How On-line Playlisting Can Save Music Radio

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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.

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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.

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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.

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%

Alternative Rock Radio @ DEFCON 3


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

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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.

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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