How to Get 35% More Radio Audience and Go Broke

Last week, Inside Radio reported that researcher John Snyder presented a new study at the Arbitron Fly-In that supposedly is everything you need to know about spot placement in a People Meter world.

It’s simple.

Put all your commercials at the top and bottom of the hour – or, in the alternative, at a quarter after and a quarter of.

Snyder apparently used October Personal People Meter (PPM) data from the top 15 stations in the top ten markets to arrive at this stroke of brilliance.

As most of you know, a radio station needs to win reported listening in at least five minutes of each quarter hour to win credit for the entire 15 minutes.

Snyder admits that more evenly placed stopsets reduce the defections but more commercial breaks drive listeners away.

We needed research for this?

Snyder was quoted in Inside Radio as saying, “Don’t assume that commercial time can be increased without impacting AQH,” and that he hoped broadcasters would cut commercial loads and make radio more listenable and help advertising be more in demand.

Now he’s talking.

If you wonder why CBS, Clear Channel and everyone else is running spots in large numbers at the same time, it is because they are betting their future on The People Meter.

I can respect this – even though I don’t agree with the strategy. After all, in radio’s world everyone is just the way they were before the Internet – or so it seems. But in the real world there is a lot of competition and listeners have shorter attention spans – even older ones. Therefore, more breaks are a good thing.

Great commercials would be better, but stations are not concerned about lots of things they should be concerned with:

1. Commercials on their air suck in general – poorly done, poorly written and worst of all not effective for their advertisers.

2. Getting the right duration for a commercial isn’t arbitrarily deciding on 10's, 15's, 30’s and 60's. It should be on selling what works. Too much focus on selling the price before the length of spot needed to be effective. If you bought a pair of jeans based on price only to find out they had only one leg, you would be experiencing false economy. You need two legs to make a good pair of jeans and advertisers need whatever time they need to make their commercials effective.

3. Running 6-8 spots in a stopset is ludicrous and I am speaking with a program director’s background here. No wonder radio is having trouble getting a good rate for ads when all commercials are thrown together in an unlistenable garbage pail of content. The only thing dumber than that is the advertiser that pays for it.

4. Limiting units to 12 per hour at the most (of any duration).

5. Running a spot then returning to content is actually more effective and cooperates with short attention spans if your goal is to train the listener not to leave (or certainly not to leave for long) because programming will resume quickly.

6. Spot and Run only works with one commercial – not mini-sets of several. That’s tantamount to an unlistenable cluster.

Synder’s study reports where radio stations now prefer to burden their listeners with their long stopsets.

The most popular junkyard for bloated commercial clusters is the fourth quarter hour (36%).

Next, the second (31%) followed by the third (23%) and lastly, the first quarter hour (9.5%).

And units and minutes don’t seem to matter. Listeners apparently perceive them as the same.

That's 35% more radio listening if you adopt Snyder’s guidelines.

That’s because the latest trend among desperate radio operators is to sell short spots for less money. This is a way to give buyers what they want by devaluing the rest of a station’s inventory. Citadel and Clear Channel are the market leaders in dropping rates under the guise of giving buyers less for less.

It’s pure lunacy – on one hand the stations are cramming all their commercials into two stopsets and then they are selling short spots for pennies on the dollar to buyers who are now demanding more and more discounts.

As far as the stopset issue is concerned, I’d counter program the competitor who wants to run two big stopsets with lots of short ones. Of course, I’d cut the inventory, drive up the rates and keep driving up the rates as demand increases.

I’d please my shareholders and win the adoration of my audience.

But, wait …

Radio exists for equity holders and whatever poor (and I mean poor) shareholders are left holding worthless radio stock. That’s why they are abusing Arbitron’s PPM to come up with artificial ratings (hearing as opposed to real listening).

And why even big ratings get lower rates as buyers start looking for other places to spend their carefully approved budgets.

How to get 35% more audience and go broke is exactly what management by bankruptcy is all about.

The problem is someone with guts had better come along soon and fix the spotload problem, reduce the inventory and protect the integrity of rates or as Cox Radio President and CEO Bob Neil said to me the other day – or we’re all in trouble.

There is a more serious problem.

Radio is misusing the People Meter ratings in making programming decisions and to purport that their stations actually has listeners instead of people wearing meters who wander into the range of a coded and recordable signal.

Want proof?

A friend of one of my readers is a People Meter family. The woman of the house carries her meter with her.

Her husband -- well, how can I put this?

Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words.

He attaches it to his dog and his dog wanders wherever he wants and some fool at a radio station thinks the man of the house likes Oldies 101 when it is actually the dog. And an even bigger fool -- advertisers -- are accepting hearing (as in somewhere near an encoded signal) instead of listening (as in fans of the radio station).

While I'll admit the Doggie Meter is likely an aberration, it dramatically demonstrates that man's best friend is not a People Meter unless it is understood for both its advantages and limitations. Instead, radio stations are making programming and sales assumptions that have them barking up the wrong tree.

Look -- radio has been underreported in the diary for years. PPM gives a truer read. Just as a dog can't fill out a diary and a PPM respondent cannot be counted on to report actual listening.

I suggest taking a few "safe" hours and programming stopsets with one unit and then right back to music -- check your PPM ratings to see how listener flow looks. You might be surprised to find that audiences have changed while programmers are stuck in the past.

And, if there are any stray dogs wearing a meter, you'll be number one in canines -- and I am sure Cumulus will find a way to have every salesperson speed dial kennels and pitch them for business.

It's a joke.

Ratings are a tool, but in the hands of today's radio groups they are going to be their downfall.

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