The Spoken Word Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research

Spoken Word Audio Share in the U.S. is Up 20% Since 2014, Cutting Into Time Spent with Music

Click here to download the New Spoken Word Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research

The share of time spent listening to spoken word audio has increased 20% since 2014, while time spent with music across the same period decreased 5%. This shift is led by a dramatic increase in spoken word audio consumption on mobile devices across age groups, and increases in spoken word share among those ages 13-34. These findings are part of The Spoken Word Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research, presented today in a webinar hosted by Edison Research VP Megan Lazovick and NPR CMO Meg Goldthwaite.

This new Report examines listener behaviors and preferences related to spoken word audio – podcasts, news, sports, talk radio and audiobooks – and includes five years of previously unreleased data from Edison Research’s Share of Ear® study. Key findings from the Spoken Word Audio Report include:

  • 121 million Americans listen to spoken word audio each day, an increase of 16 million people in the last five years. 
  • Growth in spoken word listening has been greatest among young people: those age 13-34 now spend 19% of their audio time with spoken word audio (up 58% from 2014).
  • Mobile technology use is driving growth in spoken word audio category: 22% of listening to spoken word audio in 2019 is now on a mobile device, compared to 9% five years ago.
  • Spoken word audio yields deep connections and involvement from its consumers, with large percentages of consumers reporting they turn to spoken word audio content for information, inspiration, entertainment, and companionship.
  • 59% of spoken word audio listeners are digital-first, meaning they listen most through computers, mobile devices, and smart speakers. Forty-one percent are analog-first, meaning they listen most through AM/FM radio receivers.

“Public media accounts for a large share of spoken word audio listening. New technologies like smart speakers, the ubiquity of mobile devices, and increased connectivity, mean that NPR’s journalism and storytelling is reaching more listeners in new spaces and platforms,” says NPR CMO Meg Goldthwaite.  

According to Edison Research Vice President Megan Lazovick, “Spoken word audio is different. Spoken word can be vastly more intensive listening experience than other types of audio. People lean in — they truly listen. Twenty-four percent of all time spent listening to audio is going to spoken word, and that’s especially impressive considering where it was just five years ago.”

Click here to download the New Spoken Word Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research

How the study was conducted:
Spoken Word Audio Study: A total of 3,013 online interviews were conducted with persons age 18+ using a nationally representative sample. Respondents qualified for the survey by consuming spoken word audio at least monthly. Data weighted to national 18+ U.S. population estimates. Additionally, in-person interviews were conducted with individuals who listened to spoken word audio at least monthly.

Edison Research Share of Ear®: A total of 4,000 respondents age 13+ completed an online or offline survey which was offered in English and Spanish. Data weighted to national 12+ U.S. population estimates and has been tracked since 2014.

 

About Edison Research
Edison Research conducts survey research and provides strategic information in over 50 countries for clients including AMC Theatres, AMC Theatres, Amazon, Apple, The Brookings Institute, Facebook, The Gates Foundation, Google, the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau, Oracle, Pandora, The Pew Research Center, Samsung, Spotify, and SiriusXM Radio. The national tracking study The Infinite Dial® and the syndicated Share of Ear® are two of the most widely cited studies in the audio space. Edison is also the leading podcast research company in the world and has conducted research for NPR, Slate, ESPN, PodcastOne, WNYC Studios, and many more companies in the podcasting space.  Edison’s network of more than 20,000 experienced interviewers allows the company to conduct research in almost any location. Since 2004, Edison Research has been the sole provider of Election Day data to the National Election Pool. For the 2020 U.S. elections, Edison will provide exit polls and will tabulate the national vote across every county in the United States for ABC News, CBS News, CNN, and NBC News. 

About NPR
NPR’s rigorous reporting and unsurpassed storytelling connect with millions of Americans every day — on the air, online, and in person. NPR strives to create a more informed public — one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas, and cultures. With a nationwide network of award-winning journalists and 17 international bureaus, NPR and its Member Stations are never far from where a story is unfolding. Listeners can find NPR by tuning in to their local Member stations (npr.org/stations), and now it’s easy to listen to our stories on smart speaker devices. Ask your smart speaker to, “Play NPR,” and you’ll be tuned into your local Member station’s live stream. Your speaker can also access NPR podcasts, NPR One, NPR News Now, and the Visual Newscast is available for screened speakers. Get more information at npr.org/about and by following NPR Extra on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

 

### 

 

Contacts, Press Only:  

 

Laura Ivey  

Edison Research  

(908) 707-4707  

livey@edisonresearch.com  

 

Devon Landis

National Public Media at NPR

(202) 513-3490

dlandis@nationalpublicmedia.com

The Power Of Audio: How Moms Use Audio for Self-Care and Inspiration

Last week in front of a wonderfully supportive crowd at M2M: The Marketing to Mom’s Conference, VP Megan Lazovick shared new data from The Research Moms of Edison Research, in addition to the following confession:

Last night before my presentation, while I probably should have been rehearsing, I was instead leading a brownie meeting of thirteen seven-year-old girls. We made friendship bracelets and decided our troop cause this year would be to help save the sea turtles. People told me I was crazy to become a girl scout leader, given I’m often traveling the country to conduct focus groups and in-person interviews as part of the qualitative research I do for my company and our clients. But the funny thing about being a mom, at least for me, is that it comes with this incredible drive do things, things you never thought you’d ever do, all for these little people in your lives. And while I’m happy to give my time, I do notice that there is definitely a lack of time to myself. And that’s probably true for many of you moms in the room. And it’s true of the women that I meet when I’m conducting those qualitative interviews I mentioned. So, let me introduce you to some of the moms I have met:

The need for something to “stimulate the mind and heart” and the emotional connection moms have with audio, that’s what I’d like to talk about today but let’s first touch on something else we heard in that video: “survival mode.” Those words hit home for me. Because when you are a busy mom, unfortunately, sometimes just making it through the day is enough. We sometimes have to celebrate the small victories, right?

A few years ago the moms at my company Edison Research formed a division called The Research Moms. In addition to the work we do for our clients interested in moms’ research, twice a year our mom squad comes together to conduct research about moms, just because we feel like it. The mental and physical load of moms is something the research moms of Edison research recently explored in our study called Moms on the Mother Load.  In this survey of over 500 moms, we learned that 84% of moms say they handle the majority of the parenting responsibilities. Now, I just have to say, that it is extremely satisfying to settle an argument with your husband about the division of household labor, by fielding a national study of Americans.

But, this study told The Research Moms what we already suspected, that women are also primarily responsible for the majority of household chores. They have a lot on their minds: 89% of moms are primarily responsible for making doctors appointments for kids, 87% fill out school forms, and 83% are primarily responsible for arranging childcare. Bringing children to the doctor, packing for vacation, grocery shopping, laundry, assigning household chores, helping with homework… all of these are primarily moms’ responsibilities. So with all of these things on mom’s plate, when does mom find the time for self-reflection? For inspiration? For relaxation? And what exactly is this “me time” I keep hearing about? If a mom is going to get any of that – it must fall within the cracks of her already busy day and here’s where audio comes into the picture.

We have found that moms are spending more time with audio. Our Moms and Media report sources data from Edison Research’s Infinite Dial– a study that has been tracking a whole range of digital media consumption habits and behaviors for the past 22 years! Now I’ll just share the last few years of listening questions, but we’ll see that more moms are spending time with audio. Seventy-eight percent of moms are weekly AM/FM radio listeners. Online audio listening has been steadily rising with moms – from 74% in 2016 to 87% today. And the world of podcasting has been extremely exciting in recent years, growing rapidly from 37% of moms who listen in 2016 to well over a majority today. Audiobook listening has seen growth as well, as on-demand services have made them easier to access — 46% of moms listened to audiobooks in 2017 and 59% of moms listen today.

And while you might think of video when you think of YouTube – it’s actually really strong for music listening. Seventy-seven percent of moms use YouTube to listen to music. So as new technologies have made audio easier to access, moms are using audio more – especially on-demand audio.

Now, one of the most fascinating findings of 2019, in my opinion, came out of a study we did for the country radio industry called Parents, Teens and Country Music. Almost 60 percent of moms in our national survey said that they learned about at least one music streaming service from their teenager. But this isn’t just about awareness, is it? We found consistently in our studies that when it comes to technology or new things to do on the phone, the transfer of information was much greater from child-to-parent than the other way around. The teens are pulling parents to Spotify or Apple or Pandora. Here’s a peek at how teens are influencing their parents.

We also learned from that study that 76% of moms of teens agree that their teenagers assist them with new technology.  And one of the most exciting developments in the audio space in the past few years has been consumer adoption of smart speakers – devices such as the Amazon Alexa or Google Home. In partnership with NPR, we have done a lot of research about these devices in our The Smart Audio Report series. In the three years, we have been conducting the research, we have seen it go from 6% of moms owning a smart speaker in 2016 to 34% moms in 2019 —which is pretty amazing growth. And one of the first things we noticed was that 45% of those that own a smart speaker have children in the household. These devices are especially appealing to families.

As part of our research with NPR we decided to go into the homes of smart speaker owners to see how the devices are changing behavior in the home. I’d like to introduce you a precious family. Lizzie let us into her home when her baby was just five weeks old.

If you’re someone who hasn’t experienced how truly helpful these devices can be then that video of Lizzie juggling a baby and a peanut butter sandwich might drive the point home. Whether it is audio from your google home, or an old-fashioned radio, audio has this one quality that any mom can appreciate: it is great for multitasking.

Here’s all the things that moms are doing while listening to audio according to the 2019 Research Moms Report:

•  90% are in the car

•  82% are doing housework or chores

•  73% are cooking or baking

•  69% of Moms listen to audio when they are spending time with children

The point is that, audio is the perfect companion for a busy mom. And why does mom like to listen to audio? Well, if you live your life in survival mode – you are even more desperate for something that “stimulates the mind and heart.”

Here are the things moms are looking for when they listen to audio: 46% of moms say they frequently listen to be entertained, 38% frequently listen for relaxation. Others say it gives them energy. It’s an Espace. Reminds them of the good times in life. It keeps them company. It allows them to express emotions or become inspired.

Now, I toned down the title of this presentation to “The emotional power of audio” but I originally titled this presentation: How Moms Use Audio for Self-Care and Inspiration, While Still Getting Sh*t Done. Because moms are true multitaskers. And audio is the perfect media for the multitasker. Can you make the mundane and sometimes maddening chore of matching and folding socks inspirational? The right audio program can. That is the power of audio. And who wouldn’t want to align their brand with such powerful content?

We asked moms, “When a product or service is advertised on an audio program you listen to, how, if at all, is your opinion of the of the company or brand affected?” Thirty percent of moms said somewhat more favorable and another 19% said much more favorable. This indicates there is some goodwill toward brands that appear on these programs.

We also asked, “When a radio personality or a podcast host recommends a product or service, how is your opinion of the company or brand affected?” And again about half the moms sad it made their opinion of the brand somewhat or much more favorable. We know that when you have loyal listeners, a show’s personality or host has a tremendous amount of influence. Let’s listen to our panel of moms once again on the topic of advertising:

So, what does this tell us? For me, it’s simple. When a brand is properly aligned with the programming and the execution is women-friendly, women will be engaged with the advertising. And, we know this from the dozens of brand lift studies that we conduct every year for various podcast producers. We’ve seen smashing successes when an advertiser takes the time to craft messaging that is relevant to the audience. But, we’ve also seen utter failures when an advertiser just repurposes advertising from another medium and doesn’t take the care to make it podcast-friendly. So, not every advertiser belongs on every podcast, or playlist, or station. And the right buy can make all the difference.

And I know I’ve been hitting you with a lot of data points from a lot of different studies but I have one last point to help put this all into perspective. Our Share of Ear® report is a diary study that measures all the time that Americans are listening to audio in a day. On average, moms listen to four hours of audio a day. Now, that’s an average, so some are listening to a lot less than four hours and some are listening to a lot more than four hours. But ON AVERAGE, moms listen to 4 hours of audio. That’s a lot of opportunities to reach moms. And that’s an opportunity to sponsor programming that is meaningful to them, that inspires them, and that is a part of what keeps them sane.

We know EVERYONE wants mom’s attention: the dog, the kids, the partner, the PTA. That’s a lot of clutter that you have to cut through. I hear all this hype about self-care…Self-care does not happen before a mom is finished caring for everyone and everything else. Yes, I’ve heard the lectures about how moms should take time out for themselves and good for you if you can make it happen. But, the reality of everyday life is that you sometimes have to grab the self-care in the in-between moments. And audio is in the between – or the layer on top of the chores that makes the chores more bearable. So, align yourself with the part of mom’s day that makes things better. The part that makes the boring parts of motherhood less mundane.

I mentioned the premise of this presentation to my coworker who I have been working with for over a decade. She said, “You know what – I listen to audio whenever I clean the house. It actually makes me look forward to cleaning!” I said, “Actually, I really need to organize my closet and I can’t wait because I want to listen to the new Dolly Parton podcast.” We both laughed, thinking about how we would never have such a conversation before we became moms. And you know what? Life is different then it used to be, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And to be honest, I am really looking forward to saving the sea turtles with my Girl Scouts. I should see if there’s a podcast on the topic.

Click here to download The Power Of Audio: How Moms Use Audio for Self-Care and Inspiration

The Infinite Dial Germany 2019

Click here to download  The Infinite Dial Germany 2019 

All of Germany is talking about the current audio boom, and through the The Infinite Dial® Germany, the newest release from the longest–running media usage study in the world, RTL Radio Deutschland now has research to confirm it.

The latest research finds that all age groups use radio and audio services in many scenarios, and through many platforms and distribution channels. With the results of the media usage study for the German market The Infinite Dial® Germany, RTL Radio Deutschland provides comprehensive data on digital media usage with a focus on audio. The study provides far-reaching insights into how people in Germany use media. It also shows a direct comparison with the U.S. market, from which important insights into audio trends can also be derived. The global U.S.-based research company Edison Research, which is responsible for the implementation of The Infinite Dial® in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and South Africa, was commissioned to carry out the study.

The Infinite Dial® Germany confirms the thriving listening and the enormous growth potential for podcasts and online audio services in Germany. Some of the top findings:

– In all age groups, and across all platforms and devices, radio and audio services are heavily used.

– In the car, radio is by far the most-used source of music, entertainment and information for almost 70% of Germans.

– 16-34 year-olds are increasingly listening to radio via radio apps on their mobile phones, streaming aggregators, or smart speakers. Thirty-eight percent of this group state that they no longer own a traditional radio receiver.

– Smart speakers are also gaining ground in Germany as 8% of Germans already own one or more of these devices. The Infinite Dial® Germany confirms RTL Radio Deutschland’s previous market estimates of around 12 million units sold. Each smart speaker owner currently has an average of 1.8 devices in their household.

– More than one third (35%) of 16-34 year olds in Germany listen to a podcast every month. Each user listens to an average of 5 podcasts per week.

– Podcast listeners have enormous potential as customers to marketers. They have an above-average income and are well educated.

Stephan Schmitter, CEO of RTL Radio Germany said, “The results of The Infinite Dial® Germany are a very important building block for the strategic development of our radio and audio world. They prove that we are on the right track with our diverse products. In addition to classic programs, on-demand offerings have a high usage rate. This confirms in particular the great potential for podcasts. With our platform AUDIO NOW and the founding of the podcast production company Audio Alliance, we have created an excellent basis at the right time to play a decisive role in shaping the attractiveness of this market from the user and customer point of view.

How the Study was Conducted:
The Infinite Dial® Germany is an in-depth look at the digital media consumer habits of Germans age 16+. In July of 2019, Edison Research conducted a national telephone survey of 1,000 Germans age 16 and older. The telephone data was weighted to national 16+ Germany population figures.

About RTL Radio Deutschland
RTL Radio Deutschland is the leading private radio group in Germany. Its 17 stations in 11 states reach millions of listeners daily. It derives its success from its profound experience in programming and content development. Leading stations like 104.6 RTL, Radio Hamburg and ANTENNE BAYERN profit from this know-how. RTL Radio Deutschland operates as a strategic partner following the slogan “Together we are stronger”.

About The Infinite Dial®
The Infinite Dial® is conducted by Edison Research, a global U.S.-based research. The Infinite Dial® is the longest running media consumption study in the United States and is now in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and South Africa. It provides reliable estimates and insightful data, and is widely used and cited by broadcasters, media companies, advertising agencies, and the financial community.

About Edison Research
Edison Research conducts surveys and provides strategic information to a wide range of clients. It is the world’s leading podcast research company and has researched the medium for major companies. Edison is also the leading provider of consumer research. Since 2004, Edison Research has been the only provider of election day data for the U.S. National Election Commission, conducting surveys to predict and analyze the results for each major presidential election.

What Does It Mean for Radio to Be Local?

Edison Research Vice President Megan Lazovick presented the following at The Radio Show  in Dallas on September 26, 2019 in conjunction with GeoBroadcast Solutions. 

GeoBroadcast Solutions approached Edison Research to conduct research about meanings and perceptions of local. Or more specifically, what is local to radio listeners? What kind of local is relevant to them?

So to attack these questions, Edison performed a large national online survey of 1051 radio listeners to ask them about what local means to them, and we also conducted in person interviews with radio listeners in New Jersey to get a deeper understanding of what is important to them when it comes to local.

There is a lot of good news for local radio in our survey.  People already see radio as an essential source for ‘local’ information and content.  However, there are clearly opportunities to improve.  And if radio is going to survive over the long haul – it has to improve.

We asked our respondents how far they typically travel to various things in their lives.  As you can see, the overwhelming majority of commerce in these people’s lives is spent within ten miles.

More than four in five go to a grocery store and a bank within ten miles.  Well over half typically go to big box retailers like Walmart or Target within ten miles, and a Home Depot or Lowes within ten miles, and eat at restaurants or bars within ten miles.  The circle widens to up to twenty miles for a car dealership or a shopping mall or a furniture store, but almost no one travels more than 20 miles to do anything.

Think about what this means to local businesses. If you are a restaurant on one side of town, 75% of your advertising dollars is wasted reaching folks that you don’t serve.

Similarly, listeners get tired of hearing announcements and commercials relating to goods and services that are on the other side of town.

We then asked about all the kinds of media they might turn to for various sources of information. And we see that radio already does great for these things.

So a strong percentage of all Americans are already using radio for these local purposes. And radio works great at communicating local at the market level.

Let’s watch a video of our study participants from the western New York suburbs, in New Jersey, talking about Radio’s role in local.

While these people clearly listen to radio, and use radio, they are also well aware that New York radio is broadcasting to the entire New York market. And that includes tons of information that is not at all relevant to people in the New Jersey suburbs. Of course New York stations absolutely should provide market-wide information. But, you also hear these people saying that for them, that while they consider the information to be local, it is not always local enough.

While people associate with the metropolitan area in which they live, they actually live their lives within a much tighter circle.

Broadcast radio is a vital resource for market-level news, information, and content in most people’s lives. It does a good job. And yet broadcast radio could do better, if allowed to periodically split its signal to provide news and information that’s even more local to its listeners.

 

We asked our respondents if, as radio listeners, it was important for radio provide various kinds of information about their local communities. As you can see – overwhelmingly –radio listeners said that these items are important to have on the radio.  News about emergencies, weather, traffic, news, local sports, even information about local businesses – strong majorities say this is important to them.

Our respondents in the videos echoed this.

So we dug further into this with our respondents. We focused people on a definition of ‘local’ that means the area within 20 minutes’ drive from their homes, and we asked about how radio is performing relative to their needs. In every case, the number of people saying an aspect of information is very important exceeded the number of people who say radio is doing a very good job at delivering.

 

The single most important aspect of local information is news about weather emergencies or other local emergencies.  71% of respondents say this is a very important role for AM/FM Radio.  However, only 42% of respondents say that radio is doing a ‘very good’ job of providing that information to the local area as we defined it.

 

Let’s look at more key items: Two-thirds of all radio listeners feel “weather information relevant to your local area” is ‘very important’, but only 40% feel radio currently does a ‘very good job’ of providing that information.

We see the same thing with traffic information, with 56% of respondents say this is a very important role for AM/FM Radio.  However, only 38% of respondents say that radio is doing a ‘very good’ job of providing traffic information to the local area.  We see similar gaps for news and local event coverage.There is a large gap between the percent of people who say this information is very important to them and the percent of people who say radio is doing very good job of providing it.

What’s frustrating  is that while radio stations have the ability to serve hyper local content, they are actually required to deliver their signal to the metro wide market, and not break up information that would be more relevant to those living in different areas within that market.

And that leads us to the idea being brought to market by GeoBroadcast Solutions- which provides the technology to deliver different content to smaller geographic zones within a metro area.

 

Currently, without this technology, listeners often hear ads that, even if the general topic might be of interest, the location of the advertiser is just too far away to matter. As an example, we played for our participants from Somerset County New Jersey, an ad for a car dealer in Staten Island.
Look at this map – Staten Island is 32 miles and one busy bridge away from Somerset County.  Listen to the reactions to this ad:

We followed up directly with asking, “What if the ads on the radio could be more targeted?”

I hope you heard what happened there – there were three key themes.  Participants immediately recognized that this would make radio more like cable or print – targeted to them.  They actually said they would listen more.  And they said it would better connect them to the community.

This is what we learned in our survey as well: 77% of respondents agree that they would pay more attention to ads on the radio if they were for businesses or products in their local area.

It’s simply human nature – your ears will perk up when you hear a message for a business in a place that is familiar or close to you.

The people in the video, and the respondents in our survey, said something that should matter more to radio managers than almost anything else they might get from research – they said they would actually listen to the radio more if the information and commercials were better targeted within 20 miles of where they lived.  In fact 72% said they would listen more.

The point is, people understand radio’s role in the media environment. They ‘get’ radio.  They see that radio is not simply a distribution vehicle for music but a vital connection to the world.

If radio were allowed to provide zoned, local, relevant content, mixed with the metro-wide content stream, there is almost no doubt it would enhance listeners’ connection with radio.  Because of that strong community connection, they would listen more.

I recently spoke about the secret to longer TSL. My biggest ask of the radio industry was to improve the advertisements. Make it so people want to sit through the commercials, and I definitely think, making commercials more relevant to your listeners is one of the ways to do so.

Click here to view the What Does it Mean for Radio to be Local? presentation.

The Secret to Longer TSL

Edison Research Vice President Megan Lazovick presented the following at The Radio Show in Dallas on September 26, 2019 in conjunction with the Radio Advertising Bureau. 

We are proud that the RAB asked us to look into what radio can do to increase time spent listening. And note I said “Radio”.  This is not just about your station, this is about all of Radio. Because TSL is falling.  Everyone’s TSL is falling.  Even if your station’s share is strong, even if that share is actually growing, I can almost guarantee that your station has less aggregate TSL than it did one year ago, and I can fully guarantee this if we compare to five years ago.

This is a topic we seldom discuss as an industry. We try, smartly, to keep advertisers’ eyes on the incredible reach story and while our reach on most of our stations and on the medium, in general, remains resilient and robust…the time spent listening to radio overall is dropping.

It’s not that long ago when there were essentially only two real choices for listening to audio: the radio or a CD player.  Think about the proliferation of options since then – principally streaming, satellite radio, and podcasts or digital audiobooks.  Think of the devices that we all carry now that make listening to anything easier.  Radio TSL kind of had to fall.

Edison Research has been tracking radio’s “Share of Ear” as compared to all other forms of audio.  And the numbers tell a real story.

Radio’s “Share of Ear” currently stands at 44% of all listening.  If you compare AM/FM, including its streams, to all other things people might listen to, radio commands by far the biggest share at 44%.

But if you look at this data point by age groups a far more interesting story emerges.  Among those 55 years old and older 63% of all listening goes to radio.  This is the world as it once was, with radio completely dominant. Among 35-54-year-olds, forty-seven percent of listening goes to AM/FM radio and its streams. But the story really changes when we look at younger people.  Today’s 13 to 34-year-olds, who make up one-third of the 13-plus population, give 27 percent of their listening time to radio.  They still cume – they listen – they just listen a lot less.

You almost certainly have noticed this phenomenon when it comes to shares in any market.  When Nielsen publishes their six-plus ratings each month, Classic Rock, Greatest Hits, Mainstream AC, keep gaining share, and younger-targeted formats keep losing.  It’s not that long ago when the top station in pretty much EVERY market was a CHR.  Now it’s next to impossible to find a single market that IS led by a CHR.  In market after market the top station is playing music for Baby Boomers.

While the competition for radio is a challenge for all age groups, that competition, naturally is way worse among younger people.  So as the RAB requested, we have engaged in several research inquiries to try to look at what is going on with TSL.

We conducted a national survey to find out why radio listeners tune out. We ultimately fielded a study of 1067 adults age 18 and older in early September, but before we put it in the field we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss any important topics, so we first we went directly to listeners. We brought some younger radio fans – all under the age of 35 – into our offices in New Jersey and talked to them about their radio listening.  And you will see they are legit fans of radio.  Let’s meet them on this video and find out what the like about radio…

While young people made me feel great about the future of radio – mainly because they were really good at pointing out all things the medium does well, they also did something else. They were extremely helpful in outlining the reasons why people tune out of a radio station. So, we added their responses into a long list of reasons why people tune out and we went on to quantify those behaviors in our national survey.

We asked which of the following is a reason why you change the station? I should note that we did not include things like “arrived at destination” or “had to leave” in the answer options. Here is our full list of reasons, which is a lot to digest, so they are grouped into five different categories of tune out and we’ll review this data by each category.

The five categories of tune out are:
Forced
Seeking Specific Content
Music Preference
Engagement
Commercials

FORCED: There are some things that you as radio programmers do not have much control over. These are reasons that force your listeners to change such as driving out of the signal range. Or often in my case, little children in the back seat insisting I play Lady Gaga. 64% of listeners say bad signal is a reason the sometimes change the station and 30% say that having kids in the car is a reason. 

SEEKING SPECIFIC CONTENT: Changing from talk to music at 64%, or from music to talk at 43%.  Fifty-one percent say they have changed the station to listen to a specific program on another station. And 32% have changed for traffic updates. There’s not much you can do to address this category of tune out other than making sure you have incredible programs that people will want to switch to.

 MUSIC PREFERENCE: Seventy percent say they change when they don’t like the song, 68% when they don’t like the genre of music, 66% change based on their mood, and further down the list we see 56% say they change after hearing too many repeated songs. The best you can do to address music preference tune out is to do your music research and make sure that you have a strong enough relationship with your listener that even when they switch away they will remember to come back.

ENGAGEMENT: The number one item on this list of reasons people change is “Want to find something different” at 74%. Yes, we know there are people out there that like to switch. But, this is something you can tackle by engaging them. By grabbing them in the first few seconds of a talk break with something compelling and by making sure you are playing the best music. All of these other reasons might seem like behaviors that you have no control over, when in fact, they all fall under the not-engaged category: seeking variety at 67%, want to browse channels and hearing too much talk both at 65%, bored or lack of interest at 58%.

If you had the most engaging content would they really be seeking variety? If you are crafting your talk breaks with the most succinct, entertaining topics, would listeners think it was too much? I’m not going to pretend I can coach a better talk break. Tracy Johnson of Johnson Media Group gave a great webinar recently about avoiding tune out,  much of it which covered how to create more engaging programming. I highly recommend watching it.

But, here’s the thing. You could have the most engaging content out there for three-quarters of an hour, and if you have one-quarter of less-than-engaging commercials, you’re going to have tune out. And especially among young people, that tune out may not be to other stations in your cluster or other stations on the radio dial.  They might tune to Spotify, or Pandora, or a podcast.

59% of listeners say just the start of a commercial break is a reason to change the station. Sixty-six percent of listeners said that hearing too many commercials is a reason. Certainly this is not something an advertiser wants to hear. When we take the time to think about improving the content on our radio stations between the ads, shouldn’t we also take the time to think about improving the commercial breaks as well? I’ll come back to this topic, but first, this slide shows all the reasons for tune out. Let’s now look at what listeners say is the main reason.

When we asked the main reason why they change the radio station, responses in the engagement and music preference categories tied for first at 28% and commercials next at 19%.

But let’s look at the response by just the 18-34-year-olds. Here we see the problem of engagement jumps up to 35%, and that’s not so surprising given we often hear how attention spans have dropped with the younger generations. If you are targeting this group of listeners perhaps you should think about making everything shorter. Short talk breaks, songs with shorter radio edits, and dare I say, shorter commercials?

 

 

 

When we look at those age 35-54, we see that the 24 percent say commercials are the main reason they change the station. This group, the group more often advertisers’ target demo, is the group that is more likely to flip the station when a commercial comes on.

 

 

 

 

 

Conversely, when you look at adults age 55 and older, commercials are tied with the lowest percentage on the list at 13%. Adults age 55 and older are bit more tolerant of the commercials on radio, but also, perhaps, more likely to be listening to commercial-free radio. Music preference and engagement are highest on the list of reasons why they tune out.

 

 

 

 

So now that you’re familiar with some of the top reasons for tune out, I’d like to go back to the video of our young listeners. As you watch the video, listen for the top tune out categories I have outlined.

So we heard a few of our main tune out categories: “If I’m getting a little bored” (ENGAGEMENT) & “whenever a commercial comes on because no one likes those” (COMMERCIALS).

But here’s what really concerns me about that video. When they flip, many of them are flipping out of AM/FM radio. We know that people are used to flipping stations. It’s a behavior that many have said they even enjoy. The challenge for radio as an industry should be to keep the switchers within the medium. Keep them from switching to internet radio or owned music.

Let’s imagine a world where a person is not allowed to switch. We decided to do an experiment with the young radio listeners that we interviewed. We asked them to listen to some local radio, and we played for them a recording of the top of the 10am hour from one of the U.S. top market’s highest-rated stations.  We recorded their reactions and commentary as they listened. The unedited audio segment included almost eleven minutes of commercials and over two minutes of non-commercial content.

I want to stress that this type of commercial break is something that hundreds of stations do all the time. A huge number of radio stations around the country, especially in PPM markets, stack up incredibly long blocks of commercials in order to play long blocks of music or other content.

And there is another crucial point to be made here – what this station is doing is almost assuredly SMART.  Despite the complete, undeniable impossibility of listening to all of these commercials, or at least maintaining any level of concentration through them all, this is PPM-maximizing strategy: have long blocks of content to rack up the quarter hours, and then sacrifice an entire quarter-hour completely.  It’s like gerrymandering – you isolate the people who vote for the other party into a single district.

But, I urge you to sit down with your actual listeners and ask them to listen to that type of commercial break straight through and you’ll witness what we at Edison saw. Respondents shifted in their seats. They fidgeted. They would have switched away from the station, given the opportunity. One young man began scrolling on his phone. Participants simply could not believe a commercial break could last so long.

Perhaps you are asking, “What about all the NEW listeners that would be tuning during that long commercial break?” Sure there are, but, don’t let anyone tell you that tune-in balances tune-out and each commercial in a break will still get the same amount of listening.  This is a myth, based on a tricked-up study from over a decade ago. They used a train as an example, saying that when the train comes to a station, some people get off and at the same time more people will get on. That would be a great analogy if the train was the only form of transportation – but we know that’s not true today. People can use uber now! Today listeners can easily switch to Spotify, or Pandora, or a podcast, and as the young people in our video showed, plenty of people do.

IF YOU HAD TO LISTEN TO COMMERCIALS:

Here we asked all of our survey respondents if you had to listen to commercials and couldn’t change the station, which of the following commercial breaks would you prefer to hear on AM/FM radio?

Now also in this fantasy world, we are only playing eight minutes of commercials in an hour, but we asked respondents to choose which they would like to hear in that one hour: between one commercial break lasting eight minutes, two commercial breaks each lasting four minutes, or four commercial breaks each lasting two minutes. Just under a quarter of listeners preferred what is the current norm on commercial radio – which is one long break per hour.

The very things we are currently doing to maximize TSL – to maximize an individual station’s share of the ratings – these terribly long commercials breaks – are driving down TOTAL TSL.

I maintain that in positioning around long blocks of content interrupted by long (sometimes amazingly long) blocks of commercials, we are hurting the radio industry itself.  Because remember it is called the COMMERCIAL radio industry.  The commercial radio industry mostly makes money from getting paid to play commercials.  Advertisements.  And…therein lies the problem.

We program our radio stations, and we think of our obligation, around playing commercials.  And I am here to argue that the single biggest thing we could do to reverse the downward trend in listening time, is to think of our jobs as getting people to hear commercials.

If you listen to almost any podcast, you hear them thanking the sponsors for supporting their show and imploring the listeners to use these products and services. Getting someone to listen to a commercial is good for the advertiser…and it can be good for the listeners.

We should CELEBRATE commercials.  We would showcase and feature them.  We should thank our sponsors and explain to our listeners that by supporting our sponsors they are supporting us.  How many stations do you hear these days doing the exact opposite?  Demonizing the commercials?  Ending a break by saying: “Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get back to the music.”  Just using the phrase “commercial-free” positions the commercials as a negative. And if you must do long sweeps of music, at the very least make it a true sponsored occasion.

If we had commercial ratings we would, let’s be honest, almost surely play fewer commercials – showcase them more – in an attempt to maximize listening to each one.  Is there any doubt that if we played fewer commercials the total TSL might go up?  I personally think there is no doubt at all that advertiser ROI would improve. Why do I feel this way?  I have a real-world example.

In 2016 truTV cut national commercial time by 50% for all new series episodes in primetime. Turner Research conducted a study to determine the effects of Limited Commercial Interruption.

The results were that cutting national commercial time by 50% led to significant effects:

– Viewers watched longer, enjoyed the programs more, and were more likely to watch other programs

– Fewer ads led to greater brand recall and higher incremental sales

There is your precedent if you need something to bring home in order to make this happen.

And there are other ways to make radio’s ads more impactful: one is by making sure they are relevant to your listeners. Zonecasting – which is a technology that allows a station to air locally targeted ads and content, for example, is a way that radio can better serve its advertisers and its listeners. Advertisers get more targeted ads, and listeners get ads relevant to their lives.

Also, if the goal is to get people to hear the ads, and maybe even like the ads, we should test them. Jerry Lee has been arguing for this forever.  He has offered to test commercials for free.  Instead, we have 22-year-old salespeople with no experience writing ad copy (through no fault of their own)!

We asked our young listeners what they might improve about the ads and they had a few good suggestions:

How much time do you spend thinking about how you can improve your shows? And how much time do you spend thinking about how you can improve the ads? I’d argue that you should be just as concerned about the talent working on the ads as you are the talent live on air.

TAKEAWAYS

Think about people leaving radio completely not just about people switching to another station in your cluster

Rethink the game from “playing commercials” to “getting people to hear commercials

Plan the best clock for your listeners AND your advertisers

Reduce commercial load

Incorporate creative sponsorships within your shows

Create engaging commercials

Hire the best talent to write copy

Test your commercials

It turns out the secret to longer TSL was not much of a secret after all. You probably knew this all along but were too shy to say it aloud. Serve your advertisers with the most creative, most engaging, smartly-placed ads. Your story is not about reach anymore. Your story is about having the most engaging content – before, during and after the ads – Every. Single. Quarter-hour. Not just three out of the four.

And please, let’s not keep this a secret any longer.

Click here to view The Secret to Longer TSL presentation.