Radio-Info’s Tom Taylor is asking around:
"It's not universal, but it appears that many country stations were notably soft in the Summer numbers. #1, is that how you see it, or am I skewed? #2, if that's the situation, what's going on? And let me know if you're on or off the record, if you're minded to respond."
Here are my best guesses:
1. So far, it appears that the average country station is off 6.2% 12+ from last summer but of course country does better in the smaller continuous measurement markets which are less ethnically diverse so we'll hopefully start to do at least a little bit better as the final Maximiser and PD Advantage data for summer books comes out today for Greenville-New Bern-Jacksonville, Huntsville, Spokane and West Palm Beach (so we can add them to the month to month extraps). I have my fingers crossed since country has to have a good 25-54 non-ethnic sample to get a reliable representation of the country core and those four are all traditional country strongholds, but most likely those final ones won't change the stats very much.
2. Summer is almost always country's worst book of the year, since it and winter are metro only, which can mean that samples tend to center in the city areas compared to spring and fall which have TSA sample too and thus often represent the exurban suburbs where the country audience tends to live. As ethnic populations grow in more and more cities, country's highly non-ethnic audience is becoming a smaller proportion of the total population of course, which I'd guess is the primary driver of the trend. However, something is going on with ARB's summer sample as well, since in the extrapolated month to month 25-54 share trends of the country stations out thus far in summer 08, August was the worst month of the three. July's extrapolated 25-54 share was 4% above the summer book 25-54 average quarter hour share and September was 15% above it. i.e., if most country stations had the share for the summer book they, on average, had in an extrapolated September month only, they would have been up 7.4% from summer '07.
3. It may be cell phone only households up this year combined with summer family vacations in mid-summer combined with more teens and 18-24's diluting at work listening or a combination of the three.
4. Finally, it also has to be said that average TSL to their favorite country station by heavy users is down almost everywhere and I theorize that perhaps a bit of sameness may be setting in in our music as well. Country's superstars remain, by and large, the same group of six to eight folks that we've been playing once an hour or more since the early 1990s, with only a small number of exceptions.
What's your theory? I am sure Taylor would love to hear from you too. Last summer was also down from spring and then country bounced back to the second best book of the past year in the fall. I'm hoping that's what we'll see again, though it would be very nice to figure out what to do about summer and fall, wouldn't it?