Alternative Rock Radio @ DEFCON 3

M E M O R A N D U M

TO: Alternative Rock Radio

There seems to be consternation at both the corporate and programming levels of Alternative Rock Radio as to the current state of the format - a radio format that historically has been known for its forward-thinking approach to music.

Many I've spoken to in recent weeks have been concerned about the format's future. While there are exceptions -  stations that are super serving the Alternative Rock fans - many programmers and management think the format can achieve greater ratings and revenue.

Based on these conversations, a heightened state of alert is called for: DEFCON 3!

Bridge Ratings provides research data to traditional radio including Alternative Rock stations. Part of the mix of research includes on-demand streaming data which we provide weekly to Alternative Rock programmers.

On-demand streaming data has rapidly grown into a key research tool for media this year and Alternative Rock Radio is a beneficiary of the insight we are gaining through this data. Based on four years of trending data we have seen the format in many cases is misaligned with actual music consumption by its potential audience.

Following is what we have recently learned about the format:

1) The rating system (Nielsen's PPM) that is industry currency for projecting radio audience is flawed when it comes to accurately representing Alternative Rock listeners. P1 listeners - those that contribute the most listening -  have a tendency not to participate in Nielsen studies.  P2 listeners are more likely to carry a people meter, but don't consume as much radio as primary listeners.

The fact that the core audience for Alternative Rock radio is under-represented by Nielsen is at the core of the format's perceived problems.

2) If under-represented in the ratings, reported listening by core listeners to Alternative Rock radio is shaping an incomplete understanding of the available audience that is spending time with the format.

3) Alternative Rock radio has at least two paths to consider: a) continue programming to the format's core or b) to perform better in Nielsen, reflect the music consumption tastes of those who are likely to be represented in such studies. In order to perform better with People Meter measurement, more individual listeners (e.g. weekly cume audience) are needed.

Secondary or P2 listeners may provide some insight as to the format's ability to attract more audience. More on this in a moment.

4) Our studies reveal that the Alternative radio audience that is likely to be reflected in Nielsen are seeking more familiar songs. This is evident by looking at our weekly on-demand streaming data.  This audience uses radio and on-line streaming platforms in a symbiotic way.
When compiling playlists for on-line listening there are two primary ways the Alternative radio life-group builds them. 1) Familiar favorites and 2) Music discovery.

The portion of the Alternative rock life-group that would listen to the radio is very different from those who don't or seldom do listen. So to grow Alternative radio must appeal to this group.

When this life group seeks these types of songs - primarily in the car - familiarity is the main reason, followed closely by discovery.

3) Don't underestimate the power of catalogue material. 

67% of songs streamed on-demand by the format's listeners is library-based gold.

Referencing published airplay charts as a programming tool will produce a playlist not aligned with the audience.
— Dave Van Dyke, President Bridge Ratings Media Research

Click on Image to enlarge.

4) Don't program current music by consensus.

Programmers who use published charts to stay aligned with the format's fast-moving audience are doomed. Published charts are based on dozens of stations and doesn't take local variances into consideration. Published charts do not reflect today's actual consumption behaviors.

Chart positions on published airplay charts do not correlate highly with actual on-demand streaming data.

This chart places Alternative as the lowest in correlation between actual airplay and on-demand streaming consumption. Only 35% of the songs on published airplay charts correlate by rank with actual consumption measured through on-demand streaming charts. Referencing published airplay charts as a programming tool will produce a playlist not aligned with the audience.

5) Not all markets are the same.

When comparing station airplay with on-demand streaming data, we see significant variances in the most-popular current songs and artists market to market. Some songs by high profile format artists may not be right for power rotations.

6) Mass Appeal is Not a Negative

As Alternative Rock core artists have become more popular through exposure on streaming services and word-of-mouth they have also been adopted by competitive radio formats such as Top 40 and Hot Adult Contemporary. Twenty-One Pilots, Imagine Dragons and X-Ambassadors were formerly exclusive Alternative Rock radio artists have crossed-over to more mainstream listenership.

As songs from artists like these are exposed first on Alternative Rock radio and then on Top 40, the streaming audience evolves and expands. This is a key point for Alternative Rock programmers to understand.

"Heathens" by Twenty One Pilots is a good example of how a song evolves. When launched in April 2016 "Heathens" was exclusively streamed by Alternative Rock core listeners. 75% of streams for that song were from the format's core listeners and 25% were from secondary listeners.

The song reached a more mainstream audience in June 2016 when it was featured in the movie soundtrack for  "Suicide Squad". The song gained a wider audience during the band's appearance on Saturday Night Live that fall.

As the song and the band received more exposure, the complexion of the streaming audience changed as depicted in the following chart.

Click on image to enlarge.

While still consuming the song heavily, over time, fewer Alternative Rock core listeners streamed "Heathens" as much but more Alternative secondary listeners began streaming the song more often as well as listeners to Top 40 radio which by the fall of 2016 was playing the song heavily.

Considering this process of songs evolving through various music consumers is a new key element for radio programmers.

A mass appeal hit by an Alternative Rock artist is good for the format; it can broaden and increase weekly listenership.
 

6) 25-30% of the top 75 most-streamed songs in most markets are not even on published charts.  If stations properly reflected actual music consumption through on-demand streaming data, they would enhance the image of a station that is cutting-edge.

7) Reflect the audience's taste. They are there to lead you - not the other way around.

Bottom line: Alternative Rock Radio serves an audience keenly interested in both music discovery and their favorites. Evidence of this resides in the behavior of these music consumers on social media and streaming services. If the format reflects actual music consumption and ignores programming by consensus, we can return the DEFCON level to 5 (the lowest state of readiness) because it will increase daily listening occasions as well as cume.

 

To find out more about Bridge Ratings' station-specific on-demand streaming data, contact Dave Van Dyke at 323.696.0967 or at dvd@bridgeratings.com.

 

 

 

 

Social Media Update Millennial-Style

A previous article about social media use was published last year.  Andrew Watts, a 21-year-old college student, has written a follow-up.

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.

On January 2, 2015, I wrote a viral post entitled “A Teenager’s View on Social Media,” in which I dissected popular apps and what I thought about them. It got over one million views. Many people have asked me to write a follow-up or, at the very least, an update. I haven’t felt there was a dramatic enough shift to warrant a new post, until now.

I will start this post off with transparency, since it influences my view of the landscape.

I am a 21-year-old male attending The University of Texas at Austin. I am heavily invested in social media and I try out all of the latest social apps whenever I can. I really love following and paying attention to the trends surrounding social media, often observing both my own and my network’s usage of it.

I have previously interned at Facebook and Google, but the views in this post are my own and any commentary about product feature requests or these companies’ product roadmaps are purely speculative. No hot scoops here.

Similar to the previous post, I will break this down by network and what I’ve observed over the past two years.

Facebook

Facebook was definitely my hottest take in my first article, when I announced, “It’s dead to us.” It seemed like such a stale social network, with mostly publications and distant friends populating the News Feed. However, sharing among my friends has recently increased dramatically due to a few main factors I’ve noticed:

  • Users are better educated on how to tag people in the comments of posts and how to share posts, which has helped viral content spread.
  • The emphasis on videos over text has made the platform more engaging and shareable, since videos are (currently) one of the most engaging formats.
  • The emergence of “Weird Facebook” — Facebook pages and groups that are focused on memes or other niche topics.

Messenger has also become a valuable tool. I know plenty of people who prefer Messenger to traditional texting. It’s the communication platform of choice when I (as an iPhone owner) have to message an Android user.

Facebook Live has also become increasingly influential among my peers. I know at least a dozen friends who have gone Live in the past month. For now the feature still seems fairly niche, with a ton of barriers to user participation (people often don’t have enough content for a continued stream, so they shut it down within a minute or two). Also, the fact that going Live (seemingly) notifies your entire Friend List can make for a pretty stressful process with a lot of pressure.

But for my friends and me, Facebook is still not the dominant social network many people see it as. If people meet at a party, they’re more likely to add each other on Snapchat or Instagram. That isn’t to say people don’t friend one another on Facebook anymore — they definitely do — but rather that other networks dominate the conversation. Facebook is seen as a fairly formal means of connecting. If a friend of mine meets a guy at a party, she doesn’t want him to see all of this information about her that’s on Facebook. She prefers Snapchat because it opens a line of communication, gives a more honest look into a person’s life, and is just more lightweight as a platform to talk on.

Instagram

Instagram is still one of the most used social media outlets for my age group. I would argue that it isn’t the most, since Snapchat has definitely acquired more influence over the years. Many of the observations I made two years ago still hold true:

  • I’m not terrified if I like something on Instagram that it will show up in someone’s feed (though, I’m not really as worried about that on Facebook as I used to be).
  • There isn’t pressure to follow back on Instagram, making the content inherently more curated.
  • The content on Instagram itself is generally higher quality.
  • Instagram still (which is honestly surprising) hasn’t been flooded with the older generation yet.
  • People often don’t post as much content on Instagram but, with the new algorithm (which I’ll get to shortly), even if they did it wouldn’t matter as much.

The one thing that has changed is my stance on links on Instagram. I believe links should be added to Instagram, given that the release of their new algorithm would prevent link spamming, and given that the integration Instagram did for links on Stories (having users simply swipe up from a Story in order to visit a link) was brilliant.

Speaking of Instagram Stories, I’m actually a huge fan of this feature. I don’t have too many friends who post on it, causing it to mostly be populated by celebrities or brands. However, the organization and implementation of Stories is genius, making me want to engage with it anyways. Their unobtrusive spot at the top of the feed, sorted based on the engagement you’ve had with the Instagram accounts, and the navigation of the Stories themselves is brilliant. Plus, tagging friends in the posts on Stories and adding links have both been integrated terrifically.

The content on the Stories often mimics what users see in the feed — highly curated, often artistic photos. That being said, you won’t see the sort of raw view into someone’s life on Instagram as you would on Snapchat. Snapchat is still a much more personal network and is the only place where I feel like I can be myself when I post. But I’ll get to Snapchat later.

Instagram’s Direct Messaging has also improved dramatically, mainly because of the addition of the share button on posts and the (seemingly forced) inclusion of comment tags → DMs. Whenever you tag a friend in the comments on Instagram, it defaults to sending them a message of the image, rather than leaving an actual comment with the tag. I don’t have conversations with anyone over Instagram DM, mainly just sharing photos back and forth on the platform, which I think is the perfect use case for it.

My views regarding Instagram’s Live functionality are the same as my views on Facebook’s, though I would feel more comfortable using Instagram’s because it deletes automatically.

Many people in my immediate circle hardly use Twitter at all, but I am aware of other groups within my age bracket who use it as their primary platform to connect and share. I’ve personally grown to appreciate Twitter much more. It’s a terrific place to express your views and meet like-minded individuals from around the globe. However, a few problems really plague Twitter that I think are inhibiting it from growing more:

  • Harassment, spamming (just go to any political person’s Twitter), and lack of a transparent review process (at least compared to other sites, such as Facebook).
  • Difficulty with curation compared to other networks. It’s hard to find Twitter accounts I may like, since “People to Follow” generally seems pretty random for me (or it’s just simply accounts I’ve recently viewed).
  • The blatant stealing of content from accounts such as Dory, Common White Girl, and more discourages content creators from publishing on the platform.
  • Tweets are often shared on other social media platforms (such as Instagram), so many people just follow Instagram aggregator accounts that steal content instead of finding it on Twitter. I wonder if there’s a way for Twitter to prevent this in the future or, on the other hand, embrace the fact that this is occurring and find a way to lead people back to their platform.

Twitter

Many people in my immediate circle hardly use Twitter at all, but I am aware of other groups within my age bracket who use it as their primary platform to connect and share. I’ve personally grown to appreciate Twitter much more. It’s a terrific place to express your views and meet like-minded individuals from around the globe. However, a few problems really plague Twitter that I think are inhibiting it from growing more:

  • Harassment, spamming (just go to any political person’s Twitter), and lack of a transparent review process (at least compared to other sites, such as Facebook).
  • Difficulty with curation compared to other networks. It’s hard to find Twitter accounts I may like, since “People to Follow” generally seems pretty random for me (or it’s just simply accounts I’ve recently viewed).
  • The blatant stealing of content from accounts such as Dory, Common White Girl, and more discourages content creators from publishing on the platform.
  • Tweets are often shared on other social media platforms (such as Instagram), so many people just follow Instagram aggregator accounts that steal content instead of finding it on Twitter. I wonder if there’s a way for Twitter to prevent this in the future or, on the other hand, embrace the fact that this is occurring and find a way to lead people back to their platform.

Snapchat

Snapchat has grown tremendously in the past two years. In my 2015 post I called Snapchat addictive and liberating, mostly for the way its design swept away social pressure. By now, everyone I know has a Snapchat account and almost all of them use it on a regular basis. It has become an essential app not only for posting and sharing photos, but for messages as well. The Chat functionality of Snapchat has improved tremendously and I have at least a couple conversations a day on it. Snapchat definitely helped spur its growth by having a “swipe up to reply” functionality for Stories, which I use daily and which makes it easy to start conversations on the platform.

What I love so much about Snapchat is that the product embraces being fun. People are their authentic selves when they post on Snapchat, using funny filters, lenses, stickers, or inserting their own Bitmoji into Snaps (which is fantastic by the way—a perfect acquisition for Snapchat to make. Everyone I know uses Bitmoji regularly). I also think Snapchat’s stickers are the best stickers in the game right now, and their search functionality for stickers is always on point.

When someone finds a new lens and tries it, you can see the network effect throughout your feed and see everyone else giving it a shot as well, even if the lens isn’t the most flattering. Snapchat allows you to have fun and be yourself in a way no other social network can right now, especially with the absence of most of the external social pressure of other networks, where you worry about how many likes you’ve collected.

Even so, lately I’ve been running into some issues with Snapchat. Because everyone I know uses it, there’s often too much happening, especially with Stories. Snapchat has implemented a few product features to try to combat this, but it still seems pretty tedious to go through my entire feed to find specific friends whose Stories I want to see. Snapchat should take a cue from Instagram (since Instagram took so many cues from Snapchat) and organize their Stories based on engagement/interaction from the user. As of now, my feed honestly kind of stresses me out. I also wish you could hide Stories from friends—for some people who post a lot, I don’t necessarily want to see their Stories, but I still want them to be able to message me (and vice-versa).

The Others

A 3D printed Whatsapp logo is seen in front of a displayed Facebook logo in this illustration taken Thomson Reuters

  • LinkedIn — Ugh.
  • Tumblr — It’s really hard to gauge how relevant Tumblr is since it often isn’t discussed. It seems like to many, the appeal of Tumblr is to have a personal account away from everything else where you can post and share with total strangers (who are generally interested in the same things you are). People don’t often go around advertising their Tumblr accounts or, if they do, they have a public account AND a separate, more personal account for what I just mentioned. I think Tumblr could do a better job of making itself more social and shareable (so people talked about it more), but I also think the closed platform is part of the appeal.
  • Kik — Very popular messaging application with the younger crowd (13–18). Family members who are still in high school tell me they use it all the time. The bots that exist on Kik are well made, and its developer environment and bot store make it one of the most approachable bot applications for developers and users alike.
  • WhatsApp — Although I do not personally use it all that much, WhatsApp is a force to be reckoned with abroad and is definitely not going away anytime soon.
  • GroupMe — Still by far the most used group messaging application in college, although iMessage may eventually take this title away, especially as more people switch to the iPhone. GroupMe has had a few improvements over the years, but I think there’s much more potential for this application than the developers are currently utilizing.
  • YouTube — Really the only place anyone watches videos aside from Facebook. There has been some drama between YouTube and its creators over the past year, and I think YouTube could possibly improve on how it communicates with its creators, given that many have complained about being caught off guard with major changes to the site.

R.I.P.

This section is for social networks that have essentially gone away and are completely off the radar for both myself and my peers. This isn’t to say that the networks themselves are bad or anything, just that no one I know ever uses them. Like…ever.

I was most surprised to see Vine and Yik Yak fall. As a user of Vine, I could tell the content on the app was becoming stale and people were moving to other platforms. However, I felt a better integration with Twitter could have saved it. Even though the app will become a “Vine Camera,” Twitter could have done more to engage with influencers on the platform and connect it more to the main Twitter app.

Yik Yak is different from others on the list because many students in college not only have heard of it, but have even tried it for themselves. However, the lack of continued engagement as well as bullying and harassment sadly proved to be detrimental to the app.

Up and Coming

 Musical.ly / Live.ly — Musical.ly is a social network where users post lip-syncing videos to everything from music to Vines. Live.ly is a livestreaming application made by Musical.ly. Musical.ly became popular just a few months after my first blog and has taken the social media world by storm. My family members who are still in middle school tell me about how everyone they know is on Musical.ly and how they use Live.ly to keep up with their favorite celebrities, albeit middle school celebrities (what’s up, Jacob Sartorius). Musical.ly has a really smooth interface and a thriving community — it’s definitely one to watch.

  • Houseparty — A video chat application from the minds behind Meerkat. I’ve seen more and more people at my university use Houseparty as a way to hang out and chat with their friends. I have even overheard people talking in class about being on the application, which is generally a really strong sign, especially when the application has done very little traditional campus marketing (which I am a huge fan of staying away from).
  • Curious Cat — Think of Curious Cat as a more social, next generation version of Ask.fm. It’s a popular Q&A social network, focusing more on personal questions rather than the more general ones that Quora or Yahoo Answers address. Curious Cat has mainly been spreading through Twitter, yet I could see the site becoming more influential if they nail down how to handle harassment on the platform (which is not an easy feat).
  • Discord — Discord is a chat application focused on gamers. It has myriad features that help serve its over 300 million users every day. This chat app is highly influential in the gaming sphere and will likely extend beyond that market very soon.

Conclusion

Social media has changed dramatically over the past two years. A perfect example of this is how Live video emerged at the forefront of companies’ product strategies.

I don’t think there will ever be “one network to rule them all.” Every network has its own merits. So if I were to offer one piece of advice, let it be this: social networks should stop trying to make one app that does everything. Instead, they should strategically focus on the communities or needs that aren’t already being served by other networks.