Category Archives: radio

NPR hides its radio roots

What’s in a media name? Back in the 1990s the company 1-800-FLOWERS — whose early success hinged on acquiring a killer mnemonic phone number — changed its name to Accent on the dot-com. You know, in case you missed the point, the Internet was the new, big thing.

Media fashion bubbles rise and fall, but now in 2010 we find it curious that radio — a continued mainstay in consumers’ media mix — appears to be flopping as fast as the web popped as a branding entity. Public Radio International, once nicknamed American Public Radio, a few years back began promoting all of its radio programming under the non-radio rubric American Public Media. Last week, National Public Radio announced it will rebrand itself solely as NPR, meaning henceforth the NPR acronym, like KFC, will only stand for itself. Perhaps it’s too much to ask that AT&T still spell out the telegraph in its final “T,” but with Americans stuck in traffic 3.7 billion hours each year, we wonder why brands that remain focused on radio fear its name so much.

Image: Onkel Wart

Now, radio ads that mirror what you want

Broadcast giant Clear Channel has launched “contextual advertising,” a method of placing radio spots against news, songs, or other ads that might spur interest in a product. GEICO, for instance, tested the service by running its :15 second spots for vehicle insurance directly after radio ads for other vehicles — the idea being that listeners who perk up at the promo for the new Ford Flex might then be more attuned to an ad for car insurance. If people only listen to what they want, why not place ads that mirror that content?

Contextual advertising has a range of performance. With Google pay-per-click Adwords, placement next to search results works brilliantly. With Google Adsense, which chases themes in written content, not so much, and online banners are often so problematic that ad blogger Bill Green has a list of placement offenses he calls contextual madness. We also wonder how chasing microcosms of content might limit inventory, and thus lead to radio schedules without appropriate frequency (repeat impressions) to build awareness. Still — ad relevance tied to content. Good for you, radio; why should the Internet have all the fun?

Image: Bitzcelt

Pandoracars and tigers and bears, oh my

Want a signal that the broadcasting world may soon face the troubles newspapers do today? (Um, that’s losing audiences and advertisers.) The Wall Street Journal reports:

“Pandora Inc. has struck a deal with electronics maker Pioneer Corp. that promises to make it easier for drivers to listen to its personalized radio service in cars—bringing Internet radio one step closer to snagging a built-in spot on dashboards. The development represents a direct challenge to broadcasters of satellite and traditional radio, who have long dreaded the arrival of Internet radio in cars.”

Apparently it works like this: If you have an iPhone that receives the free Pandora music streaming service, a $1,200 auto navigation gizmo will detect the settings and pipe the music into your car. That’s a lot of dough for “free” music, but expect the prices to fall (GPS systems once cost hundreds of dollars and now are $99 from dedicated device-makers or free from Google). What happens to the world of advertising-backed radio when you can stream any songs via an interweb for free? Um. Trouble.

Image: Valentina Photography. WSJ story behind the Murdoch paywall here.

Does Portable People Meter undercount radio city?

The debate over fixing inaccurate radio ratings continues. Arbitron has been attempting to roll out a new electronic, pager-sized device called the Portable People Meter that would accurately measure which radio stations panelists listen to.

The PPM picks up an inaudible signal from the radio to record exact listener habits. This is an important move for radio, because for decades media planners have had to rely on diaries from audience samples … known to be inaccurate. In the past, a panelist might write “I listened to Country Station X all morning” … but the PPM captures the fact that user changes the dial.

Yes. Probably when a commercial comes on.

The PPM has been getting flack from major radio networks because it has found many radio stations have lower ratings than previously thought. If users skip around, they listen to more stations for less time. And few analysts are commenting, but it is obvious the trigger that drives a radio listener to change the dial is a long commercial block — meaning the “ratings” for a commercial are even lower than the official numbers.

Now, lawsuits from the attorneys general of New York and New Jersey complain the new PPM device also undercounts minority listeners, which hurts the ratings of urban stations and thus the revenue they can command from advertising. The suits claim Arbitron under-represents minorities because it only recruits research panelists from homes with regular phone land lines, and many minorities in urban markets only use cell phones.

Not sure when this dispute will end, but for now, take all radio ratings with a grain of salt. Your best bet? When you spend on radio, set up your own system to measure the results.

Photo: Thomas Hawk

Pandora kills 180,000 radio listeners

Pandora, the free online music streaming service that recommends songs you may like, has become the hottest app for the new iPhone. About 3.3 million songs were streamed this week to 180,000 Apple fans wearing earphones. Nearly 1 in 5 new iPhone buyers have signed up for Pandora accounts.

1. Advertisers may have a new way to reach the young demos, if Pandora expands ad formats in its next user interface.
2. Until then, that’s a lot fewer people listening to commercial radio.

Via Adweek.

Why MySpace is now slathered in lipstick

MySpace hints at desperation with a new design in which more than 50% of its home page is taken over by one giant ad. We don’t mean an interstitial, one of those full-page web ads that temporarily interrupt you on a site before you click through to the real site’s content. We mean, most of the page is now a screaming billboard.

The redesign suggests MySpace is having a tough time making its ad inventory work. Don’t trust us; Bloomberg reported in April that MySpace’s abysmal financial performance had turned Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. into a toxic stock. Valleywag noted recently that MySpace click-through rates are a little better than Facebook’s, but at 0.10% click-throughs, still aren’t anything to write home about.

But listen, MySpace, we’re trying to help. Look where your media peers have gone before. The $6 billion radio conglomerate Clear Channel once ran more than 12 minutes of radio spots per hour. Audiences began bailing, Clear Channel was forced to launch a “Less is More” campaign and reduce ad time per hour by 23% to 9 minutes and 20 seconds, and now the new Arbitron systems show that the radio audience may have slipped for good, with ratings down 30% or more in many markets.

Which brings us back to MySpace. McDonald’s and other advertisers are probably delighted they can now take over the MySpace home page. But as Ian Schafer, founder of the internet strategy firm Deep Focus, just noted on his blog, social media sites and related widget applications are going to have to show they can be a viable advertising model. The root problem for social media is that users have a different modality, and while in heavy socializing mode they are less receptive to advertising messages.

All of which explains why MySpace has put on more ad makeup.

Don Imus ratings down. Don Imus ratings up.

Consumer shifts in media usage have every outlet scrambling to redefine how they are measured. Now, the measurement baloney over in print is starting to seep into radio.

Take Don Imus. Crain’s NY Biz reports that the WABC-AM Imus In the Morning show has a 1.5 audience share among adults 25-54, down 17% from last year. At first glance, this is bad news for the once-Nappy morning jock, putting Imus into 18th place. Boomer & Carton, a new show on WFAN, has surged ahead to 5th place.

But among adults 35-64, Imus’ share is 3.1 and up 24% over last year. And a VP for WABC’s parent claims new Portable People Meters — hard-wired survey devices that replace today’s current paper diary surveys and pick up inaudible signals from the radio to measure every second of listening — show Imus also beats WFAN in the A25-54 category.

So whom do you believe? Well, no one. Media planning requires forecasting, and such ratings can give you direction on which outlets to build into the plan. But the only way to measure results is to measure results; use 800 tracking numbers or unique URLs or calls to action on the radio that push the consumer to Google trackable keywords.

With all the ruckus on the radio, you need more than forecasts; you need measurement.

Clear Channel takes bite out of Apple

Just when you thought radio was dead.

Clear Channel has announced a clever arrangement with Apple in which radio listeners can order songs immediately after hearing them on digital FM radio stations … provided they have a special $499 iPod docking station. Kind of a cool way of linking the music purchase impulse to the juice you get from hearing a new song.

Sweetie, keep this away from the kids.

A bad news day for radio

Just in from IWM: Forrester says digital music sales will rise 23% annually for the next five years. Social nets like MySpace and Facebook are expected to become digital music stores. MySpace is talking to record labels about a new free download service that would work only while you’re at a computer. Vivendi takes it a step further with the new Zaoza service, pushing tunes to mobile phones for $4.40 per month and, in a cool twist, allowing users to share music with up to five friends. Zaoza will launch in Europe first, then the U.S., and work on all mobile handsets except Apple iPhones.

Zaoza means “word of mouth” or “buzz” in Chinese … something missing in news about radio.

Radio networks protest, so we still can’t hear the truth

Today’s youth are consumed with MP3 players, mobile phones, video games, Facebook and YouTube. So if you asked a parent if she thinks today’s youth spend less time with radio, the answer would be … duh. Yes.

Unfortunately, a new system that accurately tracks radio ratings remains under fire from the Clear Channel networks of the world, and Arbitron continues to delay its rollout in major U.S. markets. Mediaweek reports this week that the delay in the new radio measurement system — the Portable People Meter or PPM — is causing many marketers to question whether PPM is effective.

All of this is really, really sad. We’ve noted before that PPM is a brilliant device. It replaces diaries to record radio ratings by tracking a signal broadcast from each radio station, and can tell if a listener switches channels. For about four decades, radio ratings were based on a survey participant filling out a journal — now, we finally get the real deal.

The PPM ratings are active in Houston and Philly, and the early results have shaken the radio industry by finding — gasp! — ratings are falling for some segments of the youth set. So, predictably, Clear Channel and other radio nets protested that sample sizes were off, blah blah blah, and Arbitron, who runs PPM, went back to the drawing board.

As Mediaweek notes, no matter how Arbitron rethinks the sample sizes, some radio stations are going to get whammed with lower ratings. And the overall trend cannot be masked. Marketers should push Arbitron to get PPM to market. Radio remains a viable medium, but without accurate data and ratings, the radio industry as a whole will disappoint its clients who are measuring real results.