Author: John Boyne

Early Observations of Apple Music Radio

Tuesdays With Coleman

As many of you may already know, Apple Music revamped its live global radio offerings three weeks ago. Its flagship station Beats 1 was renamed Apple Music 1, and it debuted two new stations: Apple Music Hits and Apple Music Country.

Apple Music Radio

In her recent column, “Spotify and Apple Music Disagree on the Future of Radio. Who’s Right?,” Cherie Hu observes that while Spotify seems to be all-in on on-demand, Apple Music is “leaning more, not less, into linear radio experiences than ever.”

To be clear, “linear” means a shared experience for all listeners at that moment. You tune in from London at 2 PM local time, I tune in from Raleigh at 9 AM local time, and we hear the exact same thing. It’s live and there’s no skipping ahead. Just like listening to your favorite local radio station…except for the “local” part…and a few other things…

Traditional Format Lanes

For the most part, Apple Music has positioned its three live radio stations in traditional format lanes:

  • Apple Music 1 (“The new music that matters”) is their Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) station.
  • Apple Music Hits (“Songs you know and love”) is their 80s/90s/2000s Classic Hits station.
  • Apple Music Country (“Where it sounds like home”) is their Country station.

Aside from 80s/90s/2000s being a more modern era focus than is heard on most Anytown, USA Classic Hits stations at the moment, these are three formats that will feel pretty recognizable and comfortable to programmers and listeners alike. In this regard, Apple Music does not seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel.

One thing I wonder about is whether there might be some initial listener confusion related to the branding of Apple Music Hits. I’m not arguing whether or not the songs they play from the 80s, 90s and 2000s are technically “hits.” But, in many markets, consumers may have been taught that the word “hits” in radio means contemporary hits (e.g., Z100 – New York’s #1 Hit Music Station). So do some listeners tune in expecting new music hits from Apple Music Hits instead of Apple Music 1? And are some fans of 80s/90s/2000s music left on the table because they do not realize that Apple Music Hits is where they should go to hear such music?

Collections of Distinct Shows

The three Apple Music radio stations have highly structured schedules, consisting primarily of one- and two-hour-long shows. And while each station sits in a general format lane, there is quite a bit of diversity from show to show. These shows are distinctly branded and programmed, with prominent hosts (e.g., Zane Lowe, Strombo, Ty Bentli) and unique content elements (e.g., artist interviews, special music features, countdowns).

Zane Lowe is a prominent host on Apple Music Radio, as well as Apple Music’s Global Creative Director.

As a listener accustomed to music radio stations that, by and large, are consistent in programming outside of perhaps a high-profile morning show and an occasional music feature, the structure of Apple Music’s radio stations can at times be jarring. For example, one hour of Apple Music Hits may give you Easy Hits Radio, in another you may hear Rock Classics Radio, and later you may come across Hip-Hop/R&B Throwback Radio.

Speaking personally, The Apple Music 1 List (“hear our current obsessions and new discoveries making waves”) and The Chart Show (“Brooke Reese hosts chart countdowns from around the world along with the biggest guests in pop music”) feel very much “on brand” and consistent with my expectations of Apple Music 1 (“The new music that matters”). But the string of throwbacks I heard earlier on The Rebecca Judd Show and the in-depth interview Zane Lowe had with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich were not what I was expecting when I turned to Apple Music 1.

This is not to say that any of these things are examples of unappealing content. It’s really a question of brands and expectations. What happens when you go to McDonald’s and there are no hamburgers on the menu for an hour? I may love the alternative, or I may go across the street to the other burger joint.

One more thing: maybe it’s my expectations that need to change. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel after spending more time getting accustomed to this structure.

The Human Touch

With these three radio stations, Apple Music has put the human touch front and center. As noted in their launch announcement, “Throughout its evolution, Beats 1 [now Apple Music 1] has established an inherent camaraderie with the artist community and championed human curation and discovery — an approach that will continue across the three stations.”

Both hosts and artists are prominently featured, with the latter sometimes playing the role of the former. Zane Lowe, who also wears the hat of Global Creative Director for Apple Music, has a deep passion for the music that comes through in his interviews with the artists who make it. Ebro Darden, who in addition to his Apple Music duties is the morning show host of Hot 97 in New York, brings the global audience to the streets of the city; you may hear him highlight influential Hip Hop classics or you may hear him trash the local police department for endorsing President Trump. These are not easy-to-miss background voices. And that’s the point, right? Give interesting, entertaining people a chance to shine, promote them accordingly, and hope it attracts an audience.

I’m not sure how this will eventually play out for Apple Music 1, Apple Music Hits and Apple Music Country—but it’s fun to see both some old things and some new things being tried.

Alt Music Fares Only So-So In New Music Study

Below is a reprint of Richard Sands’ interview with Executive Vice President/Senior Consultant John Boyne in the May 14th edition of the weekly Alternative music newsletter The Sands Report, now celebrating its 18th anniversary!

JOHN, GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK. HOW ABOUT A REFRESHER FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW COLEMAN?

We’re a media research firm specializing in the audio entertainment space, with a long history of radio research. We use research tools such as Plan Developer perceptual studies, FACT360 Strategic Music Tests, 20/20 Focus Groups and mediaEKG Deep Dive content testing to help our clients better understand the tastes and opinions of their target audiences. Although we work in all formats, some of our long-time clients in the Alternative world are KROQ/Los Angeles and KPNT/St. Louis.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN THERE PERSONALLY?

2020 marks my 20th anniversary with Coleman Insights. I came aboard as a college intern and have been here ever since!

TELL ME ABOUT CONTEMPORARY MUSIC SUPERSTUDY 2.

It’s our second annual study of contemporary music tastes. It’s essentially a really big music test. We start by compiling a list of the songs that were most streamed, sold and played on the radio last year. This includes titles from 2019 back to 2015. We supplement that list with top tier titles from the year-end charts of individual genres. Then, we test all these songs with a big, broad group of people—1,000 12- to 54-year-olds in the U.S. and Canada—to assess their popularity. The idea is to track and trend mass music tastes.

HOW DID ALTERNATIVE MUSIC FARE IN THIS STUDY?

Even before we get into the results of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, you probably don’t need me to tell you that Alternative/Rock has lagged behind other genres in recent years. Whether you’re looking at streaming, sales or radio airplay charts, you’re going to find more Hip Hop/R&B, Country and Pop than Alternative/Rock.

BUT WE ARE REPRESENTED, RIGHT?

Yes. In Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, 12% of the Top 100 songs are Alternative/Rock. The full genre distribution of the Top 100 is 34% Pop, 23% Country, 19% Hip Hop/R&B, 12% Alternative/Rock, 8% Dance/Electronic, 2% Latin and 2% Other. The best-testing Alternative/Rock title is Imagine Dragons’ “Believer.”

The top tier of popular Alternative/Rock titles consists of (in alphabetical order):

    • Imagine Dragons – Believer
    • Imagine Dragons – Natural
    • Imagine Dragons – Thunder
    • Imagine Dragons – Whatever It Takes
    • Lovelytheband – Broken
    • Panic! At The Disco – Hey Look Ma, I Made It
    • Panic! At The Disco – High Hopes
    • The Man – Feel It Still
    • SHAED – Trampoline

DO ALT FANS’ TASTES LOOK DIFFERENT?

The hits are the hits, in the mass market as well among format fans. The top-tier songs listed above are also the top-tier songs among Alternative/Rock fans. It’s not like core format fans have turned on the mass-appeal hits of the genre.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THAT PDS PLAY THESE SONGS MORE?

While faring well in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 is a good indicator, a Program Director should not assume that the tastes of their target audience will perfectly reflect what we see here. Evident from all of the custom research we do is that different markets, demos and strategies will yield different music recipes.

HOW DO THIS YEAR’S RESULTS COMPARE TO THE FIRST CONTEMPORARY MUSIC SUPERSTUDY?

It’s very similar. Alternative/Rock’s 12% share of the Top 100 is up a hair from the 11% seen in last year’s study. Moreover, it’s a lot of the same material. Seven of the nine top-tier songs mentioned above also fared very well in last year’s study. The new additions are “Trampoline” and “Hey Look Ma, I Made It.”

CAN YOU GO BACK AND COMPARE THESE RESULTS TO 10 OR 20 YEARS AGO?

The short answer is: we don’t know. We wish we had Contemporary Music SuperStudy data going back that far. It is likely, based on what we know from other indicators, that Alternative/Rock fared better back then, but by how much, we don’t know. We hope to continue the Contemporary Music SuperStudy series in the years to come so that we can build such trends.

ONE “NON-STUDY” QUESTION. AS YOU KNOW, WE RUN A P1 STREAMING CHART EVERY WEEK PROVIDED TO US BY BRIDGE RATINGS. OVERALL, HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK STREAMING DATA SHOULD BE TO PDS?

If I were sitting in a Program Director’s chair, there are a lot of data points I would want to consider, including streaming metrics. Of course, as with anything, you want to be smart about what streaming data tells you and what it doesn’t.

THANKS FOR SHARING ALL THIS INFORMATION AND YOUR INSIGHTS, JOHN. WHERE CAN READERS GO TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FINDINGS OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC SUPERSTUDY 2?

On our website, you can find a recording of the webinar and read further about the study in our Tuesdays with Coleman blog. You can also sign up to receive notifications about future blog posts and the upcoming release of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 song ranker.

 

Contemporary Music Trends: Country Is Up

Tuesdays With Coleman

Last week, we shared some of the major findings of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2—our second annual test of the past year’s biggest songs in streaming, sales and radio airplay, conducted with 1,000 people between the ages of 12 and 54 across the United States and Canada. These initial findings include that Pop is the best-testing genre, Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” is the most popular title and Post Malone has the highest number of top tier songs.

This week, let’s take a look at some of the interesting trends between last year’s study and this one. (Note that some of the trended data looks a little different than as reported a year ago because of adjustments in scoring methodology; we have applied the revised methodology to the older study so that we have apples-to-apples comparisons.)

COUNTRY’S SHARE OF THE 100 MOST POPULAR CONTEMPORARY SONGS HAS NEARLY DOUBLED

While Pop remains the best-performing genre, the award for “most improved” goes to Country. Country titles have gone from 12% of the Top 100 in the original Contemporary Music SuperStudy to 23% of the Top 100 in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 Genre Distribution Trend

For context, Country’s performance in last year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy was not great. In that research, Country music accounted for 21% of all songs tested, but just 12% of the Top 100—a substantial level of under-performance. In this year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, Country again represents 21% of all songs tested, but its 23% share of the Top 100 now shows a modest level of over-performance for the genre.

The improvement in Country is largely the result of songs that weren’t in last year’s study, either because they hadn’t been released yet or because they weren’t consumed enough in streaming, sales or radio airplay to qualify for the test list. Of the 23 Country songs in the Top 100 of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, 15 weren’t tested in the first Contemporary Music SuperStudy. The remaining eight performed well in the original study, all in the Top 125.

No one artist dominates Country performance, though several have multiple popular titles. Dan + Shay, Jason Aldean and Luke Combs each have three of the 23 Country songs in the Top 100. In particular, Dan + Shay stand out for having three of the top five Country titles.

Dan + Shay have three of the top five Country titles in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

Several of the most popular Country songs might be considered “poppy” in sound, but that is not a new development and it tends to be true of any genre. Mass appeal titles are oftentimes rather accessible and broadly appealing. Almost by definition, the biggest hits are the ones whose appeal expands beyond their core lane. “Meant To Be” by Bebe Rexha featuring Florida-Georgia Line is the top-testing Country song in both last year’s study and this year’s study.

POP, HIP HOP/R&B AND DANCE/ELECTRONIC HAVE TRENDED DOWN

While Country’s share of the 100 most popular contemporary songs has grown most substantially, a few other categories are also up a bit. Alternative/Rock has gone from 11% to 12%, Latin has increased 0% to 2%, and Other—which covers songs that do not fit into one of the six major genres—now makes up 2% of the Top 100, up from 0% last year.

Meanwhile, performing less well in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 than in the first Contemporary Music SuperStudy are Pop (declining from 42% to 34% of the Top 100), Hip Hop/R&B (23% to 19%) and Dance/Electronic (12% to 8%).

THE PERCENTAGE OF TOP 100 TITLES FROM THE MOST RECENT YEAR IS DOWN SLIGHTLY

In the first Contemporary Music SuperStudy, we tested the songs that were most streamed, sold and played on the radio in 2018. This included material from 2018 back to 2014. Of the 100 most popular titles in that research, 40% were released in the most recent year, 2018.

Now, in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, we have tested the songs that were most consumed via streaming, sales and radio airplay in 2019. This includes songs from 2019 back to 2015. Of the Top 100, 36% were released in the most recent year, 2019.

Thus, in relative terms, the best-testing songs in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 are not quite as contemporary as the best-testing songs were in the original Contemporary Music SuperStudy.

THIS YEAR’S #1 SONG WAS LAST YEAR’S #2 SONG

As noted earlier, the most popular song in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 is Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.” This title did not come out of nowhere—it ranked #2 in last year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy.

Which title was ahead of “Shape Of You” in last year’s study? That would be “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars—a song that didn’t quite make the qualification cut for this year’s study because of its consumption metrics and age.

Check back next week for further insights from Contemporary SuperStudy 2, including findings about the differences in tastes between younger and older, male and female, urban and rural, and streaming service listeners and radio listeners.

The Lay of the Land of Contemporary Music Tastes

Tuesdays With Coleman

A year ago, we were delighted to share the results of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy, a groundbreaking study of music tastes. Now, we are just as excited to come back to you with findings from this year’s version of that research, Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

Mirroring the structure of the original study, Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 is a big, broad look at contemporary music tastes. We start by compiling a list of the most consumed songs of 2019, using streaming, sales and radio airplay data provided by MRC Data/BDSradio. (Fun fact: Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was the top song in streaming and sales last year, while Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” sat atop the airplay chart.) We supplement this list with top-tier songs from individual genre charts. Finally, we eliminate titles that are more than five years old, which knocks out a few Queen tunes, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Then, using our FACT360SM Strategic Music Test platform, we have assessed the popularity of each of these titles by testing them with 1,000 people between the ages of 12 and 54 across the United States and Canada.

Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" was 2019's most-consumed song via on-demand streaming and sales

Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was 2019’s most consumed song via on-demand streaming and sales according to MRC Data/BDSradio

 

To be clear, this is an intentionally broad view. The goal is not to, for example, zero in on which brand new songs are starting to click with young Top 40 fans. The goal is to gain big-picture insights on how recent titles and genres are performing in the mass market—and then track that over time.

While next week’s Tuesday with Coleman blog will explore some of the interesting trends between the first and second studies, this week we will focus on what Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 tells us about the present lay of the land.

POP IS THE BEST-TESTING GENRE, FOLLOWED BY COUNTRY AND HIP HOP/R&B. 

Although categorizing songs by genre can be subjective, we have tried to do so in a way that is consistent with Billboard charts and other industry standards. Most numerous in our test list is Hip Hop/R&B, which as a heavily consumed genre last year accounts for 29% of all songs tested. Next are Country (21%) and Pop (18%), followed by Alternative/Rock (12%), Dance/Electronic (9%) and Latin (9%). This is the baseline make-up of what was tested, not of what tested best.

In assessing song popularity, our primary metric is the Evaluation Average score. This is a good measurement of mass-appeal because it encapsulates the full range of opinions on a song, from highly positive to highly negative. Upon ranking songs based on their popularity, we find that Pop is the leading genre, with 34% of the Top 100. Next are Country (23%) and Hip Hop/R&B (19%), followed by Alternative/Rock (12%), Dance/Electronic (8%) and Latin (2%).

There’s a reason why they call it “Pop,” and that is its widespread popularity. While this genre accounts for 18% of all songs tested, it comprises 34% of the Top 100—a big-time level of over-performance. Pop titles tend to be broadly appealing, faring well among young and old, male and female, urban and rural. For fans of many other genres, Pop is the next-best, most-compatible style.

WHILE MANY HIP HOP/R&B TITLES EVOKE HIGH PASSION, THEY ALSO EVOKE ENOUGH NEGATIVITY FROM OTHERS TO LIMIT THEIR MASS APPEAL. 

As the genre with the most number of highly consumed songs last year, Hip Hop/R&B accounts for the largest share of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 test list. Yet, as noted in the preceding section, Hip Hop/R&B’s 19% share of the Top 100 Evaluation Average songs is well behind Pop’s 34%.

However, when looked at a different way, we find quite a bit of passion for Hip Hop/R&B. If we rank songs based on the percentage of people who rate each with a Like A Lot score—essentially measuring the fan base of each song—we find that 30% of the Top 100 are Hip Hop/R&B titles. That is nearly as big as Pop’s 32% share of the Top 100 Like A Lot songs.

The reason for Hip Hop/R&B’s drop-off from Like A Lot performance (30% of the Top 100) to Evaluation Average performance (19% of the Top 100) is that the fuller perspective of the latter measurement reveals polarity. Although the fan bases for many Hip Hop/R&B titles are sizable, outside of those fans we find above average dislike scores. Such negativity lessens the mass-appeal of the genre.

This helps explain why Hip Hop/R&B material is more prominent in on-demand audio consumption than in radio airplay. Many of these titles have big fan bases and thus do well when consumers are choosing exactly what they want to hear in an on-demand environment. But, these same songs may not be as widely heard on a radio station that is trying to both maximize positives and minimize negatives in order to reach as big an audience as possible.

OF LAST YEAR’S MOST CONSUMED SONGS, MANY OF THE MOST POPULAR ONES ARE OLDER. 

Remember: this is a study of the most consumed songs via streaming, sales and radio airplay in 2019. It is not a study of 2019 songs only. In fact, almost half the test list consists of titles released in 2018, 2017, 2016 or 2015.

Moreover, upon testing this material, we find that nearly two-thirds of the most popular songs are older than 2019. Among the Top 100 in Evaluation Average, 36% are from 2019, 42% are from 2018, 18% are from 2017, 3% are from 2016 and 1% are from 2015.

The fact that, among the most consumed titles of 2019, many of the best-testing ones are older is not completely surprising. The older songs that are still being consumed highly enough to qualify for this study have, inherently, exhibited staying power. Meanwhile, not every new song that initially generates high interest and consumption will eventually stand the test of time.

THIS YEAR’S BEST-TESTING SONG IS ED SHEERAN’S “SHAPE OF YOU.” 

The mega-popular “Shape Of You” from the mega-popular Ed Sheeran is the number one song in Contemporary SuperStudy 2. Earlier we mentioned that Pop music tends to over-perform and older music tends to over-perform. “Shape Of You” checks both boxes, as an unabashedly Pop tune released in January 2017. It benefits from being both highly familiar and exceptionally well-liked among those familiar with it.

Ed Sheeran's "Shape Of You" was the best testing song of 2019

Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” was the best-testing song in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

 

THIS YEAR’S MOST PROLIFIC ARTIST IS POST MALONE. 

Despite not having a song in the Top 10, Post Malone is notable for having eight of the Top 100. The biggest of these is “Rockstar” featuring 21 Savage, coming in at #12.

Post Malone has eight of the Top 100 songs in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

 

THIS YEAR’S WORST-TESTING SONG IS PINKFONG’S “BABY SHARK.” 

Yep, that one. We’re sorry.

 

Today, we’re posting the complete recording of last week’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 webinar. We invite you to view it and share.

Tune in next week for more findings from Contemporary SuperStudy 2!

How to Connect With Your Audience in a Crisis

Tuesdays With ColemanAs the world has turned upside down for the foreseeable future, the team at Coleman Insights has been engaged in conversations with our clients about how to navigate the new landscape. We recognize the ability of radio stations and other audio-based media to shine in moments of crisis, and there are already numerous examples of this occurring. On the other hand, we also recognize the lack of an “adversity road map.” There is no playbook that dictates how each brand should respond. Should you continue to deliver your format without any significant modifications? Is this a moment to break format completely and provide relevant crisis information instead? These are difficult strategic decisions. The specific choices are also hard.

Our consultant team has been having ongoing internal discussions about strategies for the audio entertainment industry. The result is the following special Thursday edition of Tuesdays With Coleman, a compilation of thoughts and ideas our team would like to share with you, with the understanding that there is no single solution for everyone.

  • Recognize unusual times call for unusual measures.

Everyone has something to contribute during a global emergency. Regardless of what your brand regularly delivers, your listeners are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and your response should reflect this. Your brand has a voice and a platform to be heard when listeners need it the most. Known, trusted personalities should play a major role and leverage the intimate connections they have with their listeners.

  • Consider the role of your brand in COVID-19 coverage.

Understand the need your brand fulfills.

News brands have a responsibility to provide comprehensive, relevant coverage. These brands might consider whether there are opportunities to go outside the typical format. For example, does more long-form programming or an increased number of updates make sense? These decisions should be determined by the role of the brand–in this case, being a provider of constant, reliable and trustworthy information during the crisis.

Listeners may be visiting your music station to get away from news coverage, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to stay connected. Does it make sense to employ a “We’re following the news so you don’t have to” approach? This allows talent to play a reassuring role; listeners can count on enjoying content on a music station without feeling like the world will pass by if they aren’t watching CNN or Fox News at that moment.

A full-service Adult Contemporary station may play a more personality-forward role of providing news and information. On the other hand, if your brand primarily provides comfort and escape, like a Soft Adult Contemporary radio station, constant news updates may be a harrowing intrusion and contrary to your brand. In fact, brands built on comfort and escape should lean in to that image, as it is particularly valuable when the real world is more chaotic.

  • Recognize that listening patterns are likely in significant flux.

If many people aren’t going to work or school, typical in-car commute listening levels no longer apply. What about everyone who is temporarily working from home? Or businesses that have been forced to close, like bars and restaurants? Will radio listening increase or decrease?

Reduced commuting will have a significant effect on listening patterns

With that in mind, consider the impact on how people may be consuming your station, podcast or streaming service and the programming options you may have.

With entire families now at home throughout the day, what about specialty programming geared to them during traditional at work hours? Should you do this on your main platform or would offering this through podcasts, separate streaming channels, etc. make more sense?

Aggressively promote all your listening platforms, keeping in mind that smart speaker listening is heavier at home than in the workplace and a surge of at home listening may be taking place.

  • Provide increased authentic and actionable listener engagement.

Listeners will find comfort in others going through the same issues. You may find yourself broadcasting from your home, which may be out of your comfort zone. Rather than trying to project a sense of business as usual, embrace the change! If the dog barks, the child screams or the husband sighs in the background, that’s real life. It’s exactly what your listener is going through. Let sharing be the mantra–you could, for example, have listeners upload pictures of their home offices to your social pages and share yours.

Find experts to feature on your shows. You don’t have to have all the COVID-19 answers yourself, and some of the best content is being generated by personalities across multiple formats interviewing those on the front lines of the crisis.

Anthony Fauci is the director of the NIAID

NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) Director Anthony Fauci has been extremely media-friendly in providing crisis guidance

Consider taking more listener phone calls. Allow them to share feelings and information that may be valuable to other listeners.

Think about brand-appropriate actionable advice you can offer listeners that is applicable to the current environment (i.e., how to work at home while the kids are in online school, the best binge-able series on Netflix or which delivery services have waived their fees).

Modify your tone. Be empathetic to the new needs of an uncertain audience.

  • Rally your community.

In times of crisis, “Community” surges to a higher level of importance on the Image PyramidSM. As they would with aggressively promoting a Base Music or Talk position, brands should be going over the top with their community efforts. Build real community bulletins (here’s what is open, new hours for grocery stores, new restrictions, etc.). Be the voice of the community, invite listeners to participate and share as appropriate. Listeners will tell people where they can buy toilet paper (well, maybe they’ll share that information), who delivers groceries and how to find free learning resources for kids. Post the information on your website.

Don’t just think of your community as your market. Your community is your audience. A Hip Hop station and Classic Rock station will not rally the same communities, but each has the power to inspire, engage and activate their respective followers.

If you make a concerted effort now to think about what you can really do for your community and your audience, your efforts will create a halo over your brand when things settle down.

Consider reading two Tuesdays With Coleman posts in which we covered the important role of radio in a crisis:

Here’s to Local Radio and Waffle House

The Power of Radio in Tough Times

All of us at Coleman Insights welcome your input and would love to hear your thoughts on how audio brands can best serve our communities during this challenging time.

We’re all in this together.

Warren, Jon, Jessica, Sam, John, Meghan & Jay

The Case for Fart-Head

Tuesdays With Coleman

Did I get your attention?

Good. That’s the point.

I’m going to let you in on a little inside joke I have with my colleague, Jay. Our shorthand for an attention-grabbing, memorably branded media personality is “Fart-Head.” Whose name only needs to be said once in order for it to stick in your brain? Fart-Head. Who are you irrationally curious about? Fart-Head. Who are you likely to tell your friends about? Fart-Head.

What about Jim? Don’t care.

What about Melissa? Snooze.

What about Kevin? Already forgotten.

But Fart-Head…  I don’t know what he’s all about, but tell me more!!

Now, it’s up to Fart-Head to deliver the goods. If he fails to entertain, that’s on him and his memorable brand is forever remembered in a bad way.

But, the point is that he got my attention.

So in a world in which we are inundated with countless messages and presented with oodles of entertainment options, while we’re by no means advocating the return of shock jocks, we are advocating that you consider what it takes to make an impression…

THE NAME:  I bet it’s a lot harder for “Jim” or “Melissa” to draw attention than it is for “Conan” or “Jed The Fish” or “Marshmello” or “PewDiePie.”

THE DELIVERY:  I bet it’s a lot harder for the super-polished talent who sounds like all the other super-polished talents than it is for the talent who talks with an accent, a memorable speech pattern or some kind of not-your-run-of-the-mill delivery.

THE CONTENT:  I bet it’s a lot harder for the personality whose content consists of well-researched, interesting pop culture updates than it is for the personality who does something really unique and buzzworthy.

So look, maybe you’re not on board with Fart-Head. I get it. It’s silly, crude and unbecoming of a semi-respected researcher to even talk about.

But, you’ve got to admit, it’ll be hard to forget…

The Case for Jingles

Tuesdays With Coleman

Does your brand use jingles?

They’ve certainly become harder to find.

Listen to commercial breaks on TV or radio. Whereas advertisers once deployed jingles en masse, it’s more challenging to find a commercial that uses a good old-fashioned jingle.

We sometimes hear from those in charge of brands that jingles are played out, or that it’s “time to mix it up.”

Steve Karmen’s resume includes jingles for Budweiser, Doublemint, Michelob, Hershey’s, “I Love New York” and countless others.

According to Karmen, “Unfortunately, jingle is an unacceptable word today. Jingle implies old. Jingle implies stodgy. Jingle implies not with it.”

So, are jingles played out? Is it time to mix it up?

If we consider the current media landscape, we know it’s as challenging as ever to catch someone’s attention and deliver a message with frequency.

Isn’t that exactly when we should be creating audio that sticks in consumers’ brains? Fill in the blanks:

“______…the San Francisco treat”

“I want my baby back, baby back, baby back…._____baby back ribs”

“Gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of that _______”

“Like a good neighbor, _______ is there” (fun fact: that’s one of a number of famous jingles written by Barry Manilow)

Maybe the auto insurance industry is on to something, because State Farm brought the tune back to their commercials.

And how about, “Liberty, Liberty, Liberty. Liberty.”

“We are Farmers. Ba, ba, da ba, ba, bum bum bum.”

“Nationwide is on your side.”

Are those jingles played out? Is it time for them to mix it up?

And sure, those are national advertisers with very large spot buys, but they don’t have the market cornered on successfully using audio signatures…and it doesn’t have to be a jingle.

Audio signatures, like jingles, are memorable and create sticky brand connections.

Here’s one of the simpilest, most effective audio signatures of all-time:

What do you think of when you hear this?

The simple ticking of a clock means 60 Minutes is on. Just a few bars of the Fox Sports theme means it’s time for football.

Are those played out? Is it time to mix it up?

When you hear this:

You may not only instantly recognize Curb Your Enthusiasm, you may associate the music with the beginning of the show, the end of the show, or anytime Larry David does something really stupid. This audio signature isn’t just identified with the show, it helps define the show’s brand.

How effective is the theme music on the Serial podcast?

The song has been played nearly 300,000 times on YouTube.

What if Serial decided to change the song every season or every episode to “keep it fresh”?

Is it played out? Is it time for them to mix it up?

The audio signature is memorable and creates a sticky connection with the Serial brand.

This works on a local level, too.

I still hear jingles for local radio stations in my head. I don’t say Mix 101.5, I sing Mix 101.5.

Even a voice can be a very powerful audio signature. Jack FM listeners may not know the name Howard Cogan, but they surely know his voice. It is synonymous with the attitude and essence of the brand.

Is it played out? Is it time to mix it up?

The answer of course, is no.

When you’re in the business of building a brand that incorporates audio, consider how a jingle and/or audio signature can create that stickiness you’re looking for.

It just might get stuck in someone’s brain.

And in 2019, when the battle for attention is more ferocious than ever, getting stuck in someone’s brain sounds like a good idea.

Images Are Like Icebergs

Tuesdays With Coleman

There’s nothing more sobering than watching a focus group of your radio station’s listeners talking about your beloved product. You might watch in horror as they:

  • Refer to your station by its previous brand name;
  • Are unable to name any of the people on your year-old morning show;
  • Are certain your station plays 70s music, even though it evolved and stopped playing 70s music three years ago.

Why are listeners—the real-life consumers of your radio station who are responsible for your brand’s success and your very livelihood—not aware of changes that seem so obvious to you?

Because they aren’t paying close attention.

Sounds harsh, I know. But the reality is that listeners have busy lives that are full of distractions, and your radio station isn’t getting their full undivided attention. They’re not listening all the time, and even when they are listening, they’re not soaking in every little thing that they hear and they’re not totally discerning what they heard on your station from what they heard on another station. It’s all a blur.

Because listeners aren’t paying close attention, messages need to be delivered clearly and often—especially when you are attempting to develop an image.

Images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, slow to erode.

Iceberg

Your images are like this.

Let’s take that music example from earlier. Say your Classic Hits station no longer plays 70s music and has added a lot of 80s music. You assume, because you dramatically decreased the percentage of 70s music and increased the percentage of 80s music, that listeners will pick up on it.

But just playing the music isn’t enough. You need to clearly and repeatedly tell listeners about it. Remember, images are like icebergs. The audience may be slow to forget that you play 70s music and slow to learn that you play 80s music. No one is keeping track of which songs they hear on your station versus which songs they hear on your competitors. If you fail to educate them about your music changes, then you could get hit with the double whammy of (a) not fully satisfying those who are tuning in to get 70s music while (b) not attracting those who love 80s music.

This is why marketing strategy and programming strategy must work hand in hand. We need marketing plans that help us align listeners’ expectations with our well-thought-out programming plans.

By the way, it’s not just radio. Images are like icebergs in other industries as well.

So, for every image you’re looking to build or erode, have:

  1. A proper assessment of tastes, expectations, the competitive lay of the land and your available resources. Is there a path to get to where you want to go, and is it a lot better than where you are now?
  2. A marketing strategy in place for how to communicate your changes clearly, with the proper weight and to the right audience.
  3. A strong stomach for how long it is going to take.

After all, images are like icebergs.

The 90s Music Research Conundrum

Tuesdays With Coleman

In theory, if you turn on an Adult Contemporary radio station in 2018, you should be hearing a healthy dose of 90s music. If you graduated high school in 1995, for example, you would be around 41 today—right in the wheelhouse of the 25-54 demographic. But of the major eras played on most Adult Contemporary stations, the 90s tend to get the least exposure—maybe about 10% of spins. You’re more likely to hear the 80s, 00s and 10s.

Similarly, we are not seeing Classic Hits radio stations accelerate into the 90s as quickly and aggressively as they once accelerated into the 80s and, before that, the 70s.

So what’s going on? Why aren’t the 90s taking over these formats?

In a word, Compatibility.

Don’t confuse the lack of 90s music exposure with the desire for hearing 90s music. If your music tastes came of age in the 90s, you are likely just as passionate about the music during that era as an 80s kid was about the 80s, a 70s kid was about the 70s and so on. Many people love the idea of hearing 90s music. The problem is not that the concept is unpopular; the problem is that the concept is challenging to execute.

Successful radio stations play a group of sounds that work in tandem with each other. In our FACT360SM Strategic Music Tests, Compatibility indicates if fans of one sound are likely to also be fans of other sounds. While diversity of eras and textures can help expand the scope of a station’s coalition, Compatibility helps ensure that it’s a variety blend that works well together. When Compatibility is poor, a station will have trouble keeping listeners from one song to another, as it zigs and zags across the music spectrum.

With the 80s, the golden era of MTV, we generally find that there are popular, diverse sounds that have high Compatibility with one another.

Madonna

The center lane of Pop music, driven by artists like Madonna, began to fragment in the 90s

This means if you’re a fan of:

Straight ahead 80s Pop (like Michael Jackson and Madonna);

80s Pop Rock (like Bryan Adams and John Mellencamp);

80s Flashback Pop (like Eurythmics and Simple Minds);

or 80s Rock (like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard), there is a good chance you’re a fan of more than one and perhaps all of these sounds.

The reason the 80s works so well today is because listening to Michael Jackson, John Mellencamp and Bon Jovi on the same station isn’t a train wreck.

The 90s, however, brought an era of fragmentation, as opposed to the shared experiences of previous eras.

For several styles of music, the 90s was a golden age. Alternative, Hip Hop and Country launched the careers of a multitude of stars and a vast number of hits. In formats targeted to these genres, we continue to see high passion for their 90s hits. But just because Nirvana, 2Pac and Garth Brooks songs remain highly popular does not mean that a Nirvana/2Pac/Garth Brooks radio station would be highly popular. What is lacking for the 90s is high Compatibility between genres. Playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “How Do U Want It” and “Friends In Low Places” back-to-back-to-back may be a fun experiment in variety and nostalgia, but it probably isn’t going to generate great ratings for a mainstream music station.

Garth Brooks 90s Music Research

Country experienced huge success in the 90s thanks to superstars like Garth Brooks

The lack of high Compatibility between genres in the 90s makes it difficult to effectively blend them. It also makes it difficult to find a lot of mass market hits. You may find huge passion for a song among its home genre fans, yet its mass-market appeal is watered down by low scores from everyone else.

Compounding things is that the 90s lacked a robust center lane of Pop music to help make up for the incompatible edges. Aside from the Teen Pop wave of Britney, Christina and the boy bands at the end of the decade, we’re largely looking at a cobbling together of poppier offshoots of the edges (e.g., Matchbox 20 from the Alternative side, Shania Twain from the Country side). The tide turned in the 00s and 10s. The edges cooled, and mass appeal Pop hits came back in a big way. There were massive hits on the softer side (e.g., Adele); huge artists and hits down the center Pop lane (e.g., Maroon 5); and monster crossovers from the rhythmic side (e.g., Rihanna).

Again, it’s easy to overestimate a station’s ability to effectively incorporate the 90s based on the generational affinity for this decade. Because we’re in the 90s wheelhouse generationally, it makes sense that we see signs of 90s revivals. It’s why Rosanne (now The Conners) was brought back to television. It’s why the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block reunited (and even toured together). The desire for 90s nostalgia is there and completely real.

Ultimately, however, it is the Compatibility conundrum that hinders the 90s as a major ingredient on most Adult Contemporary and Classic Hits radio stations today. While time softens the perceived tempo and edginess of music, the fragmentation of the decade’s music will continue to pose a challenge for programmers.

The Three Ts of Content Execution

Tuesdays With Coleman

It doesn’t take too much exposure to Coleman Insights to recognize that we talk a lot about the twin goals of building strong brands and developing great content. My colleague Warren Kurtzman revisited these fundamentals last week when he wrote about what it will take for podcasting to pass the tipping point.

This week, I’d like to focus on the content development side of the equation. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even a media researcher!) to tell you that better content comes from doing more of what the audience likes and less of what they don’t. The challenge comes in figuring out what exactly are those positive and negative drivers.

To help demonstrate to the podcasting industry what is doable on this front, on July 25th, iHeartRadio SVP/Podcasting Chris Peterson joined my colleague Sam Milkman and me onstage at Podcast Movement in Philadelphia to share content research we had done for two of their original podcasts. Chris introduced the session by stating, “Let’s learn what listeners really think rather than a download, which tells you nothing.”

Podcast Movement Session

(L-R) John Boyne, Sam Milkman and iHeartMedia SVP/Podcasting Chris Peterson

The Podcast Content Deep Dive: A Second-By-Second Look At Listening Behavior was the culmination of two separate mediaEKG Deep Dive® studies that analyzed a pair of iHeartRadio Original podcasts. One is The Ben & Ashley I Almost Famous Podcast, featuring former cast members of ABC-TV’s The Bachelor; while the other is Business Unusual with Barbara Corcoran, hosted by the real estate mogul and Shark Tank celebrity. For each, we recruited a sample of their target audience to listen to the podcast. Then, using the mediaEKG meter, we were able to collect granular in-the-moment feedback on what they were hearing. What caught their attention? What grew their interest? What lost them? We then followed up with qualitative questions to help us understand why they rated content the way they did.

While the details of the research are fascinating, let’s be honest: What works for a podcast specializing in The Bachelor universe may not work for everyone.

But, stepping back, there are broader lessons of the research that are applicable to many and that are evident in much of the content research we do. We refer to these as “The Three Ts” – Topic, Treatment and Tone.

Ben and Ashley I Almost Famous Podcast

  1. Choosing the right topic means choosing something to talk about that your audience wants to hear about and—importantly—wants to hear you talk about. In the case of Ben and Ashley I, their topic selections have a very clear impact on the second-by-second performance of the show. When talking about the current season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, their odds of success are high. But, the further they get from that bullseye topic lane, the better their execution needs to be in order to cut through. In our presentation, there are some fun examples of this, as well as a creative example of how the show cleverly extends its topic lane.
  2. For Barbara Corcoran’s podcast, the lessons of the research primarily relate to her treatment of various topics. There are certain ways that Barbara can espouse business advice that really work well for her. For example, Business Unusual’s target audience reacts really well to Barbara’s highly structured, step-by-step treatment of how to do things like ask for a raise or speak well in public.
  3. Finally, it is important to understand the optimal tone for a segment. Different tones for the same topic can have wildly different outcomes. For example, think about how differently one could cover the latest news out of the White House. Stephen Colbert may take a humorous tone, while Fareed Zakaria may take a more serious, professorial tone. Meanwhile, someone else may take an almost unhinged, ranting tone. Same topic + different tone = totally different outcome.

Business Unusual Barbara Corcoran

Want to learn more? On Wednesday, September 5th at 2pm EDT, Sam and I will deliver The Podcast Content Deep Dive: A Second-By-Second Look At Listening Behavior via webinar. We’ll dig into the specifics of how listeners react to these two podcasts, and you’ll learn more about how topic, treatment and tone play out in each. Our goal is to help podcasters and broadcasters think more and learn more about how The Three Ts can help them develop great content.

Click here to register for the webinar, and we’ll talk with you then!