Sunday, December 21, 2014


Each time a station I've worked with over the years has been directly attacked I have publicly said:  "Competition makes us better."

For the listeners and the air staff, that's true.

But, generally, from a business point of view I have to privately admit it's simply not, especially in markets where media buyers generally refuse to buy two country stations at good rates.

Doubly so in PPM measurment markets where direct format competition has often driven down shares, making point levels shrink.

This was reinforced for me in September 1999 when longtime Detroit incumbant W4 Country typically had higher ratings with country than did WYCD, lack of advertiser revenue led W4 Country to switch to a classic rock format and WYCD never looked back from a revenue viewpoint.

The same thing played out a decade ago in San Diego.  Local observers claimed that neither Lincoln Financial nor the company formerly known as Clear Channel made any money during a costly fight, but when it ended KSON rose back to the top of the audience and revenue rankings, where they remain today.

iHeart's K-102 and CBS' Buz'n have been going at it in a virtual tie after three years in the Twin Cities in what has been a costly battle for both companies.  The last time KEEY had an attacker in this position they purchased it, leading to two decades of revenue and audience dominance.  This time, BUZ'N came out just as Taylor Swift was on the upswing.

Back before PPM measured Boston a very competitive fight went on between WKLB and WBCS (Boston's Country Station) from 1993 to 1995.  The victor in that battle was Greater Media. They have been extremely powerful from a revenue and ratings perspective for the 20 years since then.  Fighting for format ownership in country can be lucrative, long term.

It's been almost 20 years since the last competitive assault in Orlando for country, which even included Cox's K-92 buying the attacker just before it went country.  Three years later they took it out of the format, leading the market for much of the intervening time with just one country station, part of a solid cluster with broad reach.

Until now, as JVC closed on WHKQ Monday and then quickly launched 103.1 The Wolf on Friday

Things to watch:
  • Is this the beginning of a new post-consolidation age in competitive format battles?
  • In the past, new stations launched as formats were on the upswing.  Is this a good time to launch a new radio station in the country format against a strong competitor?
This I know:  the listeners are going to love having a choice.  The air staffs and street teams are going to have fun going at it.

The accountants, not so much.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

“Woof, Woof, Woof. Bow, Wow, Wow. Arf, Bark, Arf, Bark, Woof!”

Ever since dogs started barking “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” Christmas music has given country (and rock) format programmers and personalities a big headache.  

Thanks to PPM panel measurement which can follow the same group of people’s radio usage for many months and years, we now know some things about what drives the country format’s annual fall swoon at the expense of Adult Contemporary and Christian stations going “all Christmas music.”

1.  As Mike O’Malley told Inside Radio last week, studies of country listeners going back more than a decade consistently find that less than 20% of country P-1 listeners say they’d be very interested in having their country station play all Christmas music while half tell researchers they wouldn’t be interested at all, making going solid Christmas tunes a very risky tactic in a competitive country battle unless your company owns two country stations.  In that case, it can benefit them both, one gaining 35+ female tuning and the other one acting as an alternative for younger and male country music fans.  The more new music intensive you are, the more dangerous it can be to go more than a month without exposing and familiarizing the core with fresh music.  When you go back to playing the country hits you need to refamiliarize your core with it, which can hurt familiarity scores that drive TSL and passion as the new year - and a new PPM month - begins.

2.  In diary markets it has always appeared that all-Christmas helps the upper-demo contemporary get a cume boost in the first month of two of the Winter survey.  Now, thanks to PPM, we know that’s more a result of top-of-mindness impacting what people write in diaries than it is real usage.  Once, all-Christmas was seen as a strategy.  Now, we know it’s just a tactic.  In PPM, normal listening patterns resume on December 26 and don’t have any residual impact in January or February.  Thus, in a PPM market any station contemplating solid Holiday music in November and December needs to pre-sell the event in advance.  Diary measurement may make it appear that buying those great Christmas season ratings in January and February is a bargain, but PPM proves that would be overpaying.

3.  PPM permits a microscopic view of usage patterns not possible in diary surveys as long as the sample is large enough to be reliable.  As a result, aggregating multiple markets, it’s possible to uncover precisely what drives month-to-month changes in cume and average quarter hour.  Most months, any sudden changes are likely driven by sample weighting alterations or households coming into or leaving the panel.  As Christmas music starts to dominate one or two stations in a market, it’s now possible to dig into it directly and see exactly how each station in town’s average monthly users react.  What we see appears to be more than a sample wobble.  It looks “real.”

4.  A&O&B has been carefully studying PPM, thanks to the help of direct marketing and rating analysis vendors, from the very first month of PPM measurement going all the way back to the first tests of the technology in Wilmington and Philadelphia many years ago.  Here’s what we’ve observed, thanks to help from Arbitron and Nielsen analysts:  the normal pattern of daypart and day-to-day recycling tends to continue as usual for a healthy country radio station.  However, non-stop Christmas music on a station that always shares 25-30% of the country station’s audience month after month does something astounding during the Holidays.  It creates NEW DAYPARTS for itself, times of the day and days of the week from that group of panelists when the country station’s average listener wasn’t even using radio in most months!

5.  PPM “time spend exposed” (TSE/AMA) per hour for that country station when under attack from a 100% Christmas music competitor remains steady.  Morning show, at work and weekend usage are generally more or less unchanged.  Except for one group of listeners, the ones who seem to want to get into the Holiday spirit as they prepare for Christmas.  They go Christmas shopping, wrap presents, decorate the house, the workplace.  They host and attend parties.  They plan for the family event.  They continue to listen to their usual morning show, don’t listen much less than normal to their favorite 24/7365 country station, but they also find themselves using the solid Christmas music station a lot - as much as an extra day a week of their total time with radio - at lunchtime when they go out to shop, in the evening and over every weekend at home when they wrap presents, decorate the tree, write Christmas cards and organize their wardrobe for a busy Season Of Giving.

To deflect such a tactic when half the audience really doesn’t desire all-Christmas is next-to-impossible, though you can, we’ve found, at least minimize the damage — by creating your own extra special, lifestyle-driven extraordinary depart usage drivers. 

The challenge, of course, is that playing 500 popular Christmas songs over and over for six weeks is relatively easy when compared to the creativity, innovation and hard work it takes to build enough of the kind of content that can compete with it in listeners’ minds for six to eight weeks every year.

Attempting to cure your first headache can make for a pretty big second one too.