Monday, December 31, 2007

Resolutions for 2008

As we look back at 2007 it was a rough year for terrestrial radio in nearly every direction. From the sales picture, to the ratings/PPM/sample problems, on to new media competition, the woes of the record industry, royalty increases, sinking station values, the failure of HD Radio, lots of stations for sale living in limbo, and the lack of investment in the product in many places paints a pretty bleak picture.

Looking ahead to 2008 we have a lot on our plate. Hopefully we can set a few goals and priorities that we can all work on.

The first is making our products exciting again. That goes back to the basics of ENTERTAINING THE AUDIENCE. We are not going to do much entertaining with another list 0f 400 songs to spin and a big voiced announcer hyping it up between every song over and over till we pound it into their heads. We need to get close to the community and the target audience in the streets and in their computers.

We also have to work as an industry to get a ratings system that at least has some accuracy in the way the data is collected and with an representative sample. It's obvious that Arbitron's Diary system and land line based sample is falling way behind in credibility.

The first area is one we can start on in every market on any station. Yes, it takes a big effort and some budget to improve our efforts to be more entertaining, but it's one that we can all accomplish in any station in any market. If we can start keeping our focus on this core task I bet the list will look a lot better at the end of 2008.

Happy New Year - after we celebrate tonight let's get to work - there's a lot to accomplish, but it all starts with the basic core mission to entertain the audience.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

PIC&N??? Plus Cell Phone Only Numbers

A couple of News highlights from this week:

Re-Regulation: The FCC is proposing new regulations on broadcasters that would force more localism, round the clock staffing, a return to citizen advisory boards and more coverage of news/politics. Some of the trades are claiming that the de-regulation pendulum is swinging back to more regulation. We've been in this de-regulation mode for over 20 years now in radio and many have forgotten the old days of the FCC.

They used to have a policy at the FCC where broadcasters had to operate in the Public Interest Convenience and Necessity - PIC&N. It looks like we are heading towards a return to those standards. In reality it's a good move for broadcasters. We need to get back in the business of being local champions if we are going to navigate through the new media and multi-platform fog. I suspect we'll see a lot of industry wide moves to push back on this change, but perhaps we should embrace it instead. It sort of reminds me of the U.S. auto industry fighting MPG standards only to watch imports move in and win a lot of market share with higher MPG cars. We are seeing industry after industry embracing 'green' and working harder on community image.

In programming we'd better start preparing to serve our communities better, even if the FCC doesn't push forward. But, in an election year and with lots of congress behind the movement for their own election sake we'd better start preparing now.

Cell Phones: We also got some other news from the govt. This time from the Center for Disease Control with a new study on cell phone only individuals. Yes, the CDC did the study because they collect data and just like our ratings systems they are struggling with polling the cell phone only individuals. You can read the USA Today report on the study here. The cliff notes version:

  • Cell Only Households - 14%
  • Cell and Land Lines - 59%
  • Land Line Only - 24%
  • 18-30s Cell Only - 30% and growing every day.

These numbers were compiled in the first 6 months of 07 so the cell only numbers will only be bigger when we get another report in 6 months.

Also in the news Arbitron has announced that they will FINALLY be trying to develop a plan to get to the cell phone only households. They are going to try and use an 'address based' sample and match up the addresses with the phone data then try and use the mail to reach out to the cell only folks and get permission to call them on their cell. The grand experiment starts in 08 and may be used in some markets in 09. By then we could see over 40% of the 18-30s being excluded from the sample and maybe 23% or more from the 12 plus population.

All of this doesn't take into account the people who don't pay attention to their land lines at all. They have one out of habit, but they have really converted to the cell phone for most of their communication. The land line is hooked up to an answering machine and call ID and unless they know who you are - it's off to voice mail land. We are not moving fast enough here - relying on the snail mail to help is going to be a slow process. We could pick up the pace if we could work on texting, emailing, and even reaching out more in the web world to gather more sample.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas List For Programmers

It's that time of the year when we make our list and check it twice - hopefully we've been nice and Santa will deliver. What's on the list for radio programmers? Here's a few suggestions:

  1. Better Ratings: The old diary/ballot system with land line telephone recruited samples is our worst enemy. It's not fair, accurate or trustworthy and we have the technology to make it better. PPM now seems a long ways off and for most of the markets beyond market 40 in the U.S. and outside the top 10 in Canada we might as well put 'world peace' on our list. Perhaps our wish here should be for a competitor for Arbitron and BBM - maybe that would speed up the process.
  2. HD Radio: This is looking like that toy that you wanted as a kid and when it arrived you had big plans to play with it all the time. By January it was sitting at the bottom of the toy box. No budget to make the new channels happen, no radios in the field to broadcast to, and lots of other toys for the audience to play with.
  3. Music: Wouldn't it be great if we had a steady supply of great music for our formats? One that we could rely on to bring the best to us in an organized manner without the mess around royalty issues.
  4. The Web: We could all use a lot more presence on the web. Some of it takes money, but lots of it takes dedication, awareness, and discipline to actually make it happen. While we might have lots of little 'stocking stuffers' for Santa to bring here a lot of this is up to us to dive in and stake a claim in the new frontier.
  5. More Talent: Everyone has gone through a lot of downsizing and we all operate with a lot fewer bodies and less talent in the building than we did 10 years ago. Just building more formatic jukeboxes is not a road radio can win on anymore. We need the magic personalities, creative imagers, and the people to build those all important local ties/images bring to great stations. It takes money, but how well are we using the resources we have?
  6. Better Team Management: We all have to make the most of what we have. Over the years I've seen lots of stations turn in great progress and ratings not because they spend the most, but because the team is inspired by the leadership. Santa can't put leadership in his sack and get it down the chimney - we have to learn how to do it.
  7. A Big Promotion Budget: Yes we'd all like to give away big prizes in contests, have billboards all over town, and maybe a new TV spot running all the time, but again we have to ask - are we using the resources we have? Is your imaging organized to make the most of the huge cume you already have (PPM has proven we have TONS of cume). Are you taking advantage of building a full presence at community events? Do you have a strong calendar of on air events and promotions to keep the audience entertained all the time? Are you using all the tools and toys of the web to interact with the audience and build more loyalty with them?

As I look down this list the presents are either ones that Santa can't make with the Elves (like the Music, HD and Ratings issues) or ones that we really need to 'make ourselves' (Promotions, Talent, team management and the Web). So now it's your turn on Santa's Lap and the list is down to ------ Guitar Hero 3. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Canadian Ratings System - BBM

The ratings for the Fall are out in Canada this week and going over the markets it's interesting to note some of the differences in the Canadian BBM system and Arbitron in the states.

The larger markets have 4 reports a year based on a diary system (they call them ballots) and sample procedures similar to the diary systems in Arbitron. There are no monthly reports and the surveys periods are shorter - they actually have some months where you can give the staff a vacation.

There are plans for the People Meter (PPM) technology to start being used later in 08 in the bigger markets and phase it's way to the top markets.

They also release ALL the markets on the same day at the same time. You just download the whole country. The Fall (or S4) results came out last Monday so it was number crunching time on the trusty laptop in my office as we work with a number of Canadian stations. Overall a good book worth popping a Molson over at the end of the day.

Looking over the trends in sample return in nearly every market I tapped into the news was disturbing at best. The sample returns are suffering the same problems we see with Arbitron. The under 44 year olds are falling apart. BBM doesn't contact the panel on cell phones and with the growth of the cell only households or people just ignoring their land lines it's getting harder to turn in a sample in almost any of the 18-44 cells. In the last year you can see the samples fall to 1/2 of what they were just 18 months ago. It's almost like a plague has gone across Canada. The numbers are starting to wobble a lot and we are seeing the same wild swings and 'what the hell' results in the demos.

I can remember going to my first Auditorium Music Test in Canada. It was snowing in January, the roads were bad, yet the place was packed. We had to worry about too many people showing up as they over recruited and we hit the ATM for a few more bills to cover the overage. Most other tests I'd worked with for the last 18 years in the states always needed a few make-goods and we nervously counted the heads in the room always coming up short. Here in Canada they were eager to contribute their opinions.

Well it looks like those days may be in the past when you look at the BBM sample returns.

BBM needs to act soon. Just take a look south at the rather sudden awakening on sample/panel returns at Arbitron. Now forced to delay the PPM roll out and watch the stock and perhaps their credibility suffer. Just moving away from the ballots/diaries to a better data collection system will not be enough to compete with all the new media. We (the buyers and sellers) have to have faith in the currency (the ratings) and that MEANS A RELIABLE SAMPLE.

Hopefully BBM and the broadcasters throughout Canada will stand up and nip this before it gets to a damaging stage. In fact it may already be there.