Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Radio's Outdated Research Systems

We really don't have any index or measure of how many stations are doing any 'formal' audience research, but it's probably a safe bet that few are.  The days of doing an annual perceptual study and a full auditorium library test are most likely fading, or in many markets completely gone.  No doubt the economic slump isn't allowing the 'luxury' of gathering the audience's impressions of our products.  Clear Channel used to have a division (Critical Mass) with hundreds of people devoted to perceptual, call out and telephone marketing, now it's pretty much dismantled.  No doubt many in the top 50 markets are flying without any 'radar' looking out at the audience and gathering their impressions, preferences, and the reasons why they listen.  

Perhaps with all the data we have from PPM what do we really need research for anymore?  With PPM the game has changed from a recall strategy.  Now we actually see what the sample listens to minute by minute every day without any recall on their part.   We can see when they tune out and trace back to see why?  But, do we really know?  Did they leave because they hated the song or jock?  Or did they have to go to work and leave the car?  Did they pick up the kids and they flipped on another station?  

While we can finally see an accurate picture of what they listen to we really don't know why they listen, or why they don't.  We used to get some of the picture from perceptual and music testing, but we also had to tailor our research to the reality (from the past) that the audience had to recall their listening - not have it measured automatically.   Before we often won if the audience just remembered our call letters, frequency or slogan - now they actually have to listen for it to count.  

For many stations the perceptual and music testing has been taken over by the station's database.  The folks who are big enough fans to visit the web site, bother to sign up for another database, and wait for their mailbox to fill up with our newsletters.   We can test our music with them, ask a few usage questions, and maybe even find out who they think will win American Idol. But, these little bites of data we get from a small universe of very dedicated P1s is a very distorted picture of market and the audience.  We really can't see the much larger P2 groups or fans of other stations that could also be users of our product.   No doubt the low cost of doing music testing and asking a few questions of the super P1s in your database is worth it, but we have to realize it's not a very complete picture.   

The advent of PPM, the changes in the way the world communicates, and the economic realities are all combining, making the old styles of research outdated and ineffective.  

Spending 50K (or more) on a perceptual study that only reaches the households that will bother to answer the phone and hang with a 25 minute questionnaire are gone.  While we used to justify using the telephone with 'that's the way Arbitron does it' it doesn't work anymore.  Even Arbitron is trying to use address based samples to gather the sample and in PPM they pretty much keep the same panel for up to 18 months.   

Not only do we lack the budget in today's world - is the data still giving us an useful picture?  

In PPM we are now looking more at behavior - not recall.   To be effective we actually have to understand how they behave, not just what they remember or what we've drilled into their brains.   But, we've pretty much quit asking the questions in an organized and strategic format.   And it's happening at a time when we have a complete overhaul going on in the media landscape.  This is like shutting down all the weather monitoring systems in Oklahoma in February for 8 months - we'll just keep looking out the window for those pesky tornadoes.  

It's time to get our heads out of the sand and start listening to the audience again, but we also need a new model.   The perceptual studies from the 70s/80s are too slow, cumbersome and expensive in today's world.   On top of that we are still asking lots of questions that date back to the recall days of measurement.   

It's time for innovation in research, but is anyone working on it?  

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rock and PPM

With the news of K Rock in New York flipping to CHR from Rock there are some interesting questions on the format in general.  

K Rock launched 2 years ago as the news out of Philly's early days with PPM that Rock formats look to be gaining from the change in measurement systems.  The early graphs comparing the data clearly showed in Philly and Houston that rock radio's shares were a lot higher.  Back in the Fall of 06 both WMMR and WMGK in Philly were up over 70%.  

The thought was that with a broader panel that was in place for longer runs and able to be more 'controlled' for demo spread and the move to the meter, which didn't require writing it down or remembering listening would benefit rock.  Philly added a rock outlet and suddenly New York was back into rock with 2 stations added to the format.  

In the end PPM's benefits for rock may have cooled, but the reality here just may be that K Rock didn't do a very good job in launching the station and flat out failed.  Some of the likely reasons: 
  • Morning show - Oppie and Anthony may have had some interest in NYC, but it clearly wasn't enough.  They may have had a chance to really establish themselves if they had been able to build on their gains leading up to the Sex for Sam bit that pushed them off the air.  But, the years waiting to come back and the dominance of Howard took much of that avenue away.  
  • Music Image - In the end a lot of the station rode on O and A and tried to keep what audience they had to hang in there.  The problem is that O and A hurt any chance to develop a music image for KRock.  
  • Music Strategy - What was it?  They played everything from Classic Rock stuff like Heart to the latest from harder rock bands like Shinedown.  Really they only played 1 current an hour for the most part and tried to wander to Alternative, some pop Active Rock acts, and a bunch of Classic Rock all mixed in.  With another Classic Rock in the market and now a 'Adult Alternative' what did K Rock really stand for?   They could have been a more pure Alternative or Active rock and focused on the 18-40 audience but they took a broad approach and tried to cross cume with the Classic Rock and probably also reacted to the launch of the Adult Alternative.  The launch with the K Rock Los Angeles team sort of 'passing on the playlist' and then a number of shifts as they PDs left the station.  The air staff also wandered around.  Really the only constant here was O and A with a wandering approach in all the other dayparts
KRock could have taken advantage of the gains PPM has to offer (by fairly sampling 18-49 Men) if they had followed some basic rules to making a great rock station:  

  • BE LOCAL - This rings true more so in rock than any other format.  KROQ in LA is a very unique product that is tailor made for LA.   WDVE is different from most other heritage Classic Rock leaning stations - completely customized for Pittsburgh.   We could go on and on here.  You have to reflect your community in rock more than any other format.  This is really a street format and you have to come from the streets to build it.   Having an British guy in afternoons and a playlist mostly from LA to launch with really hurt here.  
  • ESTABLISH A MUSIC POSITION - There was plenty of room to come on and be the loudest, proudest and in you face rock station in NYC.  It was obvious and last year was a great year for this approach musically.  
  • A MORNING SHOW THE REST OF THE STATION CAN KEEP UP WITH - Not that O and A overshadowed the station by that much - but they made every day about them - not the station.  Also going with a Syndicated product that was in pressure for many markets as well as their XM deal really made O and A NOT a part of K ROCK.   They were from another planet beaming it into the biggest market in the country.   At least Howard earned a huge NYC audience before attempting to branch out.   
  • MORE THAN BILLBOARDS - Yes they had lots of them, but building a rock community in NYC would have been a lot more valuable.  Building the club and concert scene, getting your team out in the streets, and making the station musically special on a regular basis would have helped build more than just some rock cume passing through.   
When you look at WAXQ (Classic Rock) on paper or through the speakers the playlist is very New York driven and the air talent has a long history in rock in the area.  This station has worked the streets for a long time and is first in mind for rock music as it was the only outlet to count on for much of the last decade.  They were hovering around a 3 share in the old diary system - now they are a full share stronger in the 4s.  As K Rock leaves they will likely go higher.  

There are great opportunities for Rock formats with PPM.  The audience is at a very strong point right now.  But, you have to do the homework and hit the street.  This is not a plug and play format.  

Monday, March 02, 2009

Pumping Up RADIO

As we watch another exciting plunge in the stock market and more reports on radio's economic picture for 08 and the first months of 09 - the news looks worse every day.   Here are a couple of thoughts that might help:  

A Message for ALL:
Here's a thought - think of all the commercials we ran for HD radio. In the Nielsen most played commercials 'charts' the HD campaign was in the top 3 for much of 08.   How about launching a new campaign across all formats and stations that goes like this:   

Hi this is your radio.  Yes I've been around a long time with music, news, sports, weather, traffic and witty comments here and there.  But if you look deeper you'll learn that radio can really help this economy and our community get out of these tough times.  Radio gets advertising messages out to 94% of our community and the whole nation every week.  The retailers of our area can get the word out on their products and get this economy moving again for very reasonable costs.   Radio is also easy to use - a few creative words and your good to go.  The message efficiently reaches our market area.   Radio - a part of your community, living here, working here, playing here and striving to make our area a better place.  

Of course a professional copy creator could probably do a better job, but our industry could turn this tough economy into a turning point for Terrestrial Radio with a well crafted message like this.  I know we didn't do a great job of selling HD radio, but this is a basic message we could sell to our audience and clients.  And the good news - it's true.   

Bright Spots in the Economy Dust Storm: 
There are some business and retail segments that are growing in this downtrend.  I gathered these from a bunch of stories from USA Today, CNN, CNBC, Yahoo and MSNBC:  

Movies:  The box office for 08 was off around 5% but for the first 2 months of 09 it's up 15%.  Just like in the depression when the  movie industry became a big industry.  Escaping the reality is worth a price.  

Fast Food:  Just about everyone is improving - especially McDonalds and Subway.  

Wal-Mart - Discount Stores: We're looking for bargains

Cell Phones - There's still growth left and lots of 'turf wars' over subscribers.  Give up your land line?  Why Not.   Turn in your Cell Phone?  Are you crazy? 

Used Cars - January was a strong showing for Used Car sales.  Maybe we can't go for the new cars, but that 05 Mustang looks pretty good.  Car dealers often make as much or more on their used inventory.  

Financial Services - From Tax prep firms, to credit assistance, to bankruptcy assistance.   It's a time for these services to grow.  

College and Trade Schools:  Plenty of people who could use new skills and now with college tax credits, more loans and some layoff packages offering re-training the local colleges are running at full throttle.  

Home Style Cookin:  Restaurants that are off the beaten path and offer 'comfort food' are gaining more customers.   Good news these are often local advertisers.   

Bars, Beer and liquor stores:  Biz is up here - we can guess why.  

Video Games:  Activision and EA games had record profits in 08 and were some of the best gaining stocks in January.  Game Stop is opening 300 or more stores this year!!!

Little Luxuries:  Flowers.com did a huge number this Valentines day.  So did Pajama Gram and Vermont Teddy Bears, with a lot of it from their radio campaigns.  Many higher end restaurants also did well.  We'll spend the money for love. 

Banks: They need to restore their trust in the community and get funds flowing into them.  They need to market.    

You can bet there are more business segments that will gain in this down time.  If you have any stories pass them on.