Author: Warren Kurtzman

The (Not So) Strange World of Strategic Alliances

Strategic partnerships are not new.

Usually, a strategic alliance between two companies involves two very different businesses. For example, Pottery Barn is not a paint company, and Sherwin-Williams is not a home furnishings store. But the two businesses collaborate on an exclusive line of paints. Customers can coordinate the Sherwin-Williams colors with Pottery Barn furniture, creating a win-win for both businesses.

Other times, an alliance is between businesses in the same market segment that serve a similar consumer. Two years ago, Kohl’s announced the availability of Amazon Returns. The department store allows Amazon customers to visit their local Kohl’s store to return eligible Amazon items, without a box or label, for free. The partnership between the two retail companies provides neighborhood convenience for Amazon customers, while driving new potential customers into Kohl’s stores.

Kohls Amazon Returns

Amazon customers can now return packages at Kohls, which sells many of the same items. Photo Credit: Business Insider

This past year, the pandemic has inspired us to evaluate many components of our business, especially as many of our clients faced tremendous budgetary concerns­­. Was there a way to make sure our clients had access to high quality research even when Coleman Insights was not an option?

These conversations led to the strategic alliance announced last week between Coleman Insights and Advantage Music Research. It is a unique one because we both offer music tests for the radio industry.

But all music tests are not created equal.

That simple, but true statement is the fundamental core behind the partnership. We know not every potential client we speak to can afford a FACT360 Strategic Music Test. Sometimes, competitive conflicts prevent us from working with a station. Other times, the client isn’t looking for a test with strategic guidance, recommendations, and help with implementation.

In the past, we would have simply wished that potential client well. But over the past few years, we’ve developed an informal collaboration with Advantage Music Research. Their Scorecard music test costs less than a FACT360 Strategic Music Test and is a more streamlined product. But we’ve learned they share our commitments to rigorous respondent recruitment standards and high quality data, and we’ve recommended a number of potential clients to them. Conversely, Advantage has referred potential clients to Coleman when a more comprehensive study is required.

This strategic partnership is a formalization of this informal collaboration. Perhaps in years past, two companies in the same segment working together would seem exceedingly bizarre. But these days, maybe it’s not so strange. Ultimately, it’s about what’s best for the consumer.

And there’s nothing strange about that.

Was the Field Of Dreams Game a Success?

I love baseball. I follow my beloved New York Mets religiously (and appreciate your condolences!) and I play softball three days a week every spring and fall.

I also love Field Of Dreams. It’s an all-time favorite movie of mine that I’ve probably seen at least 50 times. In 2012, I added an extra day to an Iowa business trip just so that I could spend an afternoon playing ball on the field in Dyersville where the movie was filmed.

Me, at the Iowa site where Field Of Dreams was filmed

So when Major League Baseball announced that the White Sox and Yankees were going to play a regular season game at the site, I was hooked. Even if the game featured a match-up of teams I don’t care about and hate, respectively, the spectacle of a real major league game in an Iowa cornfield was irresistible to me.

By all accounts, the game—which took place less than two weeks ago and was broadcast nationally on FOX—was a smashing success. The FOX broadcast was widely lauded for its beautiful production values, the game itself featured a thrilling ending, and the 5.9 million people who watched it represented the biggest audience for a Major League Baseball regular season game in 16 years. The positive vibes from the event were so strong that MLB has announced that they will do it again during the 2022 season.

The Field Of Dreams 2021 game (Source: Des Moines Register)

So why do I think there’s a problem?

It’s no secret that interest in baseball is on the decline. Participation at the youth level is down and the audience for games is getting older. Major League Baseball has been eclipsed by the NFL as America’s favorite sports league, while MMA, soccer, and eSports are generating far more interest among young people.

You may be familiar with the Pareto principle, which states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. Many businesses experience this by generating about 80% of their revenue or profits from 20% of their customers.

In radio, Nielsen Audio has repeatedly demonstrated how roughly two-thirds of the Time Spent Listening to a station comes from less than a third of its Cume audience. This has led to a focus on P1 listeners, those who listen to a station more than any other. Nielsen provides tools to stations that show how—in almost every case—stations generate most of their listening from P1s.

As a result, radio stations—and many other media outlets—correctly pay close attention to the tastes and perceptions of their P1s. However, when a brand becomes too focused on what its P1s think and want, it could miss changes that are going on with lighter and/or non-users and can end up super serving an increasingly smaller segment of the broader marketplace. Therefore, research should be carefully constructed and properly analyzed so that brands gain insights into what their core users want and perceive and how that compares with what is happening beyond their core users.

Major League Baseball’s Field Of Dreams game was perhaps the ultimate P1-focused event. For a rabid baseball fan like me—a 55-year-old white guy—it was awesome. However, I fear that it did nothing—and perhaps even hurt—the game’s ability to attract a younger, more ethnically-diverse audience. My 22-year-old son was home visiting with my wife and me when the game aired, and to my dismay, I learned that he had never even seen Field Of Dreams! (I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising, given that the 1989 film came out before he was born; fortunately, I was able to correct this omission in his movie-watching experience before his visit with us was over.)

I should be clear that I don’t think the Field Of Dreams game is necessarily a bad thing. While I fear it could reinforce attributes that prevent baseball’s lighter and non-users from consuming the game more, it could work if it is balanced with other events and efforts designed to appeal beyond baseball’s P1 audience. One way Major League Baseball is doing this is by staging games between its teams at the Little League World Series each summer, which strikes me as an excellent way to engage younger fans.

Does your radio station, podcast, or streaming service have a clear picture of what its core users want and what the broader marketplace wants? If not, you can find yourself in one of two undesirable situations—catering to an increasingly smaller group of core users or being so broad in your approach that you fail to develop a core group of heavy users. Brands that can balance the ability to attract a broad audience while also engendering loyalty from a core group of heavy users are the ones that repeatedly hit home runs.

 

 

 

 

 

Pop Reigns Supreme (Again!) in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3

Coleman Insights is releasing findings from its Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 in a three-part blog series, followed by a free webinar on May 13th, in which the findings will be covered in greater depth. Details to register for that webinar are below.

In last week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog, my colleague John Boyne evoked memories of the classic movie Groundhog Day when summarizing the findings of our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3. The time-freezing impact of the coronavirus pandemic was evident in our findings, including how Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” finished as the number one song in the study for a second year in a row and how six of this year’s top ten songs also finished in the top ten in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

This week we will delve more specifically into how different music genres fared in the study. While there are many similarities to our findings from a year ago, there are some differences worth examining in detail.

The most obvious similarity between our new findings and the results of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 is—as given away in the title of this blog— the continued strength of Pop titles. If you read my preview blog post about the study two weeks ago, you know that the list of titles we tested represent the most consumed songs of 2020, along with additional selections from the Alternative/Rock, Latin, and Dance/Electronic genres.

The Weeknd Blinding Lights second best testing song of 2020

The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” was the second best testing Pop song in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 behind Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You”

At 20%, Pop comprises only the third largest group of titles in the test list, behind Hip Hop/R&B at 31% and Country at 20%. When we focus on the Top 100 titles in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, however, we observe that 40% of them are Pop songs.

This “over performance” by Pop titles represents a pattern we have continually observed in our series of studies. Furthermore, Pop has now been the genre with the biggest share of the Top 100 in every Contemporary Music SuperStudy, and its 40% performance this year represents an increase from 35% last year.

Another similarity between this year’s results and previous editions of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy is the continued health of Hip Hop/R&B, which looks even stronger this year than in the two previous studies. While at 27% of the Top 100 it slightly under performs its 31% presence in the test list, Hip Hop/R&B makes up the second largest share of the best-testing titles and is up from 23% and 18% from Contemporary Music SuperStudy 1 and 2, respectively.

Finally, as we have seen in the two previous studies, Alternative/Rock and Dance/Electronic remain as secondary appetites among 12- to 54-year-olds in the United States and Canada. Alternative/Rock and Dance/Electronic are present in the Top 100 at roughly the same levels as they are among All Songs Tested, but at 10% and 9% respectively, their presences among the best-testing titles are relatively low.

The biggest difference we see in our findings pertains to the performance of Country titles, which have been on a rollercoaster ride across our first three installments of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy. This year, Country titles make up only 13% of the Top 100, which is considerably lower than their 21% presence in the overall test list.

This represents a turnaround from Contemporary SuperStudy 2, in which Country’s presence in the Top 100 nearly doubled from 12% in the previous year to 23%. When we shared these results roughly a year ago, it generated some optimism that Country music was poised for improvement from the struggles the genre appeared to be suffering. With its downturn this year, the sustainability of Country’s rebound comes into question; with that said, we should be cautious about making long-term projections based on data collected during what we know is a unique time in music and audio entertainment consumption due to the pandemic.

A noteworthy aspect of Country’s surge last year and weaker performance this year is revealed when we break out our data by geography. As it has in all three of our studies, Country led the Top 100 among Rural consumers in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, and its 43% presence this year is down only slightly from 48% last year. Among Suburban consumers, however, Country’s fortunes have clearly changed. Last year, Country’s 27% presence in the Top 100 among Suburban consumers represented a tripling from 9% in the first Contemporary SuperStudy; this year, the same figure has plummeted to 7%.

Breakdowns like these—covering age, gender, ethnicity, politics, media consumption, and more—will be the subject of the final Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 blog from Sam Milkman next week.

In addition, register now for our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 webinar on May 13th from 2p-3p EDT, when we’ll go in-depth on the state of contemporary music. In the meantime, keep an eye out for next week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog for more sneak peek findings from the study.

Please join us for both!

Tracking Contemporary Music Trends

A major benefit of the long-term relationships we have with so many audio brands is that we get to look at trends. Lots and lots of trends. By measuring things in a consistent manner year after year and study after study, we get unparalleled insights into how the behaviors, tastes, and perceptions of consumers change over time. I’ll admit to being a geek about a lot of this stuff, especially when it comes to music.

That’s why I am looking forward to our upcoming release of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, a preview of which we are presenting at this week’s virtual All Access Audio Summit. Sure, I enjoyed the two previous studies in 2019 and 2020, but now that we’ve arrived at the third edition of our now-annual assessment of the state of contemporary music tastes in the United States and Canada, I am geeking out about the opportunity to share some real trends.

This opportunity is perhaps more intriguing than it would otherwise be this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve been through more than a year with almost no live music performances and many artists have held back their releases of new material, so it will be especially interesting to see if this has impacted the state of contemporary music.

If you’re not familiar with our Contemporary Music SuperStudy series, let me give you a quick primer. We compile a list of the most-consumed songs from the previous calendar year and then test those songs with 1,000 consumers in the United States and Canada using the same platform we use for delivering FACT360SM Strategic Music Tests to our radio station clients. The list is built with help from our friends at MRC Data and is based on consumption via radio airplay, streaming, and sales. We drop any songs that are at least five years old and then add songs that are among the most consumed from each major genre that make up the world of contemporary music so that each of those genres receive adequate representation. The 1,000 consumers who participate in the study are representative of the population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and geography.

By using this consistent methodology every year, the Contemporary Music SuperStudy is worthy of its designation as the benchmark of contemporary music tastes. Many of us in the radio, music, and streaming businesses get glimpses of how music tastes are changing through the many individual audio brand studies, music tests, and new music research reports we see over the course of the year, but the Contemporary Music SuperStudy gives us a truly objective view of those changes on the macro level.

When we began to analyze the data, many questions—informed by what we learned in the two previous editions of the study—immediately popped into my head and the heads of my colleagues. These include:

  • What will supplant last year’s top song—“Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran—as the best-testing song this year?
  • What new songs released in 2020—and therefore appearing in the study for the first time—did consumers rate highest?
  • Will Pop titles continue to outperform their presence in the test list?
  • Will the improvement we saw for Country titles between the first and second study continue with the third study?
  • Has the pandemic impacted the demand for contemporary music?
  • Will Hip Hop/R&B titles continue to lead the tastes of younger listeners?
Ed Sheeran Shape Of You

Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” tested #1 overall in last year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy

The good news is that if you have similar questions to ours, the answers to them are on their way. If you are attending the All Access Audio Summit this week, be sure to join us at 2PM Eastern/11AM Pacific this Thursday, April 22nd when John Boyne, Sam Milkman, and I will reveal many of the topline findings from the study. Our presentation will cover the best-testing titles overall, how this year’s most popular songs compare with previous years in terms of genre and era, and how music tastes vary across demographics, geography, political persuasion, and media habits.

In addition, we will devote the next three weeks of Tuesdays With Coleman to more detailed discussions of the study’s most important findings, culminating in a free, publicly available webinar on Thursday, May 13th in which we will take a deeper dive into our findings. (Registration for the webinar will open later this month.) Finally, later this spring, we will provide online access to the song-by-song data from the study to all active Coleman Insights clients as part of our Coleman Complete service.

At Coleman Insights we often say that music tastes change and that’s why we track them. For my fellow data geeks and music fans, the next few weeks should be a lot of fun. My colleagues and I hope you gain a lot of insights out of our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 findings and look forward to your feedback.

Winning by Embracing Nostalgia

As we pass the one-year point of the COVID-19 pandemic you may have noticed that the Nielsen audience shares of many Gold-based music radio stations have grown. Some suggest this is the result of a downturn in contemporary music. Others point to this as evidence of an increase in the pace with which younger consumers—and those with presumably more contemporary music tastes—are abandoning radio.

There may be some truth to both ideas, but I have a different theory. I believe that good Gold-based music stations provide nostalgia for their listeners and that such an elixir has been highly valued by consumers during these difficult times.

Clay Routledge is a professor of management at North Dakota State University, a faculty scholar at the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth and a senior research fellow at the Archbridge Institute, and as he recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, there should be no shame in remembering the good old days. In fact, research suggests that nostalgia is something to be embraced in many situations.

This runs contrary to a lot of conventional wisdom about nostalgia, which some see as a sign of mental weakness or a way to escape reality. Some go as far as suggesting that those who reflect nostalgically on the past often stand in the way of progress. As recently as the 19th century, nostalgia was regarded as a medical condition requiring treatment.

Modern behavioral science, however, has revealed such thinking to be wrong. In fact, as Routledge wrote in the Journal, “…nostalgia doesn’t cause distress. Instead, distress causes nostalgia.” Basically, negative feelings like sadness, loneliness, a sense of meaninglessness, and uncertainty trigger reactions in people that make them experience nostalgia.

Now I don’t know about you, but I certainly experienced—among other things—sadness and uncertainty over the past 12 months. Sure, I feel fortunate that those closest to me have avoided the worst of the pandemic so far and that I’m not among the millions experiencing severe economic hardships during this crisis, but there were enough moments in 2020 when experiencing nostalgia gave me some comfort. It provided me with what the behavioral scientists have found in their research on the impacts of nostalgia—happiness, love, gratitude, and hope.

I am clearly not alone in this, as demonstrated by how the television and movie businesses have embraced nostalgia during the pandemic. A list compiled by Insider includes more than two dozen reboots, remakes, and spin-offs—ranging from a new take on the late 60s/early 70s series “Bewitched” to a reprise of the more-recent “Sex And The City”—that are in the works. It doesn’t even include nostalgia trips like “Cobra Kai” that have already launched; for a child of the 80s like me, this TV-series sequel to the “Karate Kid” movies provided much-needed nostalgia during the height of the pandemic.

Cobra Kai nostalgia

Netflix estimates 41 million viewers watched at least part of Season 3 of “Cobra Kai” in its first month of release.

Even the world of sports is embracing nostalgia. A great example is how NASCAR has introduced Throwback Weekends, featuring races scheduled at nostalgia-inducing venues like Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.

If you oversee a Gold-based music radio station or any other audio brand that can tap into the potential of nostalgia, it is important to do so in a meaningful way. While simply playing a “Class Reunion” featuring ten titles from 1982 may evoke positive emotions from your listeners, you can and should go much deeper and truly strike a chord with them. In the Wall Street Journal piece cited earlier, Clay Routledge discusses how nostalgia is often experienced through “meaningful social memories of experiences such as weddings, holidays, vacations with family or friends, family gatherings, and religious rites of passage.” Thus, think about how much more effective a Class Reunion feature can be with hosts and/or listeners sharing brief funny, uplifting stories about events in their lives that are connected to each of the songs.

A great example of making nostalgia meaningful is how Chicago’s Classic Rock station The Drive celebrated its 20th anniversary on the air last week. Rather than simply airing “celebrating 20 years” promos, the station not only played all of the same songs in the same order as they did on day one of the station’s launch in 2001, it featured its listeners, hosts, and even former hosts telling stories on-air about the beginnings of the station and what it meant to them. It was truly great radio that likely generated positive vibes for those listening to it.

Longtime Coleman Insights clients and readers of this blog know of our advocacy of Outside Thinking. A major component of that philosophy is that consumers turn to audio brands to instantaneously meet at least one of five major needs—to energize and improve their moods, to relax, to avoid boredom, to stay in touch, and to relive memories. Nostalgia arises from reliving memories; if you think of it less as a source of escape but as a source of inspiration and meaning for your listeners, it can provide your audio brand with a major advantage.

 

 

 

 

 

What I’ve Learned After Six Months of Voice Tracking

In the past, I have used this blog to write about WVBR, the first stop in my radio career. The station, in Ithaca, New York, has a commercial FM license and is owned by a non-profit corporation consisting of students at Cornell University, where I earned my undergraduate degree. I spent four years as an air personality on WVBR and I was the station’s general manager from 1985 to 1987, where I had a team that included iHeartMedia’s Tom Poleman, SiriusXM’s Steve Blatter, CNBC’s Jessica Ettinger, and syndicated host Todd Schnitt helping me run the station.

WVBR Ithaca

WVBR is still going strong today, staffed by a dedicated group of Cornell students and community volunteers, and offers an Alternative music format during the week and a wide array of weekend specialty programming. I have remained an active alumnus of the organization and—after serving on its board of directors from 2006 to 2014—currently serve in an informal advisory role.

When the pandemic lockdowns hit, WVBR faced a crisis, as many of the student volunteers who normally hold down air shifts would be unable to do so. This created an opportunity for alumni and other non-student volunteers to step up and provide at least a minimal level of personality for the station’s now-automated programming via voice tracking. With a lot more time on my hands while the pandemic kept me working from home and not spending my usual eight to ten nights a month in hotel rooms while traveling for business, I decided to seize the opportunity. Thus, more than three decades after I hung up my headphones, I was back on the air, hosting a weekly four-hour show of Alternative music from my home more than 500 miles away in North Carolina!

Warren Kurtzman WVBR Cornell

A picture of a much younger version of me, when voice tracking didn’t exist

I am pleased to report that “Wednesday With Warren” is still growing strong and tomorrow marks the 29th week in a row I’ve hosted the show! As I reflect on the past six months, I’ve learned a few things about using voice tracking:

 

  1. It takes a lot more time to do a good show than I realized. When I volunteered to do this, I incorrectly assumed that it would not require much of a time commitment. I quickly learned, however, that if I wanted to do the show right—in other words, go beyond reading liners, station promos, and song introductions and talk with knowledge about the music I’m playing and relevant events in the community—it required a good deal of preparation. I am getting more efficient as the weeks pass, but I still find that I must put a minimum of two hours into the show each week, even if recording the breaks themselves takes me less than 30 minutes.

 

  1. Nothing replaces listening to the show live. I can listen to my recorded breaks repeatedly before I upload them to the station, but nothing helps me get better at this than listening to how they fit into the overall live flow of the radio station. Since work commitments often prevent me from listening to my show live, I use DAR.fm to record all four hours of my show and listen to the full playback, critiquing myself along the way and making notes for things I should try to do better the follow week.

 

  1. It can be a lot of fun! I find myself talking about my show with many of my friends, describing it as my “passion project.” Even when my crazy business travel life resumes, I intend to keep the show going for as long as WVBR needs me to do so.

 

  1. I made a very smart career decision in 1987. This experience has added to my respect for air personalities; it is hard to do this well and only the most talented and dedicated people can create compelling content, especially when using voice tracking. There was a time when I naively believed that an on-air role was going to lead me to my career goals. Thank goodness I made the move to the research side of the business all those years ago!

 

I don’t believe anything will ever be as powerful for radio stations as truly compelling and highly entertaining personalities who are “live and local,” but I am enough of a realist to recognize that voice tracking is here to stay. My experience with it over the last six months has convinced me that with effort and preparation, any air personality dedicated to their craft—and possessing more talent than me!—can use the technology to create compelling radio.

You can listen to “Wednesday With Warren” on WVBR between 9AM and 1PM Eastern time on 93.5 FM in the Ithaca area, wvbr.com, Live365, or TuneIn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Research Complete?

Tuesdays With Coleman

In 1978, when Jon Coleman started Coleman Insights, he had a clear vision of the kind of company he wanted to build. As he recounted in this video forty years later, he wanted to “go beyond just providing information and provide insights that yield to real actions.” Jon also wanted to help clients formulate and monitor tangible action plans for the radio stations that made up the core of our business for most of our first four decades.

Jon’s philosophy still governs the work we do for what is now a wide array of audio brands. That’s why today we are launching a new initiative called “Coleman Complete,” that encapsulates our approach and spells out specific benefits for radio clients in the United States and Canada who use our Plan DeveloperSM perceptual studies, FLIP format search studies, and FACT360 Strategic Music TestsSM.

I will not, however, use this blog to sing the praises of Coleman Complete. If you would like to learn more about its benefits, please visit this page on our website.

Instead, I want to share with you what went into the development of this campaign, because I believe it could be instructive for many Tuesdays With Coleman subscribers. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that when we set out to launch a new marketing campaign for our company, it started with research.

During the height of the pandemic lockdowns, we conducted in-depth interviews with roughly three dozen decision-makers randomly selected from our client base. These interviews followed a scripted pattern designed to have these customers give us blunt, objective assessments of our work, including what they valued the most in their relationships with Coleman Insights and what they thought we could do better. When we completed the interviews, we coded all the responses we received—even as going as far as categorizing responses as positive, negative, or neutral—and analyzed the data for patterns and recurring themes.

I can’t overstate how valuable this process for us. It gave us ideas about unmet needs that many of our clients have, some of which will drive enhancements to our services and the launch of new products you will see from us in the coming months.

What was most encouraging, however, was that what Jon Coleman set out to do more than forty years ago was what most of our clients told us they most value about working with us. Our clients told us that while they have confidence that we have excellent services and that they trust us to collect data “the right way,” what they really valued was how we go beyond delivering data and help them formulate strategies for their radio stations to succeed. They felt that we are invested in real partnerships with them and are always available to collaborate on the refinement or implementation of the strategic plans we develop together.

Thus, a marketing idea was born. To be honest, when the value you offer your clients consists of intangible attributes like “trust,” “relationships,” “follow-up,” and “partnerships,” communicating that value through marketing can be challenging. We feel that the idea that the research Coleman Insights delivers is “complete” communicates that value and differentiates what we do from competitors who conduct research as inexpensively as possible or who do little more than dump a lot of data on their clients. Our goal is for our clients to know that when their research is Coleman Complete, they have the insights, tools, and guidance they need to succeed.

For our long-time clients, the idea of Coleman Complete is a formal statement of what they already thought of us. For those reading this blog who haven’t worked with us before, we hope this increases the likelihood that you will consider building a relationship with us. After all, the best marketing campaigns reinforce a product or service’s value to its existing users while making non-users more likely to consider using it.

It’s like the radio station that stays focused on communicating that it’s “Number One for Hip Hop and R&B”; its likely not telling its existing audience something they didn’t already know, but it invites non-listeners who like Hip Hop and R&B to check it out. To our existing customers—especially those who answered our interview questions—we hope this reinforces how you already think of us and you appreciate some of the new benefits we are offering. If you don’t work with Coleman Insights yet, but you like the idea of a strategic research partner as opposed to a research vendor, we would appreciate the opportunity to discuss how our insights can help you.

 

 

The Year Ahead, Part 2

Tuesdays With Coleman

This is the second of our two-part blog series focusing on a roundtable discussion about the impact of 2020’s upheaval on the audio entertainment industry. Last week’s post focused on what the social justice movement, the election, and the pandemic meant for how people consume and what they want from audio entertainment.

In this second installment, our Senior Consultants—Warren Kurtzman, John Boyne, and Sam Milkman—share their thoughts on nonmusical content, podcasting, and the need for thoughtful innovation.

Coleman Insights Senior Consultants (L-R) Sam Milkman, Warren Kurtzman, and John Boyne

WARREN KURTZMAN:

This was already true to some extent before all of 2020’s craziness, but we enter 2021 with the sense that the margin for error is slimmer than ever. Hyper fragmentation and democratization of the media was already making it challenging for audio entertainment brands to cut through; now with economic uncertainty and so much of what we’ve always known to be true about how and why consumers use audio entertainment potentially changing, every client we work with really must get things right as often as possible.

JOHN BOYNE:

Personality content is going to be more important; there is a race to create unique unduplicatable content that is happening in radio, with podcasts, and even the streaming platforms focusing on this, too.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

We used to talk about how crucial developing nonmusical content was for radio, but now it’s vital for all audio brands. And it’s not just about the brand value of personalities; developing unique, compelling personality content is expensive, and understanding the behavioral impact personality content can have—whether it drives consumers to use an audio brand—is going to be more important as audio companies make ROI decisions on this content.

SAM MILKMAN:

As personalities become a bigger part of the strategy of almost every audio brand, how do you make sure that you are truly reflecting what your audience wants both in terms of content and tone?  For example, we saw many Hip Hop radio morning shows adapt to the heaviness of 2020 with less of a focus on comedy and celebrities and greater emphasis on social issues.

JOHN BOYNE:

It’s important to have great talent and unique content, but more than ever, our clients are demanding more sophistication in the development and execution of that talent and content. That’s where qualitative research and content testing are becoming a bigger and bigger part of our business.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

Right, John. That’s where the discussion about the Hip Hop shows Sam mentioned continues. Many shows adjusted their content based on the gut instincts of some very talented hosts and producers who are successful because they are in touch with the audiences they serve. But now, they must refine what they offer. Have all of these shows got the balance between entertainment and issues exactly right? Are they truly reflecting what the audience wants from them right now and will that change over time? Will it be different when we’re no longer in a presidential election year or after the pandemic ends?

SAM MILKMAN:

I think this extends well beyond radio morning shows. Our podcasting clients are going to need to get a handle on how their audiences are responding to their content if they want to keep growing.

JOHN BOYNE:

There’s so much room for growth with podcasting. We don’t know what the ceiling will be.

SAM MILKMAN:

Let’s stop treating podcasting like it’s a nascent category; it’s part of the lives of so many people.

JOHN BOYNE:

Yet there are still so many people who haven’t tried it yet.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

But it is now a big business. Look at how companies like iHeartMedia, Spotify, Entercom, Amazon, SiriusXM, etc. have snatched up podcasts and podcasting companies. That’s happening because it’s growing and starting to generate revenues in a big way.

SAM MILKMAN:

Which is my point. We anticipate doing more and more research for podcasters who recognize they’re in a big business. They need to measure the health of their brands, and they need to do content testing to see what works and doesn’t work with their audience.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

All three of us having been doing this for a long time, and as I reflect on that, it’s striking how much more complex and challenging things are than when our business almost exclusively consisted of perceptual studies and music tests for radio stations. It’s invigorating and I know all three of us—in fact, our whole team at Coleman Insights—can’t wait to get to work on exciting opportunities for our clients in 2021.

JOHN BOYNE:

Every time we turn over the calendar to a new year, it makes me think of thoughtful innovation. This may be truer this year, as we emerge from the pandemic and look for new opportunities. We do a lot of research on how consumers feel about and perceive things that exist; I’m hopeful that 2021 will include more work on innovations that audio companies could potentially offer to listeners.

SAM MILKMAN:

Agreed. This harkens back to many of the points our founder Jon Coleman made in his “Should Radio Go Back To Normal?” blog post in December. I hope that many of our clients pursue Blue Ocean Strategy ideas in 2021 and that we have many opportunities to provide them with the insights they need to make those ideas succeed.

 

 

The Year Ahead, Part 1

Tuesdays With Coleman

In January 2018, when we last utilized our Tuesdays With Coleman blog to offer our outlook for the coming year, we had no idea how easy we had it. Observing trends in consumer behavior, tastes, and perceptions is our bread and butter and has always allowed us to project future happenings in the audio entertainment world.

That was pre-COVID, and we admittedly approach our look ahead to 2021 with less confidence than we have in the past. We won’t let the uncertainty of our times stop us, however, as our Senior Consultants—Warren Kurtzman, John Boyne, and Sam Milkman—share their thoughts over a roundtable discussion as we begin 2021.

Coleman Insights Senior Consultants (L-R) Sam Milkman, Warren Kurtzman, and John Boyne

This is the first of a two-part blog series in which we focus on the impact of 2020’s upheaval (the social justice movement, the election, the pandemic, etc.) and what it means for how people consume and what they want from audio entertainment.

SAM MILKMAN:

I think before we get too far into this, we should state that we are extraordinarily empathetic to our clients’ challenges and we are thinking anew about those challenges.

JOHN BOYNE:

Yes, we are going to focus on the path forward in the belief that things will get better at some point in 2021. That said, we are not turning a blind eye to the difficulties that many of our clients are facing.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

Which is why we are emphatic that if you are involved in audio entertainment—radio, streaming, podcasting, etc.—you must make sure to really understand the short- versus long-term impacts of the pandemic. It may create the need to reintroduce your brand; it may make you rethink your role in your listeners’ lives.

JOHN BOYNE:

Coming out of the pandemic, things may be different in ways that we can’t anticipate right now. But historically when we have big events, things change. We should be on the lookout for changes that will impact all forms of audio entertainment.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

These changes may not only impact the quantity with which people use your brand, but also how and why they use it.

More broadly speaking, the pandemic will likely cause long-term changes to the way people use audio entertainment and it is incumbent on us to understand those changes. There are many people now just discovering streaming, podcasting, etc. because of the pandemic.

JOHN BOYNE:

Our lives and behavior after all this won’t be the same, even if a lot of things return to pre-COVID normal. A lot of people will be going back to a workplace, but there’s little doubt that the number of people or at least the number of hours worked from home will be much higher than before, and that will have a big impact on how audio is consumed. Obviously, commuting consumption goes down, but there are also opportunities to reach those who no longer commute as they work from home; they have more flexibility and ability to listen to audio when working from home.

SAM MILKMAN:

In every moment, media meets the challenge. Our challenge now is to pivot to the needs of the audience in this new world.

JOHN BOYNE:

For example, music has historically been influenced by societal changes. What will music look like in 2021 and even 2022? There is a sense that contemporary music across many genres was not very strong heading into the pandemic and then so much stood still in 2020; does that put us on the precipice of something big? Is there a new genre that will emerge? We don’t know right now, but more than ever, we should keep our eyes and ears open for the next big thing.

SAM MILKMAN:

Some of the best Rock emerged from protesting the Vietnam War; Rock in general was a rejection of the way things were previously. That’s what made it cool.

JOHN BOYNE:

Grunge emerged in the early 90s with a grittiness that seemed to be a direct and jarring counter-response to the glitz, glam, and excessiveness of the 80s. Of course, also around that same time, Hip Hop’s explosion seemed to reflect young people’s hunger for something real and authentic.

SAM MILKMAN:

Who is going to take all that has gone on between the social justice movement, the economic distress so many are in due to the pandemic, and the political polarization of our times, and wrap that up and speak to this generation in music?

WARREN KURTZMAN:

Music outlets are clearly responding to aspects of the social justice movement—for example, there have been very public efforts to feature more artists of color on Alternative radio stations and streaming channels and CMT launched an important campaign to highlight female Country artists—and it will be interesting to see if their responses have measurable impacts and capture the essences of the movement.

JOHN BOYNE:

You can envision something coming out of this that is different from what we’ve had before.

SAM MILKMAN:

I remember how there were certain songs or sounds that lost relevancy when the planes hit the World Trade Center on 9/11. There is going to be some artist or sound that will fall completely out of bed because of what’s going on.

JOHN BOYNE:

Speaking to 2020 has been one thing; it’s mostly been heavy for obvious reasons. But speaking to 2021 could be completely different, especially if the vaccine rollout gets done early in the year and we emerge from lockdown. People may want crazy, mindless fun in that case. But, if there’s still a great deal of economic challenges or the pandemic doesn’t end as soon as we hope, people may want something very different.

SAM MILKMAN:

Finding the right tone or voice with our audience is crucial right now. Our brands must reflect the new reality not just in the music we play, but in our take on the world. How we say things. How we package things.

 

Next week, our roundtable discussion will cover nonmusical content, podcasting, and the need for thoughtful innovation.

 

Content Is King…Except When It’s Not

Tuesdays With ColemanYou likely heard last week’s story about Quibi’s decision to shut down later this year. Quibi is a streaming service focused on short-form video content to be consumed on mobile devices. It launched in April after 18 months of build-up, as founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman successfully raised $1.75 billion from investors and recruited an impressive array of partners to create original content for the platform.

Quibi fails

No matter how you look at it, Quibi has been a flop. Downloads of the app never came close to expectations, and while the company sold out its first year of advertising inventory generating $150 million, it was unable to convert a meaningful number of consumers who signed up for a free trial into paying subscribers. As of a few weeks ago, Quibi reportedly had about 500,000 subscribers paying $4.99 per month, pacing well below their target of seven million subscribers by the end of the service’s first year.

This blog post, however, is not about bashing Quibi. (To the contrary, Katzenberg and Whitman deserve a lot of credit for being forthcoming about their failure, most notably when they made a joint appearance on CNBC last Thursday.) It is also not a full post-mortem on what went wrong with Quibi; instead, I want to focus on what lessons we can apply from Quibi’s failure to the audio entertainment world.

Quibi CEO Meg Whitman and founder Jeffrey Katzenberg raised $1.75 billion from investors

Let’s start with what Quibi did right—it invested in creating world-class content. The company reportedly spent over a billion dollars on content creation; in fact, some of the content was strong enough that it garnered two Emmy awards and ten Emmy nominations overall. Furthermore, its user interface generally received positive reviews.

However, as we often see with podcasts, streaming services, and radio stations, having great content often is not enough for success. When appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America last week, IndieWire television editor Kristen Lopez summed it up perfectly, stating, “It’s not enough to have stars. It’s not enough to have original content. You need to be very aware of what the market will hold, what your audience is, and what they’re willing to pay. What are they watching? What are they talking about?”

You also need to build a brand. Despite all the hype and firepower around Quibi, awareness of the service paled in comparison to other streaming video platforms, including YouTube, TikTok, Snap, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. Even among those aware of Quibi, we suspect that few understood what Quibi was or at least didn’t see it as something meaningful to them.

This means that you can create a podcast with outstanding content, but if few people know about it or think of it as something that meets a need for them, your chances for success are limited. This also means that you can launch a streaming channel that has the most perfectly curated playlist of songs for fans of a particular genre, but if another brand already occupies that position, you likely won’t attract many listeners.

We see this phenomenon play out with radio stations as well. Too often radio programmers will listen to a station and decide they can offer the same format in a superior manner, with better music and stronger personalities. This may be completely true, but if the station with the theoretically inferior content owns a position in the minds of consumers, it is going to be very difficult to win such a battle.

Beyond the need for brand building, there is an additional lesson applicable to audio entertainment from Quibi’s demise—the importance of distribution. A lot has been written about Quibi’s timing; launching a mobile streaming service during a pandemic when people aren’t mobile certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster. But what is perhaps more important is the decision to make Quibi available only via mobile devices. In an age where consumers want the content they desire on an on-demand basis, this sounds like a short-sighted decision. You couldn’t watch Quibi content on your laptop or the big screen in your living room (although, paradoxically, Quibi announced its availability on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Google TV on the same day it announced its closure), which presumably made the service far less attractive to consumers than it could be otherwise.

Whether you work in radio, podcasting, or streaming, keep the lessons of Quibi in mind. It is commendable to create the very best content you can, but if you don’t put as much effort into building a brand around that content and make sure its distribution allows your audience to consume it how, when, and where they want to, you are only doing half of the job.