but overall they're not working that well. What the format really needs is some help in stacking the deck in our favor. We start with a better music shuffle - one done by hand, instead of the scheduling machine.
Why would we need a better shuffle? For one thing, so far 2012 has been a wild year for our industries. Urban radio is facing new format competitors that threaten to nibble away at our cume and Time Spent Listening (TSL). Also, we're now forced to compete with all the new media forms, including satellite radio, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartradio and others. They continue to gain larger fan bases every week. Then there's the Internet and podcasting; many of these audio forms can be downloaded right onto your smart phone. Being forced to compete with all these new forms of technology can feel like playing against a stacked deck.
So far, we haven't even talked about HD (high-definition) radio. I personally have experienced it under ideal circumstances and I can tell you that as soon as someone figures out how to improve the antenna systems, bring the costs down and put them in cars as standard equipment, that's going to put a different spin on music radio. These HD side channels will offer a different format than the main channel and they're going to increase the available choices in an already crowded radio world.
PPM And The Hispanic Spin
Two more things that can help to stack the deck in our favor are a better understanding of how PPM works and appealing to the growing Hispanic population without sacrificing our core Urban and Urban AC audience. First, let's look at PPM. We're facing another new ratings spin that is going to add to the confusion of the way radio is measured. Electronic measurement is here. And it's forced us to change the way we think and program. For the first time, minute-by-minute instant audience ratings results are available. Children from six to 12 are included in the measurement process and non-commercial radio stations and streaming stations are going to be counted. All of this is going to cost radio and the agencies that serve it substantially more.
Something else - that must be taken into consideration, researched and targeted -- is the Hispanic "hole" that exists and is growing in many markets. I've been saying for some time now that future research for Urban stations has to be adjusted to include Hispanic listeners who love the music and artists we play. These Hispanics have to be included in the auditorium music tests (AMTs) and perceptuals. Why, you may ask? The answer is that if you're lucky you will get as much audience as you go after. If you narrow your target, you lessen your chances of scoring. If you place your bet on a target of a 2.5 share composed almost entirely of African-American listeners, if you're lucky, that's what you may get.
In the future, smart programmers will put a new spin on their research and look for crossover potential between demos and music preference groups. Re-shuffle the songs and leave no potential listener type un-served, under-served or hanging for more than one song. That prevents your competition from stacking the deck against you. They're hoping you won't notice the heavily weighted Hispanic audience. Smart Urban program strategists will make sure their stations always come back through the "center line." In doing that, they appeal to the largest group of targeted listeners.
These past few years have been laced with change and demographic density. A population that is rapidly adjusting both its demographic status and its colors must be recognized. Urban radio's new target audience is not just black anymore. It's becoming more brown and yellow. In some markets, the catch phrase is "mega." Regardless of what it's called, what it means is a chance for you to double-down and beat the "dealer" by increasing the odds in your favor.
Mega's loyal listeners should get the best, researched classic R&B and funk enhanced with the right current songs, which includes hip-hop. Mega's new core audience is female-based and targets a non-Arbitron-defined young adult category that is 25-49. They are, for the most part, second- and third-generation Hispanics. And believe it or not, they're really into artists like Chris Brown, Miguel, Meek Mill, Jill Scott, Wiz Khalifa, Lil Wayne, Usher, Trey Songz and Beyonce.
Hispanic-leaning Urban radio is making huge gains in many markets, and it's not just the traditional markets such as New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Houston that have experienced this burgeoning swell lately. The Hispanic population in The Windy City, for example, has grown to 17.4% of the market's 7.7 million total. Chicago's African-American population is just 17.6%.
Generation Jones A Moving Target
Next, we want to examine what demographers often refer to as the new "Generation Jones." From the time someone graduates from high school at around 18, until they turn 30, their lives typically transform from dependents living with their parents to workers supporting themselves to married couples and inevitably, to parenthood. They've become a moving target; one that is very hard, but not impossible to hit. To consistently hit this moving, musical target, however, Urban radio must keep up so that as it changes, so does our music and its presentation.
So far in 2012, we have witnessed record-breaking heat, a weakened economy and lightning constantly striking while the game and the rules continue to shift and get reinterpreted. It's all part of today's hyper-competitive business environment. Through it all we have to keep the music playing, except now it needs a different spin. The spin or shuffle will always best be determined by the market composition and its colors.
Going forward, we're going to be forced to look at these colors a little differently and go a little deeper than just the surface colors. Finally, in the middle of these stacked decks and re-shuffles, we need to remember that passion and profitability are often only distant cousins. Some things can't be easily explained and have no color. They just happen. Like, when in the middle of an asthma attack you get an obscene phone call. Urban radio is like that. We just need to take the pillow off its face and let it breathe.