Radio Continues to Miss the Hits

As you may know, my company, Bridge Ratings Media Research, has been specializing in the analysis of on-demand music streaming for five years. In that time we have been up close and personal with billions of data points related to songs that are consumed by choice (on-demand) on the many streaming platforms available - from Amazon Music and Apple to YouTube and Spotify and everyone in between, large and small.

We started providing this important “music intelligence” to radio stations and record labels four years ago and I’m happy to say that over time the discomfort associated with using streaming research to properly align radio playlists is beginning to turn to confidence.

Yet most radio stations still prefer other methods to gauge song popularity in this digital age of tech that puts essentially all the available music at consumers’ fingertips.

The slow adoption of radio to use this amazing technology and data has resulted in most radio formats missing the right songs when it comes to properly representing their listeners’ tastes.

Like it or not, radio listeners continue to want the “hits” from their favorite stations and, depending on the format, those listeners generally like to discover new songs as well. Research has shown that radio is the number one way most people discover songs be they old or new.

And just to be clear, “music discovery” doesn’t necessarily refer to new recently released songs. Depending on the generation, music discovery means different things. For Quintile Four or Five music consumers - deemed occasional listeners by the amount of time they listen to music in a given week - we often see songs that have been big hits for weeks listed by some of these listeners as having “just discovered that song”.

So, here at Bridge Ratings, while supplying the radio and record industries with all this data weekly, we also keep track of how the industry as a whole is performing at reflecting true listener-song appeal.

This month’s results are mixed and they represent a typical month in the radio business for music adds.

We look at a national group of radio stations in six major radio formats, note the songs they’ve added and compare that list of “industry adds” with the reality of streaming song popularity at the time of those adds to playlists.

Keep in mind, the musically “active” radio listener - even passive radio listeners who may not stream as much music as the heavy users of streaming platforms - tend to be more aware of popular songs much sooner than radio programmers and record labels give them credit.

The following chart compares our Song Adds “Miss/Hit” rates from June 2019 with the industry’s rates from June 2018.

Click on image to enlarge.

Interestingly, 4 of six of the radio formats we analyzed improved year over year. Alternative Rock and Country are not doing as well with music adds this year compared to last.

There may be reasons for this including the subjective judgement as to whether music released this June is as good as it was last year. The reality is that “good” is in the mind of the listener and the songs that are added to radio playlists are generally still missing the target.

As a whole -based on these six main radio formats - 53% of the songs added by the industry this month are true listener favorites based on the streaming data we track which is based on millions of data points each week. 47% were missed.

That 47% miss figure is an increase from our analysis from the entire year 2018 in our report “Radio Missed Some Hits Last Year” when we found the industry missed or underplayed 40% of the most popular streamed songs of the year.

Certainly, music consumers use many options to hear their favorite songs and radio remains in the mix alongside increasingly popular streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music.

Before the potent research data of on-demand streaming, radio programmers used to “pick the hits”. They listened to songs and determined for listeners what deserved to be heard on the radio.

Today, though, the listener is in command and radio programmers who heed the data are seeing improved station loyalty, more frequent listening occasions and longer time-spent-listening.

From the data we see each week, radio can do a better job of not “picking the hits”, but by simply playing the hits.