By Tom Webster, Edison Vice President
For this year’s Country Radio Seminar (CRS 36), the CRB commissioned Edison Media Research to look at a large, national sample of Country P1’s to get a read on the state of the format. The results of this study can be downloaded for free at our website, but they can quickly be summarized—Country is in great shape. We surveyed over 11,000 P1’s from 10 leading country stations, and the verdict was uniformly positive—84% of the total sample indicated that they were listening more to Country radio today than they were a year ago. Among the reasons given by those who are listening more were that Country music is better than it used to be (61%), and that their favorite Country radio station had also improved (41%). These are fantastic numbers, and are certainly indicative of genuine passion and positive momentum for the format amongst the P1’s we surveyed.
…fans of older Country music are not pining away in front of their old Victrolas, wearing out Charlie Rich records
The survey was administered over the Internet to a self-selected sample of respondents taken from the databases of the participating stations. Certainly, we are not using this sort of sample to project anything beyond how these 11,000 people felt. This type of survey, however, is akin to filling out a comment card at a restaurant—generally, only people who are strongly motivated one way (“This pizza was cold!”) or the other (“BEST Pizza I EVER HAD!”) fill these sorts of things out, and analyzing the results becomes an exercise in averaging the “1s” and “5s.” Even with all of those caveats, this study reached out to the best customers of these Country stations, and they told us overwhelmingly that the pizza is good.
One aspect of the study we did not touch on at CRS was the makeup and character of the 16% of the sample who told us they were listening less. The top three reasons given were “Other” (not actionable), “No Time” (I won’t suggest an awful “Make Time for Country!” campaign, so not actionable) and “Prefer Older Country Music.” The latter reason was given by 28% of the 16% who listen less, or about 4% of the total sample. A small percentage, but again—these were P1’s of Country stations that do not prominently feature older Country music.
Who are these people, and can we make them happy? There are some clues in the data. First, they do like the current crop of artists—their scores are pretty good, just not as high as those of the other 84% of the sample. Figure 1 illustrates a few sample artists and the score differentials between those listening more to Country radio, and those listening less:
Figure One: Artist Score Differentials
Again, the folks listening less do like these current artists (which is why they are still P1’s); they just don’t love them like the rest of the sample does. Interestingly, the only artist that showed higher scores for the listening less group was, in fact, an older artist—Willie Nelson. When the question was asked more directly, the results were even clearer:
Figure Two: Current Country Music Perceptions
Now, the “listening less” group in this sample (hereafter called the “LL’s”) are not necessarily the Waylon and Merle crowd—again, they are still P1’s of contemporary Country stations. They do, however, have a desire to hear more variety in the form of older country music. Where are they getting their fix today? One source is satellite radio. The “LL’s” are slightly more likely to already be satellite radio subscribers, and even more likely to consider subscriptions in the future (6.6% were “very likely to subscribe,” compared to 3.9% of those listening more). Even more telling was the response to the question about the quality of Country music on satellite radio. While 43% of the “listening more” crowd who also subscribe to satellite radio say that their satellite country choices are better than broadcast radio, almost 60% of the “LL’s” feel the same way. There are myriad reasons why one might buy a satellite radio—but one could conclude that the niche/alternative Country channels are a very strong motivation for these “LL’s” to keep their XM and Sirius subscriptions active.
The other notable source for Country music for these “LL’s” is from their iPod or other MP3 player. 9.7% of the “LL’s” turn to their iPod to hear music they can’t get from broadcast radio, compared to 7.5% of those listening more. When you combine this fact with the satellite data from the previous paragraph, you can quickly see that these fans of older Country music are not pining away in front of their old Victrolas, wearing out Charlie Rich records—they are actively using technology to supplement their broadcast radio listening.
So what can Country broadcasters do to satisfy this small, but vocal minority? In the past, active promotion of specialty programming was one way to give Country music’s past a place on today’s Country stations. This is certainly still the case—many stations do feature bluegrass, traditional and alt-country shows on the weekends. The “LL’s” willingness to employ technology, however, presents some even more exciting opportunities. The concept of side channels has been around for a very long time (in fact, Edison presented an Arbitron/Edison study on this topic back in 2000—you can read it on our web site by searching it for “Side Channel”) so I won’t recapitulate the concept here. Note, however, that 61% of the “LL’s” have listened to a radio station over the Internet, and 53% have listened to a Country radio station over the Internet. If your station is not streaming, needless to say, they weren’t listening to you.
The other intriguing possibility is podcasting. If you are not aware of podcasting, there is an extremely active community of content providers who are making audio content (talk and music programming) available through a syndicated content aggregation program called iPodder (you can read more at www.ipodder.org). Podcasting is being developed on multiple fronts (iPodder, interestingly, was created by former MTV VJ Adam Curry) but essentially it all boils down to increased consumer control over exactly what—and when—content gets listened to. Public radio stations are already getting behind podcasting, and there are numerous programs already available for subscription. With an application like iPodder, you can subscribe to audio programming, and that programming is automatically downloaded and stored for future listening via iPod or another MP3 device. The benefits for the consumer are obvious—more choice, more control—it’s like TiVO for radio. The potential for your station is enormous. With a simple ping of your database, you can determine who amongst your listeners would like a branded weekly show featuring classic Country, Bluegrass or all new artists—then deliver it to your listeners to listen to whenever they want. The programming is fully branded and professionally produced—just like your station—but has the twin benefits of being kept off-air and also more convenient for your listeners who don’t want to wake up at 6 am on Sunday to hear Bluegrass.
Far-fetched? No—it is already here. Think of podcasting as audio blogging, and that turned out to be pretty big. Podcasting should be even more exciting for broadcasters—we certainly can produce compelling content, and podcasts don’t have to be streamed, which eliminates a lot of potential pain points. What this study also demonstrates is that increased iPod/Internet Audio usage does not necessarily mean a corresponding decrease in broadcast radio listening—indeed, it turns out that many Country P1’s who make use of this technology do so because they love music, not because they dislike radio. Maybe a podcast shows up on a diary someday with your call letters on it, maybe it doesn’t. I bet, however, that if the “LL” crowd gets used to hearing your call letters on one or more podcasts each week that they won’t click “Listening Less” on next year’s study.