Monday, June 22, 2009

PPM ratings are the talk of the music stations

As the latest set of monthly radio ratings come out for the larger markets being measured by the PPM system, the reaction to the changes in trends across the country is becoming more widespread. Many within and outside of the industry are putting blame on the new audience measurement system (devices worn by participants which automatically detect signals and length of time listened compared with writing down stations listened to in a diary). The other school of thought is that this method is “righting a wrong” and the differences may have been the real case all along.

Having been a broadcaster, radio advertiser, and radio ad salesman over the years, along with having worked for a radio research service for a couple years, I’m going to weigh in somewhere in the middle on this one.

Music stations are way up across the country, while talk and news/talk stations have generally dropped. Based on observation, my feeling is that talk (including news and sports) stations may no longer be getting the ratings status they used to enjoy, but probably remain the better buy for advertisers seeking that audience. Even if or as talk stations show a reduced audience in comparison, they remain more aggressively listened to than music stations.

If you are listening for news headlines, an interview, or a live report, chances are that station will have your full attention more often than when music is playing. It is human nature. Talk is less likely to be a background. On the other hand, music stations are often playing while people are talking with each other, working, doing household chores, walking, driving, or some form of activity requiring at least a portion of their attention.

My theory on this goes as follows. When people (participating in the ratings via whichever method) are listening to news, talk, or sports, they are paying close attention, even if for 5 to 15 minutes. The commercials they hear stand a better chance of reaching an attentive listener. But when those same people switch back to a music station, they stop listening as attentively (or aggressively, as I call it) and may sing along to a good song while doing the task at hand.

With a ratings diary, they are/were more apt to remember listening to 15 minutes of news. But they may have written down they listened to ½ hour of music when in fact a radio station playing music within their range might have been on around them for 2 hours. With the PPM measurement, that 15 minutes of aggressive listening to the news counts as a negative toward the news station compared with the 2 hours of the music station on nearby showing up on the PPM measurements.

Los Angeles provides the best example of this point. AMP 97.1 FM dropped its talk format (after its ratings had doubled since the first of THIS year) and went to a Contemporary Top 40 format a few weeks ago to compete with KIIS-FM among others. The just announced May ratings for Los Angeles, using the PPM measurement, show the new AMP 97.1 as 4th overall in the market with ratings well above anything the previous KLSX got in years. KIIS-FM came in at number 1 in the market.

The same ratings report shows all-news (for more than 35 years) KNX-AM at 17th overall, and it easily beat out sister news station KFWB overall. KNX used to be a regular in the top 10 in its target audience during most dayparts. Struggling sports radio KLAC has now doubled its ratings from 1 year ago – when it was still diary measurement.

No, it is not just Los Angeles. Chicago’s WGN Radio, which has ranked no lower than 3rd for something like 25 years under the diary system, now fails to make the Top 10 in some dayparts and is in the process of shuffling its entire morning and midday lineup. It’s afternoon shift changed earlier this year.

I may be one of the few who does understand how the change to PPM measurements are impacting the radio marketplace. But what I don’t understand is how the radio stations that play music continue to focus on “the same 500 songs” and 5 minute and longer commercial clusters all day and all week long. They should be focused on getting the listeners to listen more closely. THAT is when the PPM measurement will make a difference for advertisers.

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