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.

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.

The Benefits of Using Streaming Data to Pick Music

As on-demand music streaming has become THE manner in which most folks consume music these days, Bridge Ratings has found a growing group of radio station clients that rely on the weekly data we provide.

The reason our on-demand streaming clients align their music rotations closely with our on-demand music streaming data is because it works.

80% of our clients with at least six months using our data have seen the following improvements in audience:

a. Increased daily listening occasions
b. More minutes spent listening with each occasion
c. Increasing daily and weekly cume audience.
d. Resulting in increases in ratings reflected by Nielsen.

Don't pay attention to the myths about streaming research. Actual field experience shows these facts to be true: 

1. On-demand music streaming reflects actual music consumption because users are self-selecting the songs they listen to and listening to those songs frequently and for weeks at a time.

2. Streaming on-demand music is more akin to listening to the radio than any other type of music research because streaming listening behavior mirrors radio listening. Call out research and auditorium testing rely on short hooks of songs played to a small sample of possible station listeners. This is not the way people listen to music.

Believe us: people don't listen to their favorite songs this way and based on our research, fatigue and boredom impact these types of research scores.

3. Streaming data reflects the total spectrum of consumption: positive, negative and neutral. By focusing in on station format, demographics, local market data and listener streaming data, the Bridge Ratings streaming reports are much more granular, i.e. station-specific than broad-based, national rankers of streaming music.

Songs that are not popular over time do not maintain rank status. These songs either don't rank in the top 100 each week or they simply die on the vine as mid-charters. Saying that on-demand streaming research doesn't reflect songs people don't like is inaccurate.

4. Airplay charts only occasionally reflect actual music consumption.

More often than not published airplay charts are built on consensus, i.e. hundreds of station playlists are merged together to present an overall ranking of how much airplay songs are receiving on those stations. Programmers often depend on these airplay charts to align their music categories. This approach simply does not reflect market and station specific listener behavior. Adding to this, record labels are always interested in seeing their new releases climb these consensus charts so record promo folks can encourage other stations to play the record, whether that record is appropriate or not.

Use of market-specific, format-specific and listeners specific on-demand streaming data is a far more effective way to reflect true listening consumption.

5. Streaming data is a true reflection of actual consumption. The data is sensitive to the popularity of a song and any associated fatigue. When people slow down or stop their streaming of a song, its rank falls and either settles at a spot on the chart where it lives for some months (Walk the Moon's "Shut Up & Dance"), or it fades into ranking below 100.

6. With billions of streams nationally, and thousands at the market and station level, on-demand streaming produces a significantly better "sample" than any other music research. These large samples, even in small markets, reduce the margin of error so significantly that the data is consistent week to week providing a higher degree of data trust than any music research available.

7. In our experience of working with on-demand streaming data for more than two years with our client stations using the data weekly, streaming data more often than not is ahead of the curve.

Not only does streaming data pick up popularity immediately, it often is far ahead of record labels in determining successful hits and follow-up hits.

One example of this phenomenon is the Chris Stapleton song "Tennessee Whiskey" which immediately flashed to the top of the Country radio streaming charts right after Chris received his armful of Country Music Awards in 2015.

While the televised awards show was still on, we saw "Tennessee Whiskey" climb to top 10 status. The song has remained in the top 30 since, yet gets little radio airplay.

Why?

From our feedback from our station programmers and music directors, many had not been serviced with the song by Stapleton's label so they couldn't play it. Because so many stations stayed off the song, it never saw any significant chart action on the published airplay charts, yet the song remains hot with Country listeners.

For programmers that rely on these published charts they are missing one of the most popular Country music songs of the year.

Undiscovered songs listeners are consuming at high levels but which radio has ignored is another benefit of on-demand streaming research.

There are numerous examples of this phenomenon.  Also in the Country format, this week and last saw the new Florida Georgia Line song "Smooth" break out in the Country top 10 in Nationally and in many of our markets. It doesn't appear on any airplay chart yet.

While there may be "limitations" in most types of research, on-demand streaming eliminates most research negatives and if you are thinking about using streaming data or are using it. consider these real-world examples of on-demand streaming use cases as confirmation the data works to properly align radio playlists with that of its listeners.

As one of our staunch supporting station owners proclaimed when the ratings book was released after using our data for six months or more, "This sh*t works!".