The Divergent Paths of Music Radio & Its Listeners Update

Since 2001 Bridge Ratings has been tracking and trending media consumption. Broadcast radio, internet radio, satellite radio, streaming, social media - it all is part of the daily manner in which audio consumers spend valuable entertainment time.

Traditional radio is no longer the only option.

So why are radio programmers missing the boat and not reflecting the tastes of their audiences.

Much has been written in recent years about the strengths of traditional AM/FM radio (its reach of 93% of the population) and its weakness (annual time-spent listening attrition).

Traditional radio’s music exposure structures no longer align with audience need.
— Dave Van Dyke, President Bridge Ratings

For many, music radio these days still uses structural exposure playbooks from the 1970s.

What's wrong with that?

Music radio song category structures and exposures no longer align with how the audience consumes music and in our latest findings here at Bridge Ratings, we've discovered that passion for music radio is slipping for 75% of the four major music formats we analyzed: Top 40 (CHR), Country, Urban Contemporary and Alternative.

Reduction in passion for music radio doesn't necessarily mean less passion for the music; on the contrary.

Of the four music radio formats we studied, only Urban Contemporary continues to align its programming to the needs of its listeners.

The Study

Methodology: Bridge Ratings has been tracking radio usage since its founding in 2001. Since 2001 each year we have randomly selected 5 radio stations in the four music formats in three market categories: Major Market (Ranked 1-10), Medium Market (Ranked 11-40) and Small Market (Ranked 41+). This totaled 20 radio stations per music format in each market category. Sample sizes varied by format and by year.

We tracked listening occasions per personal interviews and on-line surveys.

For each member of our sample aged 12 and over, we tracked their preference and passion for each type of music associated with each of the music formats (Passion Index).

The result was a comparison of weekly listening tune-in occasions and the passion.

The following charts summarize our findings:

Top 40

Click on image to enlarge.

As with all of these format examples, Passion for Pop music on Contemporary Hit Radio/Top 40 remains high over the sixteen year term of this study. What has changed is the number of weekly occasions of listening. Drop-off began as early as 2006 - long before many of the alternative methods of consuming Pop music became available. The divide between the passion and the tune-in is significant for this format yet provides an opportunity.

The gap between the Passion Index and the Tune-in Listening Occasions represents the growth potential for these formats.
— Dave Van Dyke

Country

Click on image to enlarge.

According to our samples, passion for Country music has sustained its high numbers throughout this period having reached its highest point today. And as well-programmed are many of the Country radio stations reflected in this study, the passion for the music and the number of times listeners tune-in each day has slipped and in 2010 began to diverge into a Country music life group that is not as satisfied with Country radio as it could be. The gap between the passion index scores and the tune-in occasion number is the potential the format has for growth.

Alternative Rock

Click on image to enlarge.

Evidenced in most of these music formats is the growing gap of non-alignment and nowhere is it more evident than in the Alternative Radio segment. Passion for the Alternative music category which can include everything from Alternative, Punk, Indie, Rock and Alternative Pop remains greater than the satisfaction levels delivered by the stations represented in this next chart. Despite the drop-off, the passion for the music is only 14% lower than it was in 2000 while tune-in to these radio stations on average has dipped faster after a high in 2007.

Urban Contemporary

Click on image to enlarge.

An example of well-aligned radio to its audience is Urban Contemporary as shown in the following chart. Passion for the music and tune-in occasions have followed similar growth trajectories since 2000 and today the format is performing better than ever. Does this have anything to do with the fact that Urban music tends to be the most-consumed whether by stream, download or physical purchase? We believe it does.

Solutions

According to a separate research study of radio program directors conducted late Summer 2016, only 44% of radio programmers used some form of music research. 70% of the group that doesn't use music research depends on published airplay charts to choose and manage their playlists.

The slow disintegration of station tune-in occasions not only aligns with advances in technology but also seems to align with an era when budget for solid station product research began to be cut or reduced and as revenues dried up since 2005, costs were eliminated and research was one of the victims.

The disconnect between listener expectations and radio’s music programming provides an opportunity.

Radio today continues to reach over 90% of the U.S. population weekly. And it's no secret that with all the entertainment options available, traditional radio has competition for the short attention span of most listeners.

With the varied audio options available to radio consumers, frankly they've gotten more sophisticated in their tastes, needs and expectations.

Our listener panels and the charts in this report point to one of music radio's key vulnerabilities: listener expectations are not being met.

Even listening behavior of older demographics have significantly adjusted to the influence of new technology.

The disconnect between listener expectations and radio's music programming provides an opportunity.

The radio industry can view this data in hindsight and wonder why time spent listening is dropping. However a return to investment in the product in the form of research, talent and marketing could resolve or at least halt the deterioration in listener commitment to radio stations that play music they are passionate about.

How On-line Playlisting Can Save Music Radio

Listening Graphic.png

For music programmers who have been utilizing on-demand streaming data to properly align their on-air music with true music consumption, here's some news: Playlisting has become the dominant way most music fans listen.

At Bridge Ratings we have been tracking music consumption through on-demand streaming services for over four years. We now share this data with our music radio clients seeking to properly align their on-air song exposure to their listeners' actual consumption.

In a typical year we process and analyze hundreds of millions of streams from across the U.S. and, more specifically, by market and station.

Over the past three years we have undertaken an analysis of music streaming consumption and learned almost immediately in the fall of 2015 that playlisting plays a significant role in the way the average person consumes music through on-demand streaming platforms.

Playlist is a term to describe a list of video or audio files that can be played back on a media player sequentially or in random order. In its most general form, an audioplaylist is simply a list of songs, but sometimes a loop.

What We've Learned

  • Among the reasons music fans use playlists when they stream: playlisting allows consumers to differentiate or accentuate favorite songs into personal rotations. 
  • In 2015 at the start of this latest three-year study, most listening was based on individual song selection, i.e. collections of songs on audio players played in a loop or random order, however as the technology of music players (smart phones, etc) and streaming platforms became more sophisticated, playlisting quickly became the primary method of listening.
  • In September 2015 70% of the song streams we analyzed were delivered from an "open source" or individual song selection method by the users. 30% came from playlist creation.
    A year later playlisting was becoming more popular as a majority of the population was participating in streamed music consumption with 43% originating from playlists.
  • By the fall of 2017, playlisting has quickly become the primary way music consumers catalog and listen to songs through streaming platforms. 

How to read: In 2015 30% of our sample created on-demand music playlists. By 2017 this number had grown to 74%.

Playlist creation has become second-nature to the majority of the millions of consumers who stream music in 2017. Knowing which songs are PLAYLISTED opens up a new era of understanding music preferences.
— Dave Van Dyke, President, Bridge Ratings

The Whys of Playlisting

As more music consumers find playlisting to be the preferred way to listen, we were curious as to why playlists are created.

Click on image to enlarge.

The nugget in this chart for programmers of music is the 45% who believe that a song placed in a playlist is more important than others that may not have been added to self-created playlists.

By identifying these playlisted songs a new hierarchy of song preference has been revealed.

Playlist Sharing

How to read: Sharing of on-demand music playlists has virtually flip-flopped since 2015 when only 25% of our sample shared their playlists with friends. By 2017, this number has increased to 72%.

Here's more from our just-released study:

  • Sharing of playlists has crossed 50% of music consumers for the first time.
  • 8 out 10 of our sample have created a playlists in the past three months
  • 63% of those who have paid subscriptions use a playlist every time they listen.
  • 59% of streamies who use playlists have listened to their favorite playlists more than 10 times.
  • The most popular playlists are genre-based.
  • 70% of streamers choose a playlist after reviewing just a few songs.
  • 90% of users create playlists for themselves.
  • 66% of playlist creators share their playlists.

How Can Music Radio Benefit?

With playlisting, Radio may be able to reach those who are light listeners or former listeners.
— Dave Van Dyke, President, Bridge Ratings

The last point on the above list is an important one for radio.

With so much playlist sharing going on, traditional radio's reach, music expertise and listener loyalty suggests that with the proper playlists and promotion/marketing radio can not only enhance its current awareness, brand-strength and listener out-reach, but radio may be able to reach those who are light listeners or former listeners.

The final part of our study asked groups of current radio listeners (1+ hrs/day), light radio listeners (1-2hrs/week) and former radio listeners if they would listen to station-created playlists of a) most popular songs for their genre and b) exclusively new music releases appropriate for the genre.

Both current and light radio listeners overwhelmingly were positive about listening to station-created music playlists. Even former radio listeners were somewhat positive, especially regarding playlists of New Releases. This may be traditional radio's route to raising awareness and brand responsiveness among former listeners to radio.

How to read: 82% of current radio listeners were somewhat likely, likely or highly likely to listen to a station-created music playlist of today's most-popular songs for that genre. All three listener-types were more favorable toward playlists featuring the Newest Releases.

Click on image to enlarge.

How To Do It

I contacted David Oxenford, partner at the law firm of Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP, practicing out of its Washington, DC office to determine how a station might be able to offer playlists. His regulatory expertise includes all areas of broadcast law including the FCC’s multiple ownership limitations, the political broadcasting rules, EEO policy etc. 

David explained that stations might be able to approach custom-branded playlisting in two ways:

  1. Reach out to record labels of artists of interest and ask for direct licenses to build playlists that would include their artists. This option may be easier to accomplish if the station offers a New Release playlist every week. Labels like to have their new releases receive greater promotion from radio. Public radio has been very successful with this approach. NPR Music was achieved in the same manner. Further, if the direct license is granted for a limited time, there may not be any cost involved.
  2. Stations can go direct to on-demand streaming platforms like Spotify, and discuss how a station-branded playlist of its favorite New Releases or current hot songs can be placed on the service as "WXXX's Alternative Rock New Release Playlist".  In this scenario, stations would direct listeners on-air to Spotify and let them know the playlist is available by search.

Either example seems simple enough to accomplish. Going direct to the labels to allow a station-branded New Release playlist would fold nicely into this study's finding that offering New Release Playlists for a station's core format is preferred, even among former radio listeners.

Bottom Line?

  • The creation of on-line playlists by music consumers has grown significantly - especially in the last 12 months. 
  • They love to create them for specific lifestyle moments and to create mixes with songs that are particularly important to them.
  • They love to share playlists with friends.
  • There is evidence in our study that both current and former radio listeners would be interested in station-produced playlists, especially playlists focused on new music discovery.
  • Offering station-branded music playlists on-demand can be accomplished.
  • With radio's reach, the promotion of these playlists, steeped in radio's "music expertise" image, could enhance current listener bonding and reintroduce former listeners to a new benefit traditional radio can leverage.

With the rapid raise of playlist use by music consumers, Bridge Ratings will continue to monitor this component of consumption.

Samples
Two sample sets were used for the data in this report. A) 3600 on-demand music streamers ages 12-65, 50/50 Male/Female balance. Margin of Error +/- 1.7

B) "For the Radio-Created Playlist Preferences" portion of this report, three subsets were used: 
     1. 1041 Current radio listeners (1 hr+/day), 12-65 years of age, 53/47 Male/Female Balance  MOE +/- 3.2%
     2. 1000 Light Radio listeners (less than 2 hours per week), 12-65 49/51 Male/Female Balance   MOE +/- 3.2%
     3. 1200 Former Radio listeners, 12-65, 50/50 Male/Female Balance  MOE +/- 2.9%

The Divergent Paths of Music Radio & Its Listeners

Since 2001 Bridge Ratings has been tracking and trending media consumption. Broadcast radio, internet radio, satellite radio, streaming, social media - it all is part of the daily manner in which audio consumers spend valuable entertainment time.

Traditional radio is no longer the only option.

So why are radio programmers missing the boat and not reflecting the tastes of their audiences.

Much has been writing in recent years about the strengths of traditional AM/FM radio (its reach of 93% of the population) and its weakness (annual time-spent listening reductions).

Traditional radio’s music exposure structures no longer align with audience need.
— Dave Van Dyke, President Bridge Ratings

For many, music radio these days still uses structural exposure playbooks from the 1970s.

What's wrong with that?

Music radio song category structures and exposures no longer align with how the audience consumes music and in our latest findings here at Bridge Ratings, we've discovered that passion for music radio is slipping for 75% of the four major music formats we analyzed: Top 40 (CHR), Country, Urban Contemporary and Alternative.

Reduction in passion for music radio doesn't necessarily mean less passion for the music; on the contrary.

Of the four music radio formats we studied, only Urban Contemporary continues to align its programming to the needs of its listeners.

The Study

Methodology: Bridge Ratings has been tracking radio usage since its founding in 2001. Since 2001 each year we have randomly selected 5 radio stations in the four music formats in three market categories: Major Market (Ranked 1-10), Medium Market (Ranked 11-40) and Small Market (Ranked 41+). This totaled 20 radio stations per music format in each market category. Sample sizes varied by format and by year.

We tracked listening occasions per personal interviews and on-line surveys.

For each member of our sample aged 12 and over, we tracked their preference and passion for each type of music associated with each of the music formats (Passion Index).

The result was a comparison of weekly listening tune-in occasions and the passion.

The following charts summarize our findings:

Top 40

Click on image to enlarge.

As with all of these format examples, Passion for Pop music on Contemporary Hit Radio/Top 40 remains high over the sixteen year term of this study. What has changed is the number of weekly occasions of listening. Drop-off began as early as 2006 - long before many of the alternative methods of consuming Pop music became available. The divide between the passion and the tune-in is significant for this format yet provides an opportunity.

The gap between the Passion Index and the Tune-in Listening Occasions represents the growth potential for these formats.
— Dave Van Dyke

Country

Click on image to enlarge.

According to our samples, passion for Country music has sustained its high numbers throughout this period having reached its highest point today. And as well-programmed are many of the Country radio stations reflected in this study, the passion for the music and the number of times listeners tune-in each day has slipped and in 2010 began to diverge into a Country music life group that is not as satisfied with Country radio as it could be. The gap between the passion index scores and the tune-in occasion number is the potential the format has for growth.

Alternative Rock

Click on image to enlarge.

Evidenced in most of these music formats is the growing gap of non-alignment and nowhere is it more evident than in the Alternative Radio segment. Passion for the Alternative music category which can include everything from Alternative, Punk, Indie, Rock and Alternative Pop remains greater than the satisfaction levels delivered by the stations represented in this next chart. Despite the drop-off, the passion for the music is only 14% lower than it was in 2000 while tune-in to these radio stations on average has dipped faster after a high in 2007.

Urban Contemporary

Click on image to enlarge.

An example of well-aligned radio to its audience is Urban Contemporary as shown in the following chart. Passion for the music and tune-in occasions have followed similar growth trajectories since 2000 and today the format is performing better than ever. Does this have anything to do with the fact that Urban music tends to be the most-consumed whether by stream, download or physical purchase? We believe it does.

Solutions

According to a separate research study of radio program directors conducted late Summer 2016, only 44% of radio programmers used some form of music research. 70% of the group that doesn't use music research depends on published airplay charts to choose and manage their playlists.

The slow disintegration of station tune-in occasions not only aligns with advances in technology but also seems to align with an era when budget for solid station product research began to be cut or reduced and as revenues dried up since 2005, costs were eliminated and research was one of the victims.

The disconnect between listener expectations and radio’s music programming provides an opportunity.

Radio today continues to reach over 90% of the U.S. population weekly. And it's no secret that with all the entertainment options available, traditional radio has competition for the short attention span of most listeners.

With the varied audio options available to radio consumers, frankly they've gotten more sophisticated in their tastes, needs and expectations.

Our listener panels and the charts in this report point to one of music radio's key vulnerabilities: listener expectations are not being met.

Even listening behavior of older demographics have significantly adjusted to the influence of new technology.

The disconnect between listener expectations and radio's music programming provides an opportunity.

The radio industry can view this data in hindsight and wonder why time spent listening is dropping. However a return to investment in the product in the form of research, talent and marketing could resolve or at least halt the deterioration in listener commitment to radio stations that play music they are passionate about.