By Holland Cooke
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — What used to be called Arbitron’s “Consultant Fly-In” had evolved into the annual “Client Conference,” and was always a high-ROI experience. It took a year off after Nielsen acquired Arbitron in 2013. So I wasn’t surprised by the big turnout for this year’s meeting — another warm, collegial gathering of enthused people with genuine passion for what Nielsen Audio’s Jon Miller calls “the listener experience.”
“Cassettes were supposed to kill radio.”
Cox Media Group/Atlanta Tony Kidd VP/programming reckons “it’s a fight and it isn’t over. We fought in the past to overcome all these challenges. We are always at war, just get used to it.”
So, Nielsen’s Jon Miller asks, “How do we keep radio a critical part of everyone’s media life?” From his “Ratings Year in Review” presentation:
- “The growth in radio audience is driven by black and Hispanic listeners. Black listeners spend more time with radio than anyone else.” 2015 was the best year yet for urban radio.
- Urban formats have higher days-per-week usage than other formats. “This audience over-performs. Highest TSL.” In urban formats, “you punch above your weight.”
- Urban adult contemporary accounts for a third of all Black radio usage. Classic hip hop is the hottest urban format now, hitting the demographic sweet spot, 35-44.
- During Q+A, someone asked if fewer stations in-format could be contributing to bigger per-station shares, and Miller acknowledged that “it’s an advantage.”
When Nielsen bought Arbitron, they took our perspective deeper than mere audience measurement, by mashing-up non-audience data, such as these ticked-off by VP/multicultural growth and strategy Courtney Jones:
- 50% of urban listeners purchase music on phones (vs. 34% listeners to other formats).
- “Urban music fans are over-indexing with Beats headphones.”
- “‘Empire’ reigns supreme among hip hop/rap fans, finishing way above other programs.”
And she warns broadcasters: “Don’t think of your digital properties as an offshoot.” Consumption gains – including audience growth – are “driven by social media experience.”
“Radio has lost its balls.”
In the Washington market, Donnie Simpson was a double-digit icon, on WKYS and WPGC and now on Radio One’s WMMJ; and he was a familiar face on BET, where he interviewed a who’s who. Unapologetically-old-school, Simpson confessed – at a ratings conference, mind you — “I just don’t pay a lot of attention” to how ratings work; and he admitted that, during the years he PD’d NBC’s WKYS, “I didn’t open a ratings book.”
“If I have as much fun as I can every day, the numbers will be there. They [listeners] can’t have fun if I’m not havin’ fun.” Simpson reckons that, as a DJ, “one of my responsibilities is to turn you on to music;” and he laments that “jocks don’t get to do that today.”
- He recalled the phenomenal reaction he got after playing “Bennie & The Jets, TWICE” on urban WJLB, Detroit.
- And how his curiosity about Garth Brooks’ stardom caused him to play Brooks’ music one morning in Washington. And how — after management was horrified – “on PAGE ONE of the Style section, The Washington Post asked ‘HOW big is Garth Brooks? Donnie Simpson played him!’”
- Even flashing his trademark smile, he sounded sad, observing that “there are a lot of you out there now with a great set of ears who will never get to express yourselves musically. People’s ears are a lot broader than you think.”
Asked his advice for talent: “Look out the window! What does today feel like?” Do a show that fits the day. Asked his advice to PDs, he drew applause, from a roomful of programmers, saying: “Hire good people and let ‘em do what they do.” Now, he regrets, “talent is being suppressed.” With radio now so formulaic and robotic, his prescription sounds quaint: “Let my people go! You’ll be amazed at what you find.”
Donnie Simpson’s BET archives are a clinic in interview technique, and he tells talkers his technique was simple: “Make ‘em conversations, not ‘interviews.’” Feedback consistently told him that “people always felt safe with me,” and said things that didn’t come out in other interviews.
With trade press chronicling daily firings with perennial holiday cutbacks again underway, Simpson figures his survival success is because “1,000 people want my job. 500 of ‘em are as good as I am. The other 500 are better. But none of them are better at being me.”
Mobilize Your Marketing with the Power of Super Fans
In this session, DMR Interactive president & CEO Andrew Curran connected the dots:
- Our best listeners turn radio on 31 times per week, 6-10% of their waking hours. Smartphone usage? 150 times a day, “more than 1,000 times per week.” Figure 8 second attention span each time.
- “Not all P1s are created equal.” So-called Super Fans – listeners Curran calls “Heavy Deeps” are driving consumption.” These listeners are 10-15% of a station’s audience.
- They are experts on your brand, they know who likes your station, and, “to them, sharing comes naturally.” These are “the type of people who are Fantasy Football organizers.” They can be a station’s brand “amplifiers.”
So stations should focus on heavy users who are deeply loyal. They have “disproportionate impact.”
- How: “Always be collecting data.”
- Tip: Cross-reference the station’s text club with its Email club to identify Super Fans
- Client case study he shared: 75% of the station’s AQH comes from 22 of the survey area’s 300+ Zip Codes.
- 70-80% of the “recruits” resulting from amplifiers’ buzz are new to the station, in core demo, and hot Zips.
Admittedly, this is a great pitch for his company’s work. But here’s a simple tip that can send any station viral: Improve the station visit experience. Curran got a laugh describing the prize pickup as tantamount to visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles. Instead: “Encourage picture-taking and posting.” Use the winner’s smartphone to take a selfie of a station personality bestowing the prize with a station logo in the background. “Bring them into the studio, and it’ll be posted on social media before they get back in the car!”
Elephant in the Room?
No panelist breathed the word “Voltair” until deep into the Nielsen Product Update Super Session.
Nielsen executives (two-of-whose thick foreign accents lent authenticity to their tech-speak) ladled it out pretty thick about how PPM hears watermarks. There was lots of rapid talking about DB levels and signal-to-noise-ratio and other lab coat lingo and numbers comparing “legacy encoder” vs. “Enhanced CBET encoder” tests and “Editing and Crediting” and “minute-level detectability.”
“Where we are more challenged is in [the] talk [format]” one panelist admitted.
Bottom line? “We’re gettin’ there. Overall, going well.” Next year: new station encoding monitor.
Follow my real-time Tweets @HollandCooke from these Thursday afternoon and Friday morning sessions:
- “Talking Politics with Stephanie Miller”
- “How Top Brands Fight Through The Clutter”
- “Millennials 360: The Music Habits of America’s Most Connected Consumers”
ICYMI, I’ll summarize in Monday’s TALKERS and RadioInfo
Holland Cooke (www.HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet; and he covers industry conferences for Talkers and RadioInfo. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke.