Throughout the year, we’ve been tracking how stations that went all-Christmas last year fared in subsequent Arbitron books, with an eye not just on how well holiday formats do but how well the (mostly AC) stations that relied on the format fare throughout the year. With some of those stations having sported some sizeable fluctuations throughout the year, we wanted to see whether Christmas stations were trading short-term gains for long-term instability.
So far, everything we’ve seen suggests that Christmas leaves stations in better shape, when you look not only at the summer to fall gain, but also the year-to-year ratings. And in the fall Arbitron, 71 of the 119 stations that ran Christmas music experienced 12+ ratings gains. The average gain was half a share, more when one filters out AM stations.
Going all-Christmas doesn’t fix an AC station’s other issues throughout the year.
As one might expect, in the winter, 63 of 101 stations with available ratings information were down as compared to their fall books. The average drop was three-tenths of a share. Only 17 stations managed to put two up books together. But stations that went all-Christmas were up a tenth of a share from previous winters.
So what happened in the spring, a time when AC numbers have generally softened in recent years?
·Stations that went all-Christmas last year were off a tenth of a share, on the average, from winter to spring;
·Stations that went all-Christmas were down an average of three-tenths of a share from the fall, which is still a net gain against a fall-book rise of a half share;
·The average spring ’03 to spring ’04 numbers for stations that went all-holiday music last fall are actually up 0.1 shares vs. last year. Of 110 stations for which we had available trending, 65 were up from a year ago, four were flat and 41 were down.
The biggest year-to-year gain was for KSSK-FM Honolulu, up 9.0-11.2. The biggest loss vs. last spring was KGFM Bakersfield, off 2.1 shares.
The biggest winter to spring gain for a station that did all-Christmas music was 1.3 for WWRM Tampa, Fla. The biggest drop was 1.6shares for WMAG Greensboro, N.C.
The good news for stations that went all-Christmas is that it is not, as some had feared, a short-term fix. Most stations can live with an average erosion of three-tenths of a share from a fall book peak, especially when for many stations that peak is quite significantly higher than the ratings the rest of the year.
Then again, it’s worth noting that AC—the home format for most of these stations—used to be a format you could count on for a spring marketing boost. Instead, 61 of the stations we looked at were down winter to spring, nine were flat, and only 49 were up.
There are also a number of stations that have changed format since going all-Christmas, not including those that stunted in to a format change: KKDJ Bakersfield, Calif.; WOLD Birmingham, Ala.; WXKS-AM Boston; and WLTQ Milwaukee. WNEW New York has also evolved throughout the year to a Rhythmic AC approach that is a lot different from the more mainstream AC it was doing in January 2004.
So far, as the first summer numbers roll in, not many Christmas stations are changed significantly from where they were a year ago, but of those that showed dramatic changes from summer ’03, the majority are up:
Going all-Christmas doesn’t fix an AC station’s other issues throughout the year. And in some cases, it certainly demonstrates how some stations that were once radio’s magnet stores now have to settle for being boutiques for at least half the year. But, so far, any notion that Christmas might be looking a little less potent or helping stations less each year hasn’t been borne out.
Sean Ross is Edison Media Research’s VP of Music & Programming and the former editor-in-chief of Airplay Monitor, Billboard Magazine’s radio programming publication. The opinions expressed here are his own and can be found on the edisonresearch.com Web site every week. Sean can be reached at 908.707.4707 or SRoss@edisonresearch.com.