Written Jul. 27, 2010 in Research with 0 Comments
We recently got the Edison Research music test for a client in a distant part of the world back. And one of the always interesting aspects of seeing music research from around the world is how universal some hits are - and aren't, in some cases. It's always fascinating to find the place on the map where "Mony Mony," "Maybe I'm Amazed," and "December 1963 (Oh What A Night)" barely register with listeners.
So I took a look at the top 100 for this particular station and divided it into three tiers, with an eye toward seeing just how worldwide the worldwide hits were:
Songs That Usually Would Be Big American Testers: There was 38% overlap. These are the "Every Breath You Take" and "Stand By Me"-type mainstays that are as unavoidable in this territory as they are anywhere else.
Songs That Were Hits Here, But Are Not Reliable American Testers: Almost as big a piece, 34% of the top 100 were songs that would generally be recognized, but not preferred by a similar American audience. But there are places in the world where people don't know they're not supposed to like "Mandy" by Barry Manilow.
Songs That Don't Exist To Americans: Not necessarily local content or songs that didn't come out here. Many of these are, in fact, American songs--just not songs that were ever really hits here. They wouldn't test here and most PDs wouldn't have any reason to test them. They account for the remaining 28% of the top 100.
This, of course, is the reason that music testing is valuable. There's an equal amount of one time hits in this territory that are completely lost to time. In the U.S., time and population shifts have wiped out a lot of local hits. But anything that's not "Every Breath You Take" can still shift, and often does, every few months depending on how you play it. And there's always the moment in its lifespan where a once-reliable top-of-the-pager finally starts its journey away from all-ages ubiquity--something we'll live to see happen even for "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Every Breath You Take," if not tomorrow.
Written Jul. 27, 2010 in Research + Terrestrial Radio with 2 Comments
In 1975, Gene Amdahl left IBM to start his own company, Amdahl Software. Amdahl felt he could compete in one area with IBM, and set out to build a better mousetrap. What he learned was that IBM was countering his sales efforts by essentially implying to his prospects that they'd be "safer" going with IBM than with some fly-by-nighter like Amdahl. Amdahl coined a term for IBM's tactics: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt - better known as FUD. When you can't compete on price or quality, FUD is your only option.
FUD is alive and well today, and equally as dangerous for the radio industry as it was for Amdahl's software venture. FUD occurs when our attention is diverted from the prize, from the main thrust of your strategy, by shadows, intimations and rhetoric. Here is the latest example, in the form of Harker Research's claim that PPM has cost the radio industry seven billion dollars.
In the search engine optimization world, they call these sorts of posts "link bait"; outrageous and calculated to drive publicity and ultimately traffic. The more sites that link to the link bait in question, the higher the "baiter" will rank for relevant keywords. (Ask your webmaster/Internet guru about "nofollow" links, which I've employed here.)
The crux of this particular FUD is that there is a gap between what Arbitron's PPM says and what Nielsen's diary methodology says, and that this gap has cost radio seven billion dollars. That's "billion," with a B. What is certainly true over the PPM years is that radio has declined about 6 billion dollars, and that PPM is one of many variables in play during that span. Ask yourself this, however: how has print done over that same span? Yellow Pages? Classifieds? Billboards? Direct Mail? Does PPM have anything to do with any of that?
More troublingly, this is a time when radio looks to those who provide it with valuable inputs like research and consultation for guidance, truth and to shine a light for the industry. This particular FUD was cooked up as a "back of the envelope" calculation. Yet, it could so easily be proven or disproven with actual existing data. How have radio's fortunes fared in the Nielsen diary markets? Are they flat? Up? Or are they, as in the PPM markets, also down considerably? This is a company with "research" in its very name; yet, in a time where the radio industry needs cold hard facts the most, Harker Research has turned its back on truth in favor of FUD.
Obviously the authors of this FUD know that some people want to believe this is true, because it's a convenient untruth, and that it will thus linger around as a canard, a nagging doubt, and a dangerous distraction. In short, pure unmitigated FUD. Let's work to make PPM the best it can be, of course. But let's all keep our eyes on the prize: content innovation, sales innovation and relationships. Nothing else matters.
Written Jun. 29, 2010 in Research with 2 Comments
Some wackiness I've encountered over the years in helping radio stations put together music tests:
Stations that don't want to test some (or all) of their powers: "We're going to play 'Sweet Home Alabama' anyway. So why test it?" Usually there's just a perennial song or two at stake here, but there have been stations that decided to sit out the entire front page from the previous test to make more room for other songs.
There are a few problems here: managing the songs you're playing, particularly the ones you're powering, is just as significant a reason for doing a music test as finding new ones. Even "Sweet Home Alabama" burns. And any song of a slightly lesser magnitude can certainly fluctuate enough between tests to rate being monitored as often as possible.
Beyond that, not testing the Mount Rushmore hits of a format lowers the average score--thus distorting some stations' interpretation of what a playable score is. In this scenario, there have generally been more wacky titles tested and some of them appear to be within shooting distance of playability. But even those middling numbers are an optical illusion.
The flip side of this is the stations that don't want to test the titles that barely made the cut last time--again, to make room for more songs. Generally those are the songs most impacted by airplay -- either being back on the radio gives them a boost the second time or, just as often, they don't stand up to six months (or a year, or two years) of airplay.
Some of this discussion may seem quaint -- a holdover from a time when stations did three music tests a year and more closely scrutinized every song, as in the days before Bob- and Jack-FM opened programmers up to offering more variety. But 2010 is a year when stations are indeed doing more music testing than a year ago and many of them have been letting that library sit for a while at a time when tastes are shifting radically. So it's never possible to ask too many questions, even about the perennials.
Written Jun. 22, 2010 in Content + Research with 0 Comments
Is there a connection between songs that endure with radio listeners and the years that they're released?
I've been thinking about this because the syndicator of "American Top 40" has been working up to its 40th anniversary (on July 4) by sending out daily e-mails, one for each year, featuring Billboard's top 10 songs of the year.
So here's 1983, an incredible comeback year for CHR.
1 - Police, "Every Breath You Take" -- Perhaps the most-enduring record of its time at AC, Greatest Hits, and Classic Rock formats. Would still test at Hot AC, if most weren't finally moving away from the '80s.
2 - Irene Cara, "Flashdance (What A Feeling)" -- Still tests at AC, Greatest Hits;
3 - Michael Jackson, "Billie Jean" -- Never fell off the grid completely during his years of exile from radio, but it's bigger than ever posthumously. You'll hear it at least three times this Friday on the anniversary of his death.
4 - Men At Work, "Down Under" -- Endures at AC, now starting to get played at Greatest Hits.
5 - Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" -- Still playable at AC.
6 - Hall & Oates, "Maneater" -- 1982 really, but Billboard was on a December-November schedule. Still played at AC, Greatest Hits.
7 - Lionel Richie, "All Night Long (All Night)" -- Playable sometimes for AC. Might get a little help from being part of the new Enrique Iglesias song, "I Like It."
8 - Michael Jackson, "Beat It" -- Hadn't endured like "Billie Jean," but back now.
9 - Laura Branigan, "Gloria" - Spotty. Tests in at AC or Greatest Hits occasionally.
10 - Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, "Islands In The Stream" -- The first truly lost song in the top 10. Not even an automatic for Classic Country.
That's a pretty good batting average, and that top 10 doesn't even include the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," which matches the Police for durability, or Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
Now consider the not so golden year of 1988, when Top 40 was increasingly challenged by Urban and Rhythmic Top 40:
1 - George Michael, "Faith" -- No "Every Breath You Take," but still does OK at AC, Greatest Hits
2 - INXS, "Need You Tonight" -- OK at those formats and the one playable INXS at Classic Rock. Has evaporated at Hot AC as the '80s are phased out there.
3 - George Harrison, "Got My Mind Set On You" -- A seeming gimme for Greatest Hits stations trying to move into the '80s, but rarely a hit.
4 - Rick Astley, "Never Gonna Give You Up" -- Like "Together Forever," still gets some AC airplay.
5 - Guns 'N' Roses, "Sweet Child O' Mine" -- Still a smash at Classic Rock, a signature for Bob- and Jack-FMs and would still test for any Adult Top 40 that was comfortable including it.
6 - Whitney Houston, "So Emotional" -- Exciting at the time, lost now.
7 - Belinda Carlisle, "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" -- A sentimental fave for a lot of Greatest Hits PDs, but not a reliable tester.
8 - Tiffany, "Could've Been" -- Never returned to the radio after recurrent, particularly after the follow-up project faded.
9 - Breathe, "Hands To Heaven" -- Another song that has mostly disappeared.
10 - Steve Winwood, "Roll With It"--Even "Higher Love," one of the great common denominator records of that era doesn't test that well these days.
It's worth noting that if you tried this exercise for 1987, the two most enduring records would be "Livin' On A Prayer" and "Here I Go Again." In other words, the three best records from those years were the three that most challenged the boundaries of the Top 40 format. And when Top 40 found more than three hair band records to play, it wasn't necessarily a good thing.
I'll take a more empirical look at this some other time. But it makes sense at first blush that there would be so many enduring songs from the class of 1983. Rock radio was faltering. Urban Cowboy had finally passed. Adults were returning to Top 40 (as, for that matter, were teens). And there was, of course, the newly influential MTV to help reinforce all these songs.(Even though "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Brown Eyed Girl" do just fine without having had a video, it would be interesting now to look at the most played '80s gold and see how many were thought of as hit videos at the time.)
All of those things add up to a lot of traffic for the format. Songs can overcome a weak year for their home format or not being heard at the time at all -- e.g., "What I Like About You." But since so much of an oldie's endurance is based on the shared experience, it makes sense that an experience that more people shared would linger more.
Written May. 23, 2010 in Research with 0 Comments
As long as radio stations have been looking to become more contemporary, there has always been a balancing act involved: not trying to recruit new, younger listeners by chasing off the ones that already exist. It's smart to think about the existing core, rather than chase the listeners that may have been siphoned off by a new competitor. Some stations have famously fumbled that maneuver and wound up making neither audience happy.
But after working with music research for many years, here's the secret to updating a radio station:
The audience is almost always ahead of you. The songs that most PDs think they would never accept often end up as the top of the page records by the time they do go into a station's music research.
That doesn't mean you can entirely dismiss compatibility and expectation. But it does mean that an audience's expectation may have been redefined without you knowing about it. And it means that everything your target likes should be monitored as often as possible -- most PDs wouldn't regard testing an "edgy" song as "actionable" until they've personally come to grips with it being a record for their format. But if the audience is moving faster than you, isn't that actionable information also?
Written May. 14, 2010 in Content + Marketing + Research with 0 Comments
I have always been amazed when we'll show data to American commercial radio stations and up on the screen will pop the call letters of the local NPR affiliate and the local manager will say: "Who is that?"
Well, take a look at the graph on NPR's Research Department's blog "Go Figure" here. For the public radio stations that run "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", the trend is endlessly up.
I have commented before how NPR has essentially stolen the college graduates from commercial radio. While commercial radio is doing phony phone calls, these stations are providing literate, informative, and yes - entertaining radio that everyone in commercial radio should be looking at.
At least, we should know their call letters.
Written Jan. 20, 2010 in Content + Marketing + Research with 3 Comments
That said, I do think it is telling us a lot about radio brands. We have long seen, even in diary days, that complex branding is challenging. Ask any station that was "Howard Stern all morning, [fill in format name] all day." They could seldom get the second half of the story to attach itself.
One of the real surprises of PPM has been stations with 'no morning show' turning out to be highly competitive in morning drive. What are they doing instead? Basically, what they normally do. Whether it is Soft AC's playing familiar favorites, or all-news-all-the-time stations delivering 'Traffic and Weather Together Every Ten Minutes', stations that stay in format all 24 hours seem to be strengthened by their consistency.
Of course there are morning shows doing remarkably well in PPM. But by the same token a lot of stations that weren't getting much action in mornings with the diaries (especially Soft AC) are doing way better with passive measurement.
Sadly, these findings have put a lot of talented morning performers 'on the beach.'
But isn't this maybe what we are being told: Maybe when you are the Classic Rock station people really want Classic Rock no matter when they tune in. And if you are the Big Morning Show station...maybe you should be the Big Midday Show station and the Big PM Drive Show station too. Maybe the industry should be re-deploying its fired shows into stacks on one station, instead of the history of them being spread around on each, all competing with one another.
If studying radio for 22 years has taught me anything, it is that brands matter. Maybe PPM is telling us this. Whatever that thing you are famous for might be -- maybe you should be "All that, All the time."
Written Dec. 15, 2009 in Research + Terrestrial Radio with 0 Comments
2010 is going to be an immensely challenging year for many radio groups, and often when we are challenged, we have a tendency to retreat to positions of comfort. With dollars for things like research and programming consulting being stretched and even eliminated, the budget your station actually has to spend on outside help now has to pass through more hoops, cooks and committees, which often means that there is little bandwidth or stomach for radical departures from what you have done in the past. Yet a radical departure is just what is called for in 2010--what got you here, won't get you there, and if radio continues to trot out the same set of goals for its research initiatives, the industry simply won't be relevant in the years to come.
Fred Jacobs wrote today that "The entertainment and information media marketplace has only become more competitive during this last decade, and yet radio's research techniques are still very 1978." This is a theme that Fred has addressed multiple times in his blog, and I commend him for challenging us all in a time when none of us can say we have the right answers. None of us. However, I completely disagree with his conclusion that the problem is with radio research techniques, and I challenge his impulse to make radio research the straw man in this debate.
First of all, it is a bit disingenuous to pin blame on radio research, when surely Fred and everyone else reading this knows that radio has cut 90% of its research budget. Surely one can't blame research techniques when one hasn't actually made their acquaintance in a while. In a time when radio's need for consumer insights is most dire, the budgets for radio research have been brutally slashed industry-wide. This not only hurts radio, it also helps competitive technologies, outlets and media channels that ARE investing (including with companies like Edison) to further increase the gap. Certainly those clients are hiring us to ask the types of questions to which Fred alludes.
There is a tacit assumption behind Fred's assertion that there are better mousetraps out there, and radio researchers are either unaware of them or unwilling to try them. Well, there are better mousetraps, surely (at least, better questions), and I can certainly speak for the team of researchers at Edison that we are not only fluent in these techniques, we use them daily for our portfolio of political, agency and online media clients. Furthermore, I have no doubt that our research brethren like Warren and Jon at Coleman, or Mark Ramsey, or our partners at Arbitron would say the same.
Yet, time and time again I have been in situations where I've challenged the status quo on a research project, only to have the assembled programming team retreat to safety--cutting away the really interesting stuff so that we can re-ask questions from the last survey for "tracking." I can tell you the direction of radio tracking research, believe me. Often it isn't just the station pushing back--it's the group heads, the regional VP's, and yes, even the programming consultants. I can recall multiple instances in the recent past where we have proposed a line of questioning that could provide key insight into radio's consumers, only to have station management and their consultant question "how is that actionable?"--only to then push for questions like "how should we place our stop sets?" which are not only not actionable, they are unanswerable.
All of us are culpable, and few have been willing to buck the flight to safety and attempt the really hard questions, which, while they carry increased risk of failure, are the key to radio's mandatory transformation over the next couple of years. My biggest regret in these engagements is surely that I didn't push harder. There's a New Year's resolution for me, right there. How about you?
So yes, let's challenge the status quo from your research vendors, but also from your consultants, managers and even your CEO's. You might stand a chance of losing status, face or even your job--but if you don't, you definitely won't have a job in the future of audio entertainment.
Written Oct. 26, 2009 in Research + Technology with 0 Comments
One of the most pronounced expressions of the economic downturn came in the form of the year-over-year data for the nation's top daily newspapers, as reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. As can be seen, every one of the reporting metropolitan dailies is down, with several down over 20%. (Only the national Wall Street Journal gained.) Clearly, when the squeeze hit so many households, one of the first, and perhaps in this digital age one of the easiest plugs to pull was the daily newspaper subscription.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL -- 2,024,269 -- 0.61%
USA TODAY -- 1,900,116 -- (-17.15%)
THE NEW YORK TIMES -- 927,851 -- (-7.28%)
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- 657,467 -- (-11.05%)
THE WASHINGTON POST -- 582,844 -- (-6.40%)
DAILY NEWS (NEW YORK) -- 544,167 -- (-13.98%)
NEW YORK POST -- 508,042 -- (-18.77%)
CHICAGO TRIBUNE -- 465,892 -- (-9.72%)
HOUSTON CHRONICLE -- 384,419 -- (-14.24%)
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER -- 361,480 -- N/A
NEWSDAY -- 357,124 -- (-5.40%)
THE DENVER POST -- 340,949 -- N/A
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC -- 316,874 -- (-12.30%)
STAR TRIBUNE, MINNEAPOLIS -- 304,543 -- (-5.53%)
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES -- 275,641 -- (-11.98%)
The PLAIN DEALER, CLEVELAND -- 271,180 -- (-11.24%)
DETROIT FREE PRESS (e) -- 269,729 -- (-9.56%)
THE BOSTON GLOBE -- 264,105 -- (-18.48%)
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS -- 263,810 -- (-22.16%)
THE SEATTLE TIMES -- 263,588 -- N/A
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- 251,782 -- (-25.82%)
THE OREGONIAN -- 249,163 -- (-12.06%)
THE STAR-LEDGER, NEWARK -- 246,006 -- (-22.22%)
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE -- 242,705 -- (-10.05%)
ST. PETERSBURG (FLA.) TIMES -- 240,147 -- (-10.70%)
One has to wonder how much of these losses comes from people saying: "Why do I really need the actual physical newspaper any longer? They are giving it away for free online, and I won't have to haul it out to the curb every two weeks anymore."
These disastrous numbers also makes one think of the advantage of "Free" that radio has. In today's environment, discretionary expenses like subscriptions to a newspaper or satellite radio have to be the easiest thing to jettison from the household budget. Meanwhile no one has to consider dropping AM/FM Radio. We also have to consider the strategy newspapers have largely taken with regard to the Internet -- giving away their content for free online, and as the saying goes 'replacing analog dollars with digital pennies."
Meanwhile, what is the one newspaper that is NOT putting its content for free online? Yes, that one paper that didn't shrink, The Journal.
Written Oct. 9, 2009 in Content + Research + Terrestrial Radio with 2 Comments
Over the last year or so, I've noticed a few of the Classic Rock format's most reliable songs finally starting to look just a little golden -- warhorses where burn is starting to rival preference, or even drive it down after many years.
But not "Stairway To Heaven." It shows some burn, but not enough to push it out of its customary place in the top five.
And why is "Stairway To Heaven" avoiding the fate of some of its contemporaries? At least in part because it gets so much less airplay.
In today's Mediabase rolling chart, "Stairway" is only the No. 99 most-played Classic Rock song. Last week, it was No. 124. "Sweet Home Alabama," by contrast, is #3. "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions," a song that has long sported massive burn (despite being well-liked) is #19.
There are lots of reasons that "Stairway" gets less airplay than might otherwise go to a song that tops the music test. It's long. It's slow. There are too many other Led Zeppelin songs in rotation, guaranteeing that no one Zep song is pounded. And it is perceived by PDs as ferociously played-out.
So because the audience never has a chance to get tired of "Stairway to Heaven," the audience never entirely gets tired of it. It's not unlike the late '90s/early '00s where a lot of the most potent Top 40 songs were records like Stereo MC's' "Connected" and Pras Michel's "Ghetto Supastar" that weren't massive currents, but received more recurrent airplay. So if programmers really wanted to be free of "Stairway To Heaven," all they would have do is power it.
In recent years, the approach of the Bob- and Jack-FMs has been to treat everything as if it's "Stairway To Heaven": "Sweet Home Alabama" gets four spins a week and so, in certain weeks, can "Tenderness" by General Public. But now, in the PPM era, a few Jack stations have upped their spins by at least a few each week, while WJMK Chicago is playing its hits 10 times a week or more.
So is there a way that Classic Rock radio could manage all its Mt. Rushmore records to keep them fresh and remain hit-driven enough? Some songs, "Old Time Rock & Roll" and "Hurts So Good" come to mind, receive less Classic Rock airplay than "Stairway To Heaven" and still show signs of perma-burn. But what will keep "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and "Carry On Wayward Son" fresh and tasty for a while longer?
Written Aug. 14, 2009 in Research with 0 Comments
Okay, we already know that the "polls" on station Websites are entertainment, not serious research. The sample isn't screened or balanced. Often, the "scale" they offer respondents includes "double barreled" answers that are invalid because they require you to agree with two different statements (e.g., the music rating scale in which one of the choices is "it's my favorite song; I turn the radio up every time it comes on"). But turn your attention anyway to the poll on the Website of new Talk outlet KTNI (the Truth) Denver, the station that made headlines two weeks ago with its opening "Stripper Radio" gambit.
The Truth's opening poll asks, "How would you rate Obama's performance so far?" And the choices? "Poor," "adequate," "mediocre," and "great." So if you are favorably inclined but not willing to go with "great," your most positive choice is middling. And in conversation, many people tend to use "mediocre" as a perjorative. So on a 1-5 scale, your choices are "1, 2, 3, 5" at best.
In most national polls, Obama's overall approval rating is over 50% Not surprisingly, on a conservative talk station's site, 53% of the N=138 respondents (at this writing) opted for poor; 32% chose great. Only 15% went for either of the choices in between, which must say something about the lack of a middle ground in Talk radio.
Written Jul. 17, 2009 in Content + Marketing + Research with 7 Comments
I have made this point for years, and no one ever has taken it seriously. Now, with radio struggling, and the record industry struggling just the same, I'm going to try it again.
If we want to help music radio -- stations should shorten the songs. If we want to help the music industry -- music companies will help radio stations by sending them shorter versions of songs.
I'm sure many reading this are saying "Huh"? And I know of course that this alone can't solve all our problems. But think about it.
Over the last forty years, the average length of pop songs (or country songs, or most rock songs etc.) has grown from a tight two minutes to an ungainly four. This has effectively cut in half the number of songs played per hour. Actually, it's worse than that of course, because spot loads have grown over the years too.
So what is the net effect? Vastly fewer songs are played. Radio stations get killed for not having enough variety. Music companies can successfully promote fewer songs, and the pool of what can become a hit is shallower. Way fewer novelty songs are played, because there is simply no room for them, thus radio is less fun.
Four minute songs have created a vicious cycle where fewer, safer songs are played more and more because they are the only ones that can rise to the top. Having risen, they just keep playing as recurrents and gold.
Music companies should think of what they send radio stations as 'trailers' for the full song that appears on CDs or as downloads. "Want to hear the whole, long version? Go to..." Radio stations should be thrilled. Shorter songs means they can play more songs, have more variety, please everyone. Stations should cut their older songs down in length at the same time.
I am aware that there was some kind of effort to market a Top 40 with shorter songs last year -- I'm honestly unaware of what happened with that. But regardless...we need this to happen. And frankly, how many times do we need to hear John Meyer sing "Say What You Need To Say" in one song? The version played by radio has this lyric FORTY times. Could we live with twenty?
So Radio and Record industries...what do you think? Anyone with me for this radical approach?
Written Jun. 18, 2009 in Content + Marketing + Research with 1 Comment
I was discussing the merits and demerits of Nielsen's entry to the American radio ratings market the other day, and I mentioned that one obvious negative is the once-per-year ratings plan for the 51 smaller markets that Nielsen is launching.
And while the "if I get a bad book I have to wait a year for a new one" is clearly a negative, it got me to thinking about the 'old days' of shorter ratings 'sweeps' months.
Back in the days before continuous measurement was launched in America's bigger markets, radio stations went, well, crazy during the rated periods. Big contests, big guests, the morning and other shows were of course never on vacation. Tons of television advertising attempted to hype that month or quarter, along with billboards, direct mail, telemarketing....the works.
Now, with no individual month or quarter being the 'crucial' period, it allows radio operators to treat each month the same. And in this case, it allows for a sort of 'mutual non-proliferation pact' among the stations these days...no one advertises because no one else does.
I confidently predict that in those 51 Nielsen markets, stations will go back to doing SOMETHING during the one, annual, short ratings sweep. And, at least THAT will be good.
Written May. 28, 2009 in Content + Research + Terrestrial Radio with 1 Comment
"Radio needs to start intelligently surveying consumers. We continue to spend money researching which songs are burned and which DJs are familiar. But what level of investment is being devoted to truly gaining an understanding of the consumer? Is it that important to find out whether Z93 is the concert station? Or is it more germane to comprehend where the audience is going to satisfy their music, talk, entertainment, and information needs -- and how radio can provide a unique, compelling product in this digital landscape."
Those are the words of Jacobs Media's Fred Jacobs on his Website this morning. And the only place where we disagree with him is the notion that a lot of stations are continuing to spend money researching old questions or new ones. Even before the Bears of September 2008 began their rampage, broadcasters stared down the biggest landscape change in 30 years and responded by shortening their stagers. They saw how much less time listeners were spending with their stations and kept playing the same records that they last researched two years ago. Having seen the burn double on "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Jack and Diane" over the last two years, I wouldn't be so quick to declare that question irrelevant just yet.
But Fred's right that a lot of questions need to be asked now and that includes a lot of new questions - both those that better ascertain listener needs and those that predict PPM behavior in the same way that most market surveys became pretty good at predicting diary behavior. Research is a major investment - particularly in this climate. Stations are right to demand innovation and if you haven't gotten that from your provider, we'd like to talk to you.
As for some of the backbone questions of survey research, we understand that anybody who has lived through more than a few surveys might think they've heard them a lot. "What one station is the concert station?" went out of our surveys a long time ago--unless a client wanted it. Others are absolutely there for a reason, even now. Perhaps the wording is standard; the creativity is in the analysis. We can also tell you that a lot of clients (and, ahem, consultants) will shave the more creative questions from a survey in favor of "boilerplate," just because the latter is in their comfort zone.
Five years ago, research, like marketing, was sufficiently widespread that the mere fact of doing it merely made you as competitive as the next guy. And, again, as with marketing, it once again separates those stations that are able to do it from those that are not. Before long, the changes in market rank that accompany a significant change in the "camera angle" at which we measure listening will become less pronounced. And it will then be up to you to make your station's position in the market more dynamic.