A couple of things happened this month that strengthen my feelings about making sure that radio stays active, engaged and entertaining beyond the music.
First, radio’s new cheerleader (Clear Channel CEO) Bob Pittman continued his rah rah for radio and repeated his contention that Pandora (add Spotify and the other on-line music shovelers) is really a music shuffler. His speech at the Radio Ink conference in New York was a continuation of his road show from earlier this year and most prominently in Chicago at the NAB meeting.
AM and FM radio is a combination of many elements that provides not just music, but also companionship, information, and promotional opportunities for clients and artists. Not leveraging all that a well-programmed radio station has to offer is leaving opportunity behind at every turn.
Secondly, at the Arbitron seminar in Baltimore, Coleman Insights, Media Monitors, and Arbitron presented a comprehensive study proving that commercials on the radio are NOT the tune out terrors program directors have feared and warned of for all these years.
The study looked at 18 million commercial breaks, 62 million minutes of commercials and 866 stations for a year to compare audience levels at the beginning of a commercial break and again at the end. That is a lot of analysis. The bottom line, 1-3 minute commercial breaks deliver levels at the end, practically the same as at the beginning of the break. Even breaks as long as three minute lose only four percent of the lead-in audience.
Not only does this fly in the face of what we have long believed, but also seems to be different to how we watch TV. The fast forward/skip button on my Tivo is worn down to nothing.
Let me ask you if a well-crafted and well-executed 30 second informational bit about an artist, or a 30 second comment by Luke Bryan about his new CD is anywhere as onerous as a commercial from “Big Bubba Johnson’s used cars on the corner of 1st and Main”?
If listeners are willing to stay through a 3 minute spot set, are they likely to stay through something that deals with the reason they chose this specific station? This is why I object to stripping the station of content and making it a music box.
Even longer commercial breaks, 3-6 minutes, retained 90 percent of lead-in audience. This does not mean that 9 out of 10 people listening at the beginning of the spot set are still there at the end. It means that at the end of the spot break there was an audience equal to 90 percent of the audience at the start of the set. This could be listeners who came into the station during the spot break and stayed until the end, making up for the listeners who did leave at some point.
Many of us think of radio usage as being only in the car where the search for another station is just a flick away but in fact, much of the listening is done in other environments where there is no button to push.
Some programmers may program only to the button pushers and fail to consider the listener who comes to their station for the entire entertainment experience that includes the personality, information and yes, even commercials.
I believe Mr. Pittman is correct in describing radio as something different than a music stream like Pandora. Without question Pandora has a place. It is going to be successful for a long time. Even after cell phone companies begin to tighten the amount of data we’re allowed.
I love the warning I get when I call up Pandora on my cell phone: “This product will use a large amount of data and you are responsible for all data charges.”
Not as dire as “cigarettes will cause cancer” but the only warning we should include on terrestrial radio is that “you might hear a song that was driven up the charts by a first class promotion team but is really is a piece of crap and shouldn’t really be played this many times a day.”