The Digital Dashboard Dilemma
October 2, 2012
Radio's In-Car Reach Tied to Technology
A recent national in-car study shows that as America continues to become more mobile, and as time spent listening in cars climbs, the "dashboard dilemma" becomes even more critical for programmers. It comes down to this: In an ever-changing time, how can we be more sensitive to where delivery systems are going and respond accordingly? Mobility is at a critical place and we have to be in synch with it. This places us in a position where our brands and content have to reflect the mobile society to which our listeners have moved. The iPhone and other digital devices are now plugged into the auxiliary ports in car radios. Online listening in cars is not coming, it's here.
Granted, many of the drivers who are using these devices are younger. Some programmers will view them as further evidence that younger listeners can't be pursued, particularly at the expense of any possible discomfort to the upper-end demos. Indeed, you have to wonder if we're dealing with a new group of listeners less likely to swear allegiance to any single genre format. And we may have to consider that if they are into their mobile devices or other media forms, we have just lost them. One thing that may help is to create an app for your station so listeners can take you with them everywhere they go. That includes station content and the ability to listen online.
Urban programmers have to face the same problems all broadcasters are facing in 2012. And that is broadcast groups and owners that insist on cost-cutting their way to longevity. How satisfied is the audience with what they get on the radio? What audience group is at risk from new technology? And how can we get them back?
Here are some answers. The first answer is that we can't win by simply offering an mp3 player with liners. Second, we certainly have to deal with some younger listeners who are happy enough to get their hip-hop from Top 40 or Rhythmic stations along with all the other music they like or would be willing to tolerate. And the third answer is that Urban and Urban AC can only grow their audiences this time by appealing to that discernible, separate, younger brand that has so frightened the format community up until now.
With each passing year in-car listening is becoming increasingly significant. Over the past few years in-car listening has increased from 30% to 35 %. It now represents the #1 listening location for adults 18-34 and adults 25-49. The fact is in-car listening is the only location that is actually increasing in average quarter-hour (AQH) ratings as at-home and at-work listening declines.
The study posts one possible theory: Traffic is getting worse, especially in certain large cities like Los Angeles. A large majority of 70% of study respondents indicated they are encountering more traffic than they did even last year. Although traffic concerns are generally considered large market issues, the actual boost in in-car listening has affected practically every market, large and small. The study shows that 250 markets have more in-car listening than southern California, arguably the most traffic troubled city.
While the increase in in-car listening is a national problem, there are several important demographic and format-related nuances. Predictably, men are heavier in-car radio listeners than women. The only exception is in the 18-24 age cells, where they are nearly even, with women listening in the car by an additional slim one percent margin.
In addition to differences by sex, as you might expect, there are ethnic, in-car listening differences, too. Time Spent Listening (TSL) by whites in car is over an hour longer than both black and Hispanic listeners. In-car listening is important across all formats, but for some formats, this listening location is especially significant. Religious, Alternative, News/Talk, Rock and Top -40 all had in-car listening that made up more than 35% of their total listening.
With in-car listening increasing, specific drive-time hours become even more important and recent studies indicate that time in detail. An unexpected result of that study was that in-car listening as a percent of total listening is much more pervasive in afternoon drive than in morning drive. Four of the top five drive-time hours of in-car listening occurs in afternoons. Topping that segment was what I like to call the "power-hour" (which is the highest number of sets-in-use.) The hour has shifted from 4- 5p to 5-6p. Three other hours had in-car listening over 40% of total listening.
Let's take a look now at the results of this research and why it's so important, particularly afternoon drive. What do the really serious program and music directors need to do to build cume, maintain quarter-hours and recycle audience? For one thing, they have to recognize that radio's reach is as high as ever, but our Time Spent Listening (TSL) has dropped, due to increased competition from other technologies. Further complicating matters for Arbitron is the transition to PPM. PPM measures exposure, not listenership. If a PPM panel member is exposed to encoded audio, then the "listening" counts even if the panelist isn't really listening.
Lots of Urban and Urban AC stations in all-size markets have had trouble keeping their afternoon numbers strong through the most-desired demo patterns. How are afternoons different, and what can we do to improve them?
Create An Imbalance In Afternoons
For one thing, the audience composition changes in the afternoon. A more aggressive, less tolerant audience comes into the afternoon and lasts into the early evening. At that point the number of commercials played in an hour becomes very important. An imbalance is recommended.
If someone runs 10 commercial minutes in the afternoon and 10-12 in morning drive, they've made a serious mistake. Oh, they may get away with it until they're challenged, but they're vulnerable. And the sales and general managers who say, "Well, we've gotten away with in this long, why change?" are in for a rude awakening -- perhaps sooner than they think.
The station that wants to win should attempt to create an imbalance for the sake of programming. A reasonable suggestion might be to do 10-12 minutes in morning drive and hold the afternoon to no more than eight commercials per hour. To take those commercials and put them into the morning slot is advantageous because you're not being critiqued the same way in morning drive and they (the commercials) will have a tendency to slip by.
If you play two or three commercials in a row in the afternoon -- and lots of us do, particularly in the fourth quarter-hour -- it registers like being hit in the head with a hammer. The audience is more tuned in the afternoon. So if you do something they don't like, they will respond faster than if it was in another part of the day.
The above applies to the early nighttime audience too, but there are different characteristics that come into play at night. In the afternoon, we're talking about a great deal of mathematics. As mornings would carry information and middays would carry familiarity, then afternoons would carry image.
Afternoons are when a station can develop an image of being hip, through association with artists such as Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Miguel and Chris Brown. After 3p, image music becomes very important. With the morning audience you can get away with something that is not hip, just relevant. But when you get to afternoons the nature of the audience changes so that you have to build an image to sell those 18-49 demographics. By promoting hip groups and artists and being involved in the hip things happening in the market, the afternoon show becomes very important in establishing an image for the entire radio station.
What is hip? Hip is whatever is going on in the street that is important to the audience at that time. It's a combination of the trends and the language of street. You have to take what's happening in the streets and make that come through the speakers. If the afternoon personality is not tuned into the street of the city, (and unfortunately some syndicated afternoon shows are not) then a huge mistake has been made. It's not so much what is said, it's the feel. It's the awareness. Bottom line is developing an image.
A huge part of developing that image involve teasing. The afternoon jock should know how to tease because we're seeing that teasing and moving the audience forward into the next quarter-hour or giving them a reason to re-set their pre-set and come back the next, really does have a big effect on ratings.
Another one of the basic goals of the afternoon show is to make people listen to the night show, if it's working properly. The afternoon-drive jock has the opportunity to build the night show and its host into a star because they usually deal with pretty similar audiences. If they listen to the afternoon show, they will probably listen to the night show and vice-versa.
Both the afternoon and the night jocks must be teamed in their effort to build one another. It's much like professional sports. In the NBA sometimes it's more important to pass off to the open man than to make a slam dunk with no possibility of follow through or rebounding in case the play goes bust.
The basic function of the afternoon show is to create the proper image for the station and deliver recall audience for the night show, even in PPM markets. So afternoons and nights should be very involved in "recall audience efforts." A contest or promotion that sends a listener to the web site and requires them to tune back in to win the prize employs an effective recall method. Can the recall method be used effectively in all dayparts? No, but it can be very effective if you match up the proper dayparts. Before you can tell someone to do something, you have to know if they're susceptible to doing it.
If you spend one minute of your time promoting the overnight show at the wrong time, for example, you've wasted time and words. If you spend one minute of the afternoon show trying to promo the midday and the morning show, you haven't wasted all your time, but most of it. If you use the afternoon show to promote the night show, then you're hitting the susceptible available target audience. If the night jock promos the afternoons show, he's doing the same thing.
We've all heard promos on stations at 11p pushing the morning show. The problem with that is if they're listening that late at night, the odds are really ridiculous that they will listen to the morning show. It is most advantageous for the afternoon and night shows to promo one another and forget about the rest.
Finally, the secret to solving "the dashboard dilemma" is understanding that there is a cultural paradigm shift happening right now. That means there is less room for error. We may only get one shot to capture radio's evaporating audience because of an entire generation of potential young listeners that have grown up without radio being a significant part of their lives. It also means there is going to be a lot more information to filter through and a lot of old programming rules to re-think. Musical acuity is more important than ever. You have to know when it's time to use your gut. And that time is when you don't have a song in research, but you know your station needs to be on it. Whatever you do, do it in a fashion that is most effective, not just somewhat effective. Remember, a problem cannot be solved from the same mindset that created it.