As markets become more fragmented and listeners have more diverse choices, loyalty is at a premium. The 2010 edition of Arbitron's Radio Today spotlights the country format's daily TSL as averaging an hour a day, 12+, less with younger listeners.
On a national basis, country remains a bastion of contented listeners with the country format national average daily time spent listening ranking #2, tied with Urban AC, and just 15 minutes per day behind #1 TSL format News/Talk among the 16 formats whose daily TSL was tracked this year. The format with the lowest TSL in 2010 (3:15 per day) is Alternative.
To put those stats in context, I went back to some old volumes of Duncan's American Radio, which tracked format trends from 1974 to 2004.
Country format TSL averages for a few random years two decades ago:
1989 - 96 minutes per day
1988 - 94 minutes per day
1987 - 94 minutes per day
1986 - 95 minutes per day
1985 - 93 minutes per day
These statistics, both old and new, are both comforting and frightening, since the country format's growth is clearly dependent on retaining long listening spans from a small base of very loyal listeners.
Research is important to stay abreast of changes in attitudes that might affect your audience share. Loyalty marketing (social, data base, telemarketing and target campaigns) should also be a cornerstone of any country broadcaster's long-term plan, but as TSL slips growing cume audience becomes more and more necessary too.
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