Monday, July 27, 2015

Analysis Paralysis

Numbers nerds (like me!) have been blogging almost daily on Voltair.

Rather than getting smarter with each post, I feel like we all start to send contradicting and conflicting assertions.

We all have been learning less, not more.

Before I crunch anymore random PPM data, it would be nice to know who is using Voltair and who isn’t for one thing. Educated guesses have only the potential to create confusion for all of us.

Yes, A&O&B has a number of clients using the technology right now, but in spite of the perspective that has afforded us, there's a lot we simply do not know.

Like you, I read each new observation, but have ultimately come to the point of reminding myself that “liars figure and figures lie.”

Lets face it.  No one is admitting anything, not because they are hiding anything.  No one knows enough as yet to draw any conclusions.

Things I don’t think anyone knows.
  • Nielsen and Numeris don’t know who has been using Voltair.  Even in Canada, where the ratings firm has asked all their subscribers to unplug their Voltair boxes, who knows if all of them actually did so?
  • Voltaire users don’t know what happened to their sample geography, proportionality, weighting and all the other factors which can move numbers much more than even the uptrends the manufacturer of Voltair has claimed.
Things I think I know:
  • PPM measurement appears to help formats with big cume.  
  • Country, Classic Rock and Pop shares increased when PPM came into our lives.
  • The average age of radio users dropped by about a decade, which may mean that PPM is measuring radio use by younger listeners who didn’t fill out diaries.
  • Talk formats and personalities with long periods of non-music content slipped in the rankers.
  • Sample sizes fell precipitously.
  • Panel/qualitative research replaced random probability sampling.
All of this tells me that we have come to a point that we need less blogging by folks who really don’t have enough information to really know the entire picture.

It think we all can agree that Nielsen's decision to not open their webinar last week to the media was a mistake.  What got reported the next day may or may not have been accurate.  Transparency is the best policy.

It’s time for all Nielsen and Numeris clients to speak loudly to their ratings rep for much more openness and clarity, let alone increasing sample reliability.

It was refreshing recently to learn that Canada's analytics arm has been brainstorming with clients, for example.  We need a lot more of that from Nielsen too.

All of the noise on the technology affecting fewer than 50 markets - albeit the largest ones in North America - is also obscuring an even more pressing issue:  sample quality in the much more numerous diary measurement markets.

Just four years ago we were promised exciting modernizations of the long-outdated approaches being used in radio audience measurement.  After all, Jim Seiler first invented a diary to measure media in 1949! 

Then, Nielsen bought Arbitron and the leapfrog hasn’t croaked once since!

Let’s stop the silly number-crunching without really knowing what is behind the stats we’re all using.  Nielsen and Numeris, please help us all get it right without delay.

It's long past time to focus as an industry on what really will make a huge difference:  increasing sample sizes, better open communication with Nielsen and Numeris clients.

Responsiveness and less secrecy is in order so we all can have more confidence in the data driving our paychecks.

Friday, May 15, 2015


Fred Jacobs' latest blog post, as usual, inspired me into action, especially after I read the response to it by legendary LA GM Roy Laughlin (click the link to read that too).  
I wrote:

There’s no question that Roy Laughlin is a genius and built a lasting dynasty that continues to dominate the Southland thanks to the amazing teams he managed over the years, but before we do a complete 180 lets really study how our streaming listeners use us across all our platforms.

Now that Voltair has “proven” (to me at least) that PPM technology misses a lot of usage, it is tempting to go backward to what we did before, but the industry embraced PPM because of the many flaws of the old diary, not the least of which is the move from landline phones to mobile devices.

Let’s accept that the landscape has completely changed and make use of all the tools in our kit to understand what aspects of our programming work best in each potential venue and customize our content to make the most of all the ways our target is using and will use the new and old technologies based on adoption and usage.

Just as NPR has employed Podcasting to move from their “non-commercial” crowd-source funding over the air analog model to become commercial competition for traditional radio, all of the audio business simply must be open to new business models the internet is opening up.

Since anyone who has seen minute-by-minute reports of streaming usage at local radio stations and compared them to Nielsen PPM data in the same time period know that the two track each other quite accurately, let’s hope that a new, more reliable audience measurement matrix evolves soon that can combine everything we now know about how listeners behave, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

PS:  Do you "like" A&O&B on Facebook? If not, you're missing a lot.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Best "Worst Job"

You can't deny that it's true:

Careercast is getting quite a bit of PR today on their annual best/worst jobs lists and as usual they make a good case for their reasons for putting "broadcaster" down at the bottom with newspaper reporter, lumberjack and enlisted military (which actually seems like pretty good company to me!).

No doubt, if you want low risk, there are plenty of other careers for you.  However, I want to place this finding in context.

It has always been thus!

I went into high school in 1957, having decided I wanted to follow in fellow-Ohioan Hugh Downs' footsteps as smart career counselors advised me that radio stations were downsizing due to the arrival of mass appeal television.  Every station had staff live musicians, full time studio engineers and those positions were being eliminated everywhere and pundits called it "the death of radio."

Google that phrase and you'll learn that that prognostication comes back at least once a decade.

My first full time job in broadcasting came in 1961 and after a lot of great working years I am now enjoying a great retirement thanks to having chosen amazing business partners, I can assure anyone who today has a passion for making the most of audio technologies that it remains a wonderful, rewarding career if you're willing to be your very best.

Over more than five decades I was fortunate enough to:
  • Break Guinness World Records and raise funds for many deserving charities along with the help of my listeners.
  • Work with a terrific team of broadcasters in building an Armed Forces Network in Southeast Asia, the most rewarding two years of my working life.
  • Have a lot more fun at work every day than, I suspect, than actuaries and audiologists do.  
  • Was challenged to compete in ways that mandated constantly upgrading my knowledge and skills at the highest level in recognition of how terrific the competition was.
  • Get to know entertainers and music business pros on a first name basis, including playing basketball with Kenny Rogers and his band, interviewing a guy who claimed to be Elvis and not dead, having "weed with Willie" and a dinner for four across the table from Taylor Swift before anyone knew her name.
  • Emcee a "No Show Jones" show both when he was and was not a no-show.
  • Along the way, I was named to a couple Hall Of Fame lists too (thank you, Nevada and CRS!).
So, don't become a broadcaster if you expect a no-risk life, but if you feel the need to passionately find the most creative and innovative "you" while working alongside some amazing people who are driven by the same energy, broadcasting is the BEST worst job you can choose!

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Each time a station I've worked with over the years has been directly attacked I have publicly said:  "Competition makes us better."

For the listeners and the air staff, that's true.

But, generally, from a business point of view I have to privately admit it's simply not, especially in markets where media buyers generally refuse to buy two country stations at good rates.

Doubly so in PPM measurment markets where direct format competition has often driven down shares, making point levels shrink.

This was reinforced for me in September 1999 when longtime Detroit incumbant W4 Country typically had higher ratings with country than did WYCD, lack of advertiser revenue led W4 Country to switch to a classic rock format and WYCD never looked back from a revenue viewpoint.

The same thing played out a decade ago in San Diego.  Local observers claimed that neither Lincoln Financial nor the company formerly known as Clear Channel made any money during a costly fight, but when it ended KSON rose back to the top of the audience and revenue rankings, where they remain today.

iHeart's K-102 and CBS' Buz'n have been going at it in a virtual tie after three years in the Twin Cities in what has been a costly battle for both companies.  The last time KEEY had an attacker in this position they purchased it, leading to two decades of revenue and audience dominance.  This time, BUZ'N came out just as Taylor Swift was on the upswing.

Back before PPM measured Boston a very competitive fight went on between WKLB and WBCS (Boston's Country Station) from 1993 to 1995.  The victor in that battle was Greater Media. They have been extremely powerful from a revenue and ratings perspective for the 20 years since then.  Fighting for format ownership in country can be lucrative, long term.

It's been almost 20 years since the last competitive assault in Orlando for country, which even included Cox's K-92 buying the attacker just before it went country.  Three years later they took it out of the format, leading the market for much of the intervening time with just one country station, part of a solid cluster with broad reach.

Until now, as JVC closed on WHKQ Monday and then quickly launched 103.1 The Wolf on Friday

Things to watch:
  • Is this the beginning of a new post-consolidation age in competitive format battles?
  • In the past, new stations launched as formats were on the upswing.  Is this a good time to launch a new radio station in the country format against a strong competitor?
This I know:  the listeners are going to love having a choice.  The air staffs and street teams are going to have fun going at it.

The accountants, not so much.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

“Woof, Woof, Woof. Bow, Wow, Wow. Arf, Bark, Arf, Bark, Woof!”

Ever since dogs started barking “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” Christmas music has given country (and rock) format programmers and personalities a big headache.  

Thanks to PPM panel measurement which can follow the same group of people’s radio usage for many months and years, we now know some things about what drives the country format’s annual fall swoon at the expense of Adult Contemporary and Christian stations going “all Christmas music.”

1.  As Mike O’Malley told Inside Radio last week, studies of country listeners going back more than a decade consistently find that less than 20% of country P-1 listeners say they’d be very interested in having their country station play all Christmas music while half tell researchers they wouldn’t be interested at all, making going solid Christmas tunes a very risky tactic in a competitive country battle unless your company owns two country stations.  In that case, it can benefit them both, one gaining 35+ female tuning and the other one acting as an alternative for younger and male country music fans.  The more new music intensive you are, the more dangerous it can be to go more than a month without exposing and familiarizing the core with fresh music.  When you go back to playing the country hits you need to refamiliarize your core with it, which can hurt familiarity scores that drive TSL and passion as the new year - and a new PPM month - begins.

2.  In diary markets it has always appeared that all-Christmas helps the upper-demo contemporary get a cume boost in the first month of two of the Winter survey.  Now, thanks to PPM, we know that’s more a result of top-of-mindness impacting what people write in diaries than it is real usage.  Once, all-Christmas was seen as a strategy.  Now, we know it’s just a tactic.  In PPM, normal listening patterns resume on December 26 and don’t have any residual impact in January or February.  Thus, in a PPM market any station contemplating solid Holiday music in November and December needs to pre-sell the event in advance.  Diary measurement may make it appear that buying those great Christmas season ratings in January and February is a bargain, but PPM proves that would be overpaying.

3.  PPM permits a microscopic view of usage patterns not possible in diary surveys as long as the sample is large enough to be reliable.  As a result, aggregating multiple markets, it’s possible to uncover precisely what drives month-to-month changes in cume and average quarter hour.  Most months, any sudden changes are likely driven by sample weighting alterations or households coming into or leaving the panel.  As Christmas music starts to dominate one or two stations in a market, it’s now possible to dig into it directly and see exactly how each station in town’s average monthly users react.  What we see appears to be more than a sample wobble.  It looks “real.”

4.  A&O&B has been carefully studying PPM, thanks to the help of direct marketing and rating analysis vendors, from the very first month of PPM measurement going all the way back to the first tests of the technology in Wilmington and Philadelphia many years ago.  Here’s what we’ve observed, thanks to help from Arbitron and Nielsen analysts:  the normal pattern of daypart and day-to-day recycling tends to continue as usual for a healthy country radio station.  However, non-stop Christmas music on a station that always shares 25-30% of the country station’s audience month after month does something astounding during the Holidays.  It creates NEW DAYPARTS for itself, times of the day and days of the week from that group of panelists when the country station’s average listener wasn’t even using radio in most months!

5.  PPM “time spend exposed” (TSE/AMA) per hour for that country station when under attack from a 100% Christmas music competitor remains steady.  Morning show, at work and weekend usage are generally more or less unchanged.  Except for one group of listeners, the ones who seem to want to get into the Holiday spirit as they prepare for Christmas.  They go Christmas shopping, wrap presents, decorate the house, the workplace.  They host and attend parties.  They plan for the family event.  They continue to listen to their usual morning show, don’t listen much less than normal to their favorite 24/7365 country station, but they also find themselves using the solid Christmas music station a lot - as much as an extra day a week of their total time with radio - at lunchtime when they go out to shop, in the evening and over every weekend at home when they wrap presents, decorate the tree, write Christmas cards and organize their wardrobe for a busy Season Of Giving.

To deflect such a tactic when half the audience really doesn’t desire all-Christmas is next-to-impossible, though you can, we’ve found, at least minimize the damage — by creating your own extra special, lifestyle-driven extraordinary depart usage drivers. 

The challenge, of course, is that playing 500 popular Christmas songs over and over for six weeks is relatively easy when compared to the creativity, innovation and hard work it takes to build enough of the kind of content that can compete with it in listeners’ minds for six to eight weeks every year.

Attempting to cure your first headache can make for a pretty big second one too.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

May Your Stuffing Be Tasty...

May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!
-- Grandpa Jones

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Time For Programmers To Learn A New Language

This development is not at all surprising.

As usual, they want us to cut our inventories while refusing to pay anything more when we do it, in spite of considerable data proving radio's impact.

If the only way they will pay more is when "cost per point" hits media buyer wishes and dreams, it's crucial that the people creating content fully understand which quarter hours and programming tactics have the highest potential to get target GRPs, ultimately ARPs, as high as possible.

Let's stop worrying about 6+ average quarter hour shares, replacing those with the highest payoff target points.

That's an entirely new way to approach formatic, content and programming metrics.

It's going to require a quick learning curve for most Brand Managers, but A&O&B can help make it simple and very rewarding for you to do so.