Tuesday, November 16, 2010

TheLast 8 Years in Rock Radio Listening Trends

Last week we took a look at the last 8 years of 12+ listening trends from Arbitron's 2010 Radio Today summary which runs through 2009.  Early next year we'll see the report that includes 2010 and the story for Rock formats will likely be trending down.

Over the 90s rock formats splintered into 5 groups - more than any other broad format group (AC, Country, Oldies, N/T, CHR, and Urban).  When we look at each individual group the graph takes some interesting turns:

The total shares for all of rock were fairly strong in 2003 and 2004 at just over a 13 share.  2005 to 2007 you can see a 10% dip down to the mid 11 share range and a recovery to the 2009 12.5 share in 2009.  Looking at the individual styles of rock:

Classic Rock - The leader with a pretty steady run ranging from a low of 4.5 in 2007 to the current high of 5.0.

Active Rock has also seen a pretty steady run with some pretty low shares hovering just below a 2 share in 2003 and 2004 and mounting a steady gain with peak years in 2008 and 2009.  

Alternative has been the losing format starting out with a 3 share and sinking to the 2 share range for the last 3 years.

AOR is still listed here but many of these stations play mostly Classic Rock and many have classified themselves as CR for sales purposes

AAA has a limited penetration in many markets hanging at the .9 share range till 2007 when it began to climb to it's current 1.2 share.  

In many ways this graph is looking more at history than current reality.

Classic Rock has enjoyed many gains from the bigger markets adopting PPM as well as an aging overall terrestrial audience during this period.  CR is a solid performer in the PPM system with familiar music, good at work penetration and many stations have a long standing brand.

Active Rock rose up in the last 3 years mostly on the back of a solid group of middle ground newer rock artists.  Nickleback, 3 Days Grace, Theory of a Deadman, Shinedown, and others built a sound that was aggressive, but still had the hooks to break over to CHR (in many casts), become big concert draws, and we even saw pop worlds like American Idol begin to look a bit more at performers with Rock backgrounds.

For the most part Active Rock held it's line and did not work with the more pop world rock from American Idol and as the newness of the middle ground bands began to wain it has moved more into a world that is clearly harder and more aggressive.   Godsmack, Disturbed, and other harder edge bands now lead the way in the format  This is music that will only show up on Active Rock and maybe some Alternative stations.  Over 2009 and 2010 this harder edge has taken over.  

In Alternative the spotlight on the Active Rock bands drew much of their attention or if they held back it cost them 18-40 male shares.  But, as the 2010 and 2011 shares emerge look for Alternative to start to really shine.  Alternative has started to sort out the indie rock world and we've seen a lot of artists emerge to gain the national spotlight.   Neon Trees, Phoenix, White Stripes, Kings of Leon, Black Keys, Mumford and Sons and more are starting out exclusively on Alternative and now crossing over to CHR and the national attention that will bring in more Alternative fans.  

Clearly we hit a fork in the road for Active Rock and Alternative in 2009 and 2010.  Active retreated into a much harder rock arena while Alternative seemed to go the other way.   If you look at the charts for both formats there was a lot more crossover from 2007 to 2008 than there is today.

The challenge in some markets where there really isn't an Alternative station on the dial is rather obvious.  There are also cases where the Active Rock or more current leaning AOR station could embrace some of the Alternative music?  If you are an uncontested Active Rock or AOR that does play currents -- do you bend and take on the bigger Alt titles?  It's a very tough call.  The harder rockers are very vocal and will broadcast their attitude clearly if you step out too far.  Will these formats and programmers end up being trapped by their core audience into a route that keeps them away from the spotlight music in rock?

While we may not see these trends in the graphs from the rock format listening trends they are there in all the other music popularity measures we have (sales, downloads, concerts, street buzz and crossover).  This will be a big challenge for 2011.  We already see a lot more new music activity in the Alternative camps than we see in Active Rock.  And there are lots of Alternative titles that many Active Rock programmers have hardly heard of rising in the charts.

There is also changes that will come about as the Millennials (currently 15-30 years old) evolve and become the biggest generation of potential radio listeners in the next couple of years.  You can read more about that in the Millennial series we did a few weeks back - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5.  Big questions to ponder in Rock as we head into 2011.

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