Friday, March 07, 2008

What Happens To ARB In December?

Q: Why is it that AC does so well each December, and why did it do especially well in Fall of 2007?

A: The key to doing well in ratings 11 months a year is listening at work. In diaries, on average, almost 75% of all average quarter hours (and in the PPM in spite of cumes literally doubling, it’s still 50%) come from P-1 heavy users, the people who listen for 100 quarter hours a week or even more. Thus, under normal circumstances, the secret to doing well for country radio is targeting 25-54 non-ethnic individuals who work full time, at least 35 hours a week. Fulltime employed men are the heaviest users of radio. Women who are not employed full time tend to watch TV during the daytime hours and as a result listen to a lot less radio than the average radio user. Given these realities, a successful AC station must get at least 60% of its average quarter hours from ‘at work’ listening. A country station’s ideal profile is 33% of its AQH from at work, 33% from in car and 33% at home and other places. Then, comes the three weeks before Christmas and many listeners take time off work. So, the place where the majority of AQH comes from changes radically. Meanwhile, AC stations become the at home listening choice - especially for adult women - due to their solid Christmas music marketing and images.

That’s why, in PPM data, Arbitron has created a “13th month” which they call the Christmas book. AQH shares (which are of course a percentage of the available AQH audience) literally double for the solid Christmas music stations (B-101 in Philadelpha, for example, had a 25.2% share of adult listening the week before Christmas in the Philadelphia PPM data and then went right back to to 10 share the week after the Holiday).

As Arbitron's Gary Marince told the attendees at A&O's Pre-CRS client seminar, ".. the listening the Christmas stations pick up from the Country statiosn is in the form of 'occassions' and not a loss in cume or average time per occasion of listening."

No doubt, this is also the case in diaries as well, but due to monthly averaging, AC radio carries that December bump into the first two monthlies of the next quarter. It’s not because AC gets more listening in January and February as a result of the December at home AQH, it’s due to the monthly averages. In the face of this reality, to have a good fall book knowing that many of your listeners won’t be at work for a week or two of the survey period which makes it very hard if not impossible to keep your percentage of AQH from at work up to the levels you maintain the rest of the year, a country station needs to have an aggressive strategy to do as well as possible in the workplace during the first and second phases of the fall Arbitron survey and then play enough of your listeners’ favorite Christmas songs they can’t hear anywhere else while also balancing that with their favorite current, recurrent and power gold hits and encouraging the core to listen to you at home more than normal during those weeks away from their normal workplace. It’s a tricky balancing act because as research has shown for the last few years, about half of country’s heaviest users would love it if we played all Christmas music while the other half wouldn’t like that at all.

Next fall: get as many average quarter hours from at work as you can in the first nine weeks of the ARB survey period and then work to keep your partisans listening to you while they prepare for Christmas at home. Meanwhile, tell advertisers the Christmas book story and make sure they know that the distortions in the January and February rolling averages that make AC look stronger than it is are purely statistical and not real. The time to buy AC radio is the two or three weeks before Christmas, not in first quarter of the New Year.

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