CRS 2014: #MeetTheMillennials

Edison’s Larry Rosin and Megan Lazovick, along with Jayne Charneski, presented the latest Country music study from Edison Research, #MeetTheMillennials, at the 2014 Country Radio Seminar in Nashville on February 19. The presentation slides are available below.

Edison conducted a national online survey of 1,550 respondents age 12-34 in November 2013. This was followed with in-person interviews of Millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – who listen frequently to Country music. The in-person interviews were conducted in cities across the country.

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Eight in Ten Millennials Listen to Internet Radio

Last fall, Edison Research debuted “The New Mainstream”, a research project performed on behalf of the Streaming Audio Task Force – a consortium of Pandora, Spotify, and TuneIn.  Now, Edison is pleased to follow up with a new report showing the results of the study among 18-34s.

The changes happening in media consumption are vastly more pronounced in the younger age groups.  Our study of online 18-34s shows that in every location of listening outside of the car, online 18-34s are more likely to listen to online radio (including the streams of AM/FM stations) than radio from a traditional transmitter.  Of course, the change in consumption is being driven primarily by the adoption of smart phones.

As shown by other studies – Internet Radio usage does not lead to a wholesale abandonment of ‘traditional’ radio – indeed 89% of 18-34s reported listening to over-the-air radio stations in the week before they were surveyed.  The advent of Internet Radio has surely led to some time-shifting from one form to the other, but meaningfully there is little doubt that Online delivery has expanded the time people spend with audio.

Edison18-34 audio infographic-2

First Listen: What Beats Music Means For Broadcast Radio

Beats-Audio-logo

For the last several years, the Clear Channel talking point on Pandora, from Bob Pittman down, has been some variant on “it’s not radio, it’s a playlist generator.”

The broadcaster’s intent is to diminish its pureplay rival, but in many ways, Pandora is more radio than radio. Much of broadcast radio has been on a 30-year-mission to deliver “more music, less talk, and no bad songs.” Pandora is that, plus listeners decide for themselves what the bad songs are.  It doesn’t attempt to offer a bigger-than-life radio entertainment experience, but neither do many radio stations these days.

iTunes Radio, unveiled last September, offered numerous streaming “radio formats,” many of them showing the kind of musical creativity that the Infinite Dial is supposed to foster. But there was no attempt to offer a produced/hosted/real-time, radio-style shared experience, even though Apple has the resources to do so.

Beats Music, launched Jan. 21 amidst extensive fanfare, clearly has the resources to offer a radio-type experience as well. Its musical curators – – the service’s calling card – – are drawn from other music sites, the music blogs and radio, notably former KIIS Los Angeles APD/KYSR PD Julie Pilat. By now, you’ve read as many reviews of Beats as a music service as you want, but nobody has talked about where it fits in on the radio landscape.

Beats co-creator Jimmy Iovine is also chairman of Interscope Records, which has a pretty good relationship with radio — six out of the top 10 songs at mainstream top 40 this week. Like Apple, Beats Music has the resources to disrupt radio, but not the impetus. So while that term “playlist generator” would be particularly derisive to the Beats crew, playlists are their business and radio is not.

As reported extensively elsewhere, Beats Music’s calling cards are its wide variety of curated playlists, as well as the ability to create a customized “Right Now” stream by specifying usage, mood, etc. There is the Spotify-like ability to listen to a large percentage of the music currently in print, although that’s much less prominent here. There are whole albums to listen to — current and catalog – each meant to suggest a record store employee’s staff pick.

Unlike Pandora, iTunes, or even Spotify, what doesn’t exist is a continuous stream of recent hit music from major formats. And in the first few days, if you were looking for top 40 hits, there was relatively little overlap between Beats Music’s broadly defined pop genre and what plays on top 40 radio today.

On Tuesday, if you went to the genres tab and chose “pop,” the choices were creative but relatively eclectic–“Guest List: Rihanna Collaborations,” “Behind the Board: Max Martin”; “Best of Eurovision,” and “Pop Gems 2004” are just a few. For recent Top 40 hits, you had to go to KAMP (97.1 Amp Radio) Los Angeles’ playlists on the guest curators page, or Popcrush’s playlists.

My self-created pop playlist came out particularly broad. I asked the “Right Now” feature for pop music to drive to and got a few hits (Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Maroon 5’s “Wake-Up Call,” Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl”) with an unusual assortment of others, none currents, ranging from Avril Lavigne’s “Nobody’s Home” to Drake’s “I’m Goin’ In” to Kylie Minogue’s “Better The Devil You Know,” a 1990 international hit to Sean Kingston & Justin Bieber’s “Eenie Meenie.”

That playlist notwithstanding, Beats Music in most other places lives up to its stated intention of being better curated than similar offerings. Even if there’s no intent, it’s also better programmed from a radio standpoint. A lot of other pureplays feel very random, especially when they venture outside alternative or current pop music, as if a 22-year-old was hurriedly loading in scores of albums with which they had only a passing familiarity. Listen to Beats Music for Country or Oldies and you’ll hear a mix of hits and lesser-known songs that have some importance to the genre.

Even among Tuesday’s eclectic choices, I also did manage to find the thing that most often motivates me to venture beyond broadcast radio — songs that should be CHR hits but aren’t yet – but through a weird back channel. The recommended “Katy Perry’s Tourmates” playlist was full of songs from the last few years that would sound great on mainstream top 40 from the likes of Ladyhawke, Robyn, and others, but weren’t on the format’s radar.

Finally, on Thursday, I went back to the pop genres tab and found two playlists that hadn’t existed or been easily findable on Tuesday. One was “Top 25: Pop,” mostly hits but with one should-be hit, Betty Who’s “Somebody Loves You.” The other playlist was the one I’d been looking for, “Trending Tracks: Pop,” with the new singles from Shakira & Rihanna, Christina Perri, Calvin Harris, Imagine Dragons, Naughty Boy, Dev, Mary Lambert, and eight songs I didn’t know. It was hard for me to imagine that somebody would hire Pilat and not let her pick the hits, but there they were finally.

Over the last year or two, an undeserved amount of energy has gone into speculating on whether Pandora and other pureplays cannibalize radio or listening to one’s own music collection. (The answer turned out to be “both, to some degree.”) On Tuesday, the apparent target audience was people who like at least a little more adventure than mainstream radio can offer. Broadcasters would probably be thrilled if Beats Music fragmented Pandora, or took the $10 a month that might have otherwise gone to a satellite radio subscription.

So far, it’s still easiest to see Beats emerging as a competitor to Spotify, whose most attractive features include its deep library and wide variety of playlists. While detractors harp on Pandora’s “machine-made” programming, it has in recent years emerged (likely with human help) as very hit-driven. Beats Music at the outset was staying well out of the battle between broadcast radio and Pandora to deliver more music, fewer interruptions, and no bad songs.

But no pureplay can steer away from broadcast radio entirely. Like Pandora or Spotify, you can’t listen to Beats Music and broadcast radio at the same time. Like any other pureplay, it will be another excuse for a certain type of 17-year-old to get music anywhere other than FM. And even those entities that begin by selling musical adventure, such as satellite radio or Pandora, gravitate to something more mass-appeal eventually. Maybe the top 25 playlists in pop, Country, and Alternative were always there. If they weren’t, it’s not hard to imagine user demand forcing their creation within 48 hours.

And even for radio’s sake, I’m not sure that Beats should steer clear of the pop mainstream. Pilat is probably the most qualified person to program a station that one step ahead of broadcast top 40. At a time when no more than a half-dozen CHR stations can be said to be actively looking for new music, would it not be useful, even to radio, to have another national platform that could break songs? Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” is the No. 1 selling song this week, and I have no doubt that its prominent showcases in the early days of iTunes Radio helped prime the pump.

Meanwhile, Beats Music’s debut is once again an opportunity for broadcasters to look at the “radio vs. playlist” characterization and ask if they are in fact doing the “radio” they espouse. No pureplay has yet chosen to be the medium where an unseen companion says something funny or insightful over a song intro that makes two people, separated by a hundred miles (or more, now) look up at the same time. Maybe the pureplays don’t see the value. Do broadcasters truly see it themselves?

A New Christmas Hit Under Radio’s Tree

Ibira at cnightFor the last few years, most artists have just given up on the notion of trying to get a new holiday song played at radio. There’s a glut of new holiday albums each year, but even the most contemporary artists go for the old (roasting) chestnuts. Lady Gaga and Rihanna both had new holiday songs at the height of their stardom that went mostly unnoticed. Michael Bublé, who certainly had AC radio’s ear at holiday time, included a new song on his holiday project, but didn’t promote it.

That makes Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath The Tree” a pleasant holiday surprise. It’s getting spins at Mainstream Top 40. It’s the No. 1 current song at AC this week, but it’s also the No. 23 song overall at AC, surrounded by almost nothing from the past 20 years. So how did Clarkson manage her holiday mini-miracle?

Because Clarkson is an artist with CHR and AC support. Clarkson has reached that place in her career where she grapples for a place at Top 40 each time out, but can now pretty much count on being in power at Hot AC and Mainstream AC, as was the case with “Catch My Breath.” But she’s still in CHR’s consideration set, giving her a multi-format opportunity that Bieber or Gaga’s holiday songs didn’t have.

Because AC is a little more aggressive this year. When AC became holiday headquarters more than a decade ago, CHR decided to pull back on the reins, (and the reindeer). AC wasn’t likely to break a new Christmas song that would fit at Top 40. CHR was even less likely to come up with a “Do They Know It’s Christmas”–the type of Christmas song that pushed from holiday rotation to the same rotation as any other hit record. And since labels don’t have much impetus to promote a 3-4 week record, it was almost certain not to happen.

Clarkson’s hit coincides with the somewhat more aggressive, somewhat-closer-to-Top-40 sound of today’s mainstream AC. Cumulus in particular has been playing newer music in heavier rotations on its mainstream ACs — stations that would have been considered Hot AC not that long ago. “Underneath The Tree” is one of several new holiday songs receiving significant spins in Cumulus’ holiday formats, not all of them by established artists.

At the same time, “Underneath The Tree” is a rare example of a holiday song cracking the 100-spin mark at Top 40 more than a week out, although it’s behind this year’s cover of “Last Christmas” (by Ariana Grande, this time) and well behind Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” But look for spins to increase in the next few days.

Because “retro” is a core sound. Like “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” virtually the last “original” Christmas song to find a significant place in the Christmas canon nearly 20 years ago, “Underneath The Tree” is yet another throwback to the Phil Spector Christmas Album, released more than 30 years prior to Mariah. The wall-of-sound has been a ready touchstone for “new” holiday songs for multiple artists ever since — it’s how you give an AC holiday station something in its comfort zone.

The difference in recent years is that Top 40 has become significantly retro flavored, too. Sometimes the touchstone is ’70s disco (see Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake this year), but the mix of Motown, Spector, and swingin’ ’60s MOR pop has also been part of top 40’s DNA at least since “Rehab.”

Over the last decade, Edison Research has conducted several highly-publicized tests of holiday music. Here’s “What We Learned From Testing Holiday Music 2012.

First Listen: Seattle’s Hot 103.7

A few years ago, it seemed almost foolhardy to suggest that there might be a hole for a ‘90s/early ‘00s-based rhythmic pop station, even in the most rhythmic-leaning markets. KQMV (Movin’ 92.5) Seattle, the most prominent of that format’s mid-‘00s launches, had initial success, but eventually made a successful transition to Mainstream Top 40. Markets that seemed like naturals for Rhythmic Hot AC, such as Phoenix and Dallas, also turned out not to be.

Programmers, their ranks increasingly populated by children-of-the-‘90s, remained determined to hear the music of their childhood. But through this period, it seemed that the current rhythmic pop product was stronger, with a wider ranging demo appeal, than any oldie. And it became easy to dismiss the 90s as, somehow, the first-ever one that listeners might never want back.

But in January, WBQT (Hot 96.9) Boston debuted and began working its way towards its current 3.6 share 6-plus. WKTU New York, after several years as a more current radio station, reclaimed ‘90s rhythmic product. On Labor Day, KHTP (Hot 103.7) Seattle launched with its version of ‘90s/’00s-based rhythmic. It’s been one of the most successful sign-ons in years, and one that Edison is proud to be associated with.

In the October PPM, Hot 103.7 was No. 5 in the market 6-plus overall, up 2.2 – 4.6 in its first full month since transitioning from Classic Rock KMTT (the Mountain). The station was No. 1 in women and No. 2 in adults. In doing so, it’s a full share ahead of the 3.6 that Movin’ posted at its peak as a Rhythmic Hot AC.

Seattle’s original Movin’ launched at a time when mainstream pop was only starting to reassert itself after nearly two decades where rhythmic pop and Hip-Hop were usually Top 40’s center-lane music. In 2013, Hip-hop has sparse representation at Top 40 while rhythmic pop shares the spotlight with other genres. The days of “Lean Back” by Terror Squad and “Got Your Money” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard as top 40 records seem like a distant memory now.

But in Seattle and Boston at least, even the listeners who grew up to like the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons didn’t jettison the songs they used to love. The Bob- and Jack-FMs of a decade ago followed a generation’s journey from ‘70s rock radio back to ‘80s top 40 and MTV. In the same way, both the  Boston and Seattle stations follow listeners from Michael Jackson to TLC to Maroon 5.

Also, the songs that are powering Seattle and Boston now weren’t special yet a decade ago. The Notorious B.I.G.’s hits were still in recurrent at some major-market Top 40s. Songs like “Where the Party At” by Jagged Edge and Ciara’s “Goodies” are “oh wows” now. At the time of the first boom, they were barely out of the library at most top 40s.

And while there’s still plenty of rhythmic pop at Mainstream Top 40, much of the R&B element has been lost. Going from “Black Eyed Peas featuring David Guetta” to “David Guetta featuring Usher” to “David Guetta featuring Sia” has been a natural progression, but R&B and Hip-Hop fans know the difference. And while it might seem strange to think of “In Da Club” as the antidote, some of the EDM filtering into the pop mainstream is harder and not all of it will be acceptable to adults. “SexyBack” went quickly from disconcerting to loveable. It doesn’t look like “Work B**ch” is going to get there any time soon.

When Movin’/Seattle launched, I wrote that Seattle was the perfect test market.   KUBE switched to Rhythmic Top 40 in 1992 and, for most of the next decade or so, Hip-Hop and R&B were the dominant pop music. Eventually, mainstream KBKS (Kiss 106) was able to make inroads under current Hot 103.7 PD Mike Preston.

For various reasons, Boston and Seattle have particularly friendly market landscapes for this format at the moment. Going forward, some markets will be more appropriate than others; mid-‘00s Rhythmic Hot AC didn’t reach the point where it worked in Salt Lake City and Syracuse, N.Y., but stations did try. Regardless of whether there’s a format boom, Boston and Seattle both show that listeners still care about their formative music, even if “now” is exciting. It also, perhaps, proves that there’s a need for accessible rhythmic pop music that isn’t being met at the moment.

Here’s Hot 103.7 at 1 p.m. on Oct. 28:

Bobby Brown, “Every Little Step”

Beyoncé, “Crazy In Love”

Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”

Snoop Doggy Dogg, “Gin And Juice”

Pink f/Nate Ruess, “Just Give Me A Reason”

Game f/50 Cent, “How We Do”

Maroon 5, “Love Somebody”

Brandy & Monica, “The Boy Is Mine”

Bruno Mars, “Just The Way You Are”

Robin Thicke, “Blurred Lines”

Color Me Badd, “I Wanna Sex You Up”

B.O.B. f/Hayley Williams, “Airplanes”

112, “Peaches & Cream”

Mariah Carey, “Honey”