August 2014: The Big Picture—Clearer Than Ever

August 1, 2014

Peter Smyth

Peter Smyth

There are two recent pieces of research that I have wanted to draw to your attention. They both shed new light on radio in the larger context of a changing audio environment.

The first is from Edison Research. Larry Rosin calls it “Share of Ear”, and it is the first study of the complete universe of audio that we Americans consume each day. The study found that the average listener spends 4 hours PER DAY consuming audio entertainment. This includes personal music collections, internet music services, streaming radio stations, podcasts, cable TV music services, and satellite radio, in addition to broadcast radio. I don’t know about you, but I would have estimated about half that amount as an average.

But what is really interesting is how that listening breaks down by the type of service. If you only read the tech press headlines, you may believe that online radio (Pandora, Spotify and others) is the way that most people listen to music, and you would be shocked to see that they represent only 11.6% of listening. What about CDs and digital downloads? They account for 20.3%. Podcasts take only 1.7% of listening time. Satellite radio registers 5.2% of the total, the same share as TV music channels.

Broadcast AM/FM radio accounts for the lion’s share at 52.1%.

It is unfortunate that we have no prior history to look back upon, but I suspect this was a significantly higher number 5 or 10 years ago, when we were the only game in town. We have always known that personal music collections (previously known as record collections) claimed a substantial portion of individual listening time, but radio was the portable and community-oriented way to stay informed, entertained and connected. New audio entries have always touted their disruptive impact on established listening patterns, but I would argue that radio’s relationship with and influence on its listeners has remained largely intact despite the occasional disruption. There is no reason for that to dramatically change in the foreseeable future.

The second piece of research was done a couple of months ago by Nielsen’s Catalina Solutions group, and was underwritten by Clear Channel Media and Entertainment. Its findings have implications and application for the entire radio industry.
Because only Nielsen has access to both listening and purchase behavior at the household level, they can draw a direct line between listeners hearing a commercial on a specific station at a specific time and the purchase behavior of those listeners. In late 2013, they sampled 14,000 people and studied 10 brands across multiple cities, and the results were amazing. Radio more than doubled the return on investment (ROI) when compared to digital or TV media. Every dollar invested in radio advertising, on average, returned a sales lift of more than $6. In one retail category, the return was as high as $23!.
This is a truly amazing piece of information, and adds substantial weight to the arguments made over the years that adding radio to the media mix for any brand is a smart, effective and affordable solution to marketing challenges. We in radio could arguably get a better return on our own investment if we spent less time focusing on features and benefits of our particular stations and instead took up the fight for more provable ROI information. Our industry groups, the RAB and NAB, as well as Nielsen (and Arbitron before them), have fielded studies and case histories that have proven the point before, but the Catalina study is the most persuasive I have seen to date. Put it in your briefcase to share with your clients tomorrow, if you have not done so already.

As we witness the continuing transformation of media in the digital, connected universe, everyone has an opinion about the evolution of radio into a local media solution. However, we need to be sharp enough to separate fact from opinion, bluster from actual behavior. Our medium continues to have a valuable place in the lives of consumers that many of our digital and analog competitors can only dream of having.

Share the news with each and every one of your advertising clients: If you are looking for simultaneous mass reach for your message, broadcast radio still stands as the most results effective and cost effective medium for your message. Bar none.