October 23, 2012
The Measurement Challenge
Autumn's falling leaves signify more than just cooler weather. It's also time for stations in this post-telecom world to look down the road and make some plans. Managers want to talk about why certain things are needed and eliminate anything that doesn't have a specific purpose or objective. Programmers want to look at building format passion through the use of new strategies and techniques. The measurement challenge is to create a balance of music, personality, branding, presentation and stationality to wring out the most Urban or Urban AC listening possible.
There are times to be on the cutting edge and times not to. Cutting-edge programmers often want to break some rules and be outrageous. These calculated risk-takers recognize that being outrageous will get you noticed. Even for calculated risk-takers, though, today's competitive market factors call for transparent strategies and expansion of the basics. Identify your target audience, solidify your position and win the demo. While these are proven tactics that apply to any station in any format, Urban broadcasters in 2012 can suddenly find themselves attempting to serve a diverse population segment with distinctly different tastes, trends and lifestyles.
For example, Urban AC stations traditionally flex their muscles in middays, showing healthy in-office Time Spent Listening. By nighttime, however, in many markets those numbers often start sagging. A different music mix at night and on weekends can freshen the station's sound. The risk with that is it makes the station inconsistent. The best approach is to research the moves before you make them. What's the best research approach to take? Start with cluster analysis.
This type of research can help to determine if a move should be made and if so, what type of move. To pinpoint a format's potential, researchers use a multivariable technique called cluster analysis. Cluster analysis divides each market into groups of listeners (segments), based on their programming preferences. For example, within an Urban cluster analysis, you could have a segment that loves adult hits, tolerates some hip-hop and hates sappy love songs. So how do we put together a coalition of these segments? The answer is we can't. A soft, straightahead Urban could focus to become a more specialized type of station, but competitive factors get in the way.
What you want to avoid is becoming a "second-choice station." While that may sound like a viable strategy, it is not. We've probably all heard GMs and sales managers say they wouldn't mind being "everyone's second-choice station," but it doesn't work. Here's why: Most stations get 75% or more of their quarter-hours from their P1 listeners. In today's radio environment, somebody needs to love you - enough "somebodies" to make your station viable. Unfortunately, few are destined to really love a station that only serves them part of the time.
We've been saying for some time that Urban stations are missing out on an opportunity to cash in on the growing Hispanic audience who love Urban and hip-hop music. They're part of the different decade. Despite the burgeoning Hispanic, heavily Arbitron-weighted population, Urban radio has not taken full advantage of this audience segment. Just as with mainstream programming, creating niche formats which can include Hispanics provides a way to grow and super-serve a specific population.
Saturating a market with too many micro-targeted formats, even those that theoretically have little listener overlap, can lead to audiences that are too miniscule to generate ratings numbers or ad dollars. If you go too far with niche programming, you will fail. If you're going after too small a niche, you won't have sufficient audience to make a difference. So what's the answer? How do you effectively deliver to a different decade, one in which Hispanics figure prominently into the equation?
First, you want to examine all the facts. Then, if it is determined that there is a sufficient Hispanic audience, you've got to remember that well-programmed Urban stations have the potential to grab a huge chunk of audience that includes Hispanics. This is because an English-language Urban or Urban AC station is really attractive to a Hispanic audience. In some cities, such as San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston or San Antonio, 35-40% of Hispanic listeners are English speaking, and they really enjoy Urban music and relate to the urban lifestyle.
Another key ingredient in any Urban format music blend is freshness. Even for adults, when the temperature goes down, the tempo should go up. Today's Urban audience is forgiving, but they're not patient. Even Urban AC stations, attempting to serve a mature audience, can't simply feed them a bland blend of library gold and ballads and expect their loyalty. They may be mature but they haven't forgotten how to party. Nights and weekends are still party time for a lot of fickle grown folks who, if you don't give them something they can feel, will find a fresh new frequency in a flash.
Giving your audience constant freshness by staying on top of the music, trends and feelings for the younger end of your target audience can really charge up your station's sound and image and has been known to help you score big shares. Remember, if your teens and 18-24s go up, so do your overall numbers. Give them a reason to go up.
Many markets have fragmented young listenership -- the teens and 18-24s who think and dance like teens still want to hear their music. We mentioned earlier that growing Hispanic core that loves Urban music, especially rap, and even some old school jams. And even though for the teens and many of the 18-24s listening is often scattered, it can really help to swell your totals, especially with Arbitron weighting and sample balancing. Teen and young demo awareness is often the catalyst that leads to a stronger overall showing. The 18-34 females follow the teens and eventually the entire 25-49 cell develops.
Research shows that males like less repetition while female acceptance of love songs is overwhelming. Both like energy. Power ballads mixed with uptempo jams or dance tracks can provide the balance needed to lock up teens and 18-24s. The key is to give the audience fresh new songs that are mass appeal but have a hip image. A lot of reactionary records fall into this category.
Teens and 18-24s are critical to any urban station's ratings, especially in the fall and winter when many adult targeted stations tend to slow down the number of new songs and increase the long-term re-currents, stay-currents and library gold tracks. Music is much like fashion and other trends in that they always begin with the young people. They're the trendsetters. Music trends are created by them which is another reason why teens are important.
Teens who can't or don't drive often are more like their parents, while older teens and 18-24s begin to make their own decisions and invariably choose things their parents don't like. Urban music and radio fall right into this category for a lot of rebellious, suburban non-blacks looking for a hip alternative.
Now what about the sales managers and GMs who tell us they only want 25-49 numbers to fill in the 18-34 cells? First of all, understand they are sales people not programmers and they may never fully understand or appreciate how ratings demographics work. These guys wrongly try to separate the teens from the adults, which is an inter-connected process. You might try explaining to them when building familiarity with a new song, call-outs and requests kick in first with teens, build to women 18-34, and then spread to men. Few straight, urban male listeners over 15 comment about music at all on these call-out tests. Again, they may not fully grasp what you've explained, but at least you're on record as having tried to explain your strategy.
Better Scheduling Means More Listeners
Once the decision has been made on the plan you're going to implement to expand your audience, you have to ask the right research questions, such as "Are you playing the right songs at the right times?" The right strategy and the wrong songs will not allow you to score. Neither will jaded programming minds using self-prophesied music formulas.
You begin by reviewing each song in rotation and determining how it contributes to your new strategy. Then you have to recode the library and then run the analysis tools to check again what you have determined you need to attract the new listeners.
You will find there are some rap jams that have proven strong with adults, proving the familiarity precept and the strength of a hit record actually transcends demographics. Rap and Urban music is no longer just a success story. It's the story of the music industry, which it currently dominates. It's possible to keep your adults and add some teens. And teens can actually generate some adult numbers. Also, don't forget that there are a lot of mainstream Urban stations that have attempted to go adult and ended up dying in the process.
On the other hand, it's not uncommon for a mainstream station to be #1 12+, second or third in the 18-34s, and fourth or fifth overall in the 25-54 standings. This means an advertiser can buy one station and reach nearly everyone, with some bonus audience on both sides.
Whether it's a top-10 market or a small station in a market with one yellow page, the waters are just as turbulent. Markets and stations are changing. Competition, like the wind, is coming from every direction, every format. One thing about most of us, we can adapt and endure a storm or two as long as we know there's some sunshine waiting on the other side.
Economists and major agencies are both forecasting a softer winter for Urban stations from an advertising perspective this year. That's always bad news for programmers. When money's tight, GM's tempers are short and so are their budgets. And all you can do on a shoestring is trip - and not the way you want to.
A lot of careers will be on the line this year as we find our industries involved in some real ratings battles. There will be scars and wounds. In fact, in some markets, every book is so critical formats and careers have been known to change quickly. Every time business gets soft, the entire media gets the jitters. Tight money and sluggish economic growth will have a lot of radio stations singing the blues in 2013.
Turnover ratios are very important. They're critical to the right scheduling. Naturally, the wrong turnovers will make it impossible to create the right mix of songs.
Additionally, you have to build clocks that will allow you to communicate what's really important for your station. To satisfy these potential new listeners, you need to create clocks that make sure you're never far away from the songs that are most important. If you're playing special songs that your research tells you Hispanics want to hear, and if they fall into the category of new or unfamiliar music, even though they may be highly popular with the Hispanic audience, you must play them between your truly strong songs. That means next to your important songs such as your power currents or power recurrents.
Finally, balance along with vertical and horizontal separation is extremely important. Poor balance can make your station sound inconsistent. Five type A songs in hour one and none in the next hour can communicate two different types of messages. An even, balanced playlist is the way to go.
You have to make sure you're exposing the right songs. Poorly designed categories and clocks will result in some songs in a category receiving a lot of play, while others in the same category receive very little. Some stations we've observed make an effort to use rules to keep titles well separated. The problem there is that if a particular category is out of balance and the rules are too strict, you will wind up scheduling the same songs at the same time day after day or every second or third day.
Today's radio listeners have many media choices that were not available even a few years ago. They can go to another station, satellite radio, Pandora, Spotify, iHeart, an Internet station or their own iPod. What transparent strategies can your station offer to lure these listeners to your frequency? If you're a renegade hip-hop station, you have to take that attitude. If you're trying to be a warm and fuzzy Urban AC, you have to be that way. You don't change image and perception overnight. In most cases, you're either starting fresh without perceptual baggage or you're battling an old image to put a new shine on the product. Just remember, perception lingers long after reality has changed.