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So, How Many People Really Tune Out When the Spots Come On?

December 19, 2011 1 comment

The headline sure is encouraging.  According to the Coleman Insights/Arbitron/Media Monitors study, What Happens When the Spots Come On, radio stations hold 93% of their lead-in audience through the average stop set.

But, before you start loading up on long stop sets, there’s something of a devil lying in the details here. When they presented the research, Coleman and Arbitron were careful to note that the 93% doesn’t refer to how many listeners stay tuned throughout the stop set but rather to the overall audience levels prior to and immediately following the break. The actual proportion of listeners who stay tuned through the average stop set is lower than 93%.  The problem is we don’t know exactly how much lower.Image

Radio stations experience a natural audience churn that happens independent of any tune-out triggers.  Listeners get in or out of their car, enter or leave the room where the radio is on, or do any number of other activities that begin or end their listening session and have nothing to do with their reaction to what they just heard.

This natural churn is also captured in the results of the Coleman/Arbitron/Media Monitors study.  As a result, it effectively dilutes the impact of spots on listeners who tuned in at the beginning of the stop set.

Imagine that we have a radio station with ten listeners tuned in via PPM. After the first spot, one of the ten listeners switches to another radio station while another one ends their radio listening session (let’s say by leaving their car). Meanwhile, still another listener turns on their radio for the first time that day. We now have nine listeners, eight of whom were there before the first spot. (That’s 90% of the number of listeners we had when we started, while just 89% of the listeners still listening to radio are still with us.)  Once again, after the second spot, one listener starts their listening session with us, another one ends their radio listening session altogether, while a third listener switches to another station. But, this time, a listener also switches from another station to our station. (Maybe they were running spots too.).  All in all, two listeners have jumped on and two have jumped off after the second spot. We still have nine listeners (90% of the overall audience level of when we started), but our station audience now holds just six of the eight listeners—or 75% of those who are still listening to radio.

Of course, this just an example. The amount of natural audience churn and the number of listeners switching to and from one station to another during the stop set is not called out in the research. Jaye Albright, who drills into the granular detail of all things PPM for her clients in Canada using BBM’s minute-by-minute data, tells me she was recently looking at 25-54 switchers to a major market Country station and found it’s roughly a 4-8% “in” and 4-8% “out” in every single minute.

This is not to say the results of the Coleman/Arbitron/Media Monitors results aren’t meaningful. It’s good to know that, regardless of tune-out, overall audience levels stay quite high during the average stop set, even if we should also consider the net effect—how much the audience might have grown if we weren’t running any spots. It’s also helpful to note the differences in audience levels by demo, format and ethnicity—News/Talk, Urban and Hispanic stations for example should be taking these results to the bank.

Coleman, Arbitron, and Media Monitors also quite rightly point out that the study says nothing about the impact of high commercial loads on the brand.

The research partners promise further analyses in 2012. Hopefully, we’ll get more insight into how spots and other content affect not just audience levels but actual switching behavior.

Researching Why People Tune In vs. Managing Tune-Out

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

I was intrigued by one of the findings released last week from the Alan Burns survey on women radio listeners in the U.S. Fewer than 4 in 10 women (39%) who listen to morning radio have a morning radio feature or game they look forward to.  I couldn’t help but wonder what that figure might have looked liked before PPM, and the subsequent gutting of morning show talk and features.

PPM does a fine job of helping stations manage tune-out.  But is anyone tracking those things that get people to tune in to radio in the first place?

Welcome…

July 21, 2011 1 comment

Two realities facing radio today:

1. Radio is going through its biggest change since the arrival of television.  New digital alternatives are re-shaping the role that radio plays in listeners’ lives. Meanwhile, PPM is changing the rules of the game.

2. Yet, research for radio remains much the same as it was 30 or 40 years ago. Music testing and perceptual studies continue to focus on the station across the street rather than the new, larger competitive landscape. And sales research still largely consists of re-casting ratings results.

What information does today’s broadcaster need? What tried-and-true techniques are still relevant, and which ones have lost their edge? Where are you seeing genuine insights on how people are listening to radio today? And, oh yeah, how do we do all this on shrinking budgets?

These are the issues that Re-Inventing Radio Research plans to address. It’s not a platform for punditry — there are plenty of those already, most of them very good. And, while radio pundits will no doubt weigh in from time-to-time, it’s not about having all the answers, but working towards doing a better job of asking the right questions.

Re-Inventing Radio Research is intended to be an open conversation. Comments are welcome. And so are contributors. If you would like to be a regular or semi-regular contributor providing your perspective, asking questions of other readers or sharing insights, send me an email at jeff.vidler@visioncritical.com.

Categories: State of research Tags: ,
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