CRS Research Study Holds Few Surprises-Plus Discussion Points

This year’s 2011 CRB country radio survey was presented (3/3) to a morning crowd of over 250 attendees. Conducted by North Carolina-based research firm Coleman Insights, the study polled P1 country radio listeners ages 12-64, and was sponsored by the CMA. Approximately 171 industry professionals also responded so the P1 results could be measured against industry perceptions. The survey was conducted via email and online.

“This year’s study confirmed that the overall perception of Country Music by its core consumers was extremely positive, and the general health of Country radio is still strong,” says Coleman Insights President and COO Warren Kurtzman. “Listeners are continuing to find new means of consuming Country Music through emerging technologies, but this study seems to indicate they are not undermining Country radio’s connection with its listeners.”

Key findings for the study summed that P1s are more excited about radio than the industry perceives and that they are indeed using new media. Much of the data was compared against a 2007 study of P1s and found little change. Complete findings will be available on Wed. March 9 at 10 a.m. at www.colemaninsights.com

The Coleman speakers offered up the following conclusions and recommendations…
1. “Great job country radio and country music,” offered Coleman Insight VP . “It’s impressive that you’ve created a strong passion with your P1 consumers. The appeal and satisfaction of both country radio and country music is as positive as ever. Country radio remains the leading source of connection for these consumers and is the leading source for new music discovery. The industry is dealing from a position of perceived strength with its partisans. This is important because if there are any chinks in the armor that showed up here, [in  this study] that would be serious and damaging.

2. “Country P1 engagement with new media is underway and growing,” Ackerman continued. “It presents challenges and opportunities. The challenges come from the threat of increased fragmentation and choice, but given the industry’s position of strength with its partisan consumers the opportunity lies in the ability to proactively harness new media for its own purposes. One way to maintain the bond that country radio has with its partisans is to keep improving…the product and product experience. Doing the necessary R&D to understand the audience. Know what they like and don’t like. Know how their perceptions of country radio and music are evolving and changing. It also means being willing to invest in innovation. Innovation in finding and developing new acts and developing new acts and making a radio station sound better and by delivering more exclusive content so we can’t rest on our laurels here. It may be a tough pill to swallow in these economic times, but leaders preserve their leadership by asserting their position through aggressive advertising. That is necessary for us to not only maintain the strength of our brands, but to stay visible and relevant with the consumer. With all the choice going on it is not a time for country radio and/or music to be invisible.”

Coleman VP Sam Milkman had these concerns…
1. ”You will need smartphone apps. Both an alarm clock and something that plays the radio because a third of your consumers are waking up to a smartphone.

2. “Align your streaming offerings to combat Pandora which will involve getting in touch with the values that consumers see in Pandora that they aren’t getting from our am/fm streams including customization, ease of use and fewer commercials.”

Discussion Points
Mark Twain reportedly said when trying to win a debate, “Sir, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” What was Twain trying to say? Perhaps that the persuasive power of numbers must be tempered by looking carefully at what they represent and how they were obtained.

This CRB 2011 study appears to be extremely incestuous. Radio’s most passionate involved listeners (P1s or “partisans”) are chosen and then asked essentially, “Do you like us?” Surprise—they do. Is it any wonder the satisfaction/appeal results are quite similar to the 2007 study, considering we are only asking listeners that love country radio? In fact, I would guess that if there were only 100 P1s left in the world at some imaginary future time and we polled them, the results would still be the same. “If we aren’t taking care of our core listeners then we are really in trouble,” said CRB Board member and radio consultant Rusty Walker offering a reason for polling only P1s. “It’s a starting place,” offered one of the Coleman Insights VPs.

One of the study’s recommendations is, “improve the product and product experience…understand the audience…know what they like and don’t like.” It also says “Get in touch with the values that consumers see in Pandora and aren’t getting…” Last year’s CMA study which polled a robust sample of country music fans found that listeners wanted to know the names of the artists they were listening to. Pandora shows that information. But most country radio stations do not. Why? Data shows your listeners want it.

Another Coleman Insights conclusion was, “Invest in innovation, including finding and developing new acts.” Innovation with respect to new acts is hard to define, but it likely involves increasing the level of experimentation. Country music sales have fallen 50% in four years, which should prove that current levels of innovation in this regard are not working, at least for label partners.

All media is changing rapidly—including radio and records. Soon Pandora and other Internet streaming channels will become available on your auto dashboard. Longevity will necessitate change for all stakeholders. And that requires good unbiased data showing what’s right….and what’s wrong.

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David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. [email protected]

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