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





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

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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


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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

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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

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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.


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.

Podcasting At a Crossroads - The Blog

On January 26, 2016, Bridge Ratings published its latest research on - "Podcasting at a Crossroads".  If you haven't seen it, I encourage you to take a quick look.

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The bottom line of the study was this: Podcasts have such tremendous potential yet its download model fails to provide the platform’s potential - audience growth, ad revenue and value.

The research piece offers a solution to this: streaming rather than podcasting will provide a more comfortable process for listeners and a more reliable way for advertisers to reach their consumers.

We received a good amount of response from this study, particularly from podcasters who seem to be split on the idea of changing the model from downloads to streaming.

I was contacted by Rob Greenlee of Spreaker, a podcast professional with years of experience in this space. Rob produces two podcasts worth a listen: "The New Media Show" and the Spreaker Live Show.


Rob invited me to his Spreaker Live Show and we discussed the findings of this study. if you are a podcaster, this conversation is worth your time.  It is Rob's opinion that the idea of streaming podcasts vs. downloading them is very controversial; one that the industry has been dealing with for some time now.

It seems the podcast community is split on the industry's distribution future.

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During the discussion Rob brought up many good reasons why the download model works and he asked what my thought was on how the industry could best transition to a streaming model.

These were my thoughts:

1. Use cases for podcasts vary. Consumers tend to like the fact that there is little data consumption, though downloading an hour long podcast can consume a lot of memory on smartphones or tablets. Podcasts are popular for travelers on airplanes which generally do not allow for streaming activity. Other uses are preferred based on the environment or lifestyle of the listener.

2. Streaming offers flexibility to podcasters, i.e. offering a combination of download and streaming of the same content is putting the programming wherever the listener is. The highly popular podcast "Serial" now in its second season, managed a million downloads last year and awareness for the platform exploded as much as it did for its very engaging content.

This year, for season two, the folks at "Serial" have also partnered with Pandora which accomplishes two or three major advances. a) The "Serial" podcast is now exposed to millions more users of Pandora and with Pandora's metrics, the "Serial" podcast offers advertisers much more granular data about the listeners thus increasing the program's value.

(The “Serial”) model, we believe, is the transition solution...and is the next step in moving podcasting to a more measureable mass audience.

b) The Pandora piece now offers listeners a unique consumption behavior which we have observed through our research. Listeners could start to listen to the "Serial" podcast on their desktop PCs while at work or at home then stop when need arises and be continued via download on a mobile device. Pandora's application allows users to pick up where they left off making this behavioral shift quite easy.

This model, we believe, is the transition solution Rob and I were discussing and is the next step in moving podcasting to a more measureable mass audience.

Podcasting is at a crossroads. Because there is no overriding governing podcasting organization like the National Association of Broadcasters, any transition to a streaming model will likely occur naturally with individual podcasters taking steps that they are comfortable with.

Unfortunately, this approach will continue the slow growth of the industry.

Most podcasters may not see the benefit of streaming or offering a dual-track platform as described above. The metric improvement for advertising may not apply to their particular need.

Yet there are many podcasts that generate significant audiences and generating revenue is a natural outcome and need for them. The dual-track platform idea makes real sense to them in all likelihood.

So, there's a model usage case that has been proven by "Serial" and Pandora. The thousands of producers of podcast content will have to decide what is best for them. But as our study expresses, the potential for huge growth in 2016 and beyond is significant and whether or not advertising dollars are important to podcasters, there is no denying that the number of people listening will be greatly increased through a streaming model and that alone, perhaps, is reason enough.

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