Tag Archives: television

Are Debates Better Seen or Heard?

Tuesdays With Coleman

It’s debate season!!! Where presidential and vice-presidential candidates face off in a public forum! Issues! Moderators! More back-and-forth neck action than a tennis match!

I love a good debate. I was captain of the debate team in high school (no, no one is surprised by that). My first solid memories of politics are from the 1988 Democratic debates and lately I even find myself dropping that classic from 1992, “Who am I? Why am I here?” (Admiral Stockdale, you are kind of missed…) Debates are great for raising awareness, hearing directly from candidates, and creating cultural reference points.

And debates are great for radio. It’s a real shame that television leads as a debate medium, because the elements TV adds can be distracting. We start to focus on hair, clothing, and, as recent events show, plexiglass and insects. If you’re shying away from covering a debate—about anything, not just The Big Race—on your station, stream, or podcast because you think people are only interested in watching people argue, I urge you to think again.

Television rocked the debate world (such as it is) in 1960 during the presidential campaign. You know the story: Nixon debates Kennedy, and it’s the start of a new era. Kennedy looks young and fresh and tan while Nixon looks weak and sweaty (poor man was running a fever and had just left the hospital after being very ill with an infection). And in that moment Kennedy became a shining, unbeatable political star, poised and handsome, while then-vice president Nixon lost a lot of his political momentum.

Well, that’s not the whole story for radio listeners. In 1960, television was widely available in quite a few homes, but radio still played a big part in the consumption of news and major events.

There is a persistent myth that radio listeners either thought the two did an equally good job or they gave the win to Nixon, while TV viewers thought Kennedy had won. According to this article, the legend about the TV/radio disconnect was based on a survey of 2100 respondents, only 282 of whom listened to the debates on the radio. So the “conventional wisdom” that Kennedy trounced Nixon on TV and Nixon carried the day on radio isn’t really accurate.

But don’t let that deter you. Let’s note that in 2003 a political scientist conducted a study and concluded that TV viewers judged the participants on their personalities alone while radio listeners judged “on both issues and personality.” And Lyndon Johnson thought Jack Kennedy lost the debate—he listened to it on the radio.

TV, for all its wonderful characteristics, is built on distractions. What does the set look like? What is Senator Harris wearing? What color is President Trump’s tie? Whose makeup is messed up? What is up with those weird split screens, which wouldn’t be so weird if the candidates weren’t standing in front of the Declaration of Independence—which is a great document, but it’s, you know, made of words. Words do not a good TV set make, my friends.

But radio… now, there’s a medium for the imagination and for focus. Listeners can focus on what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, why they’re saying it. There is no audience to get a glimpse of. No errant fly to draw attention from the issues at hand. We can imagine our favorite candidate looking especially good, even if he or she suffers from a crooked tie or a weirdly placed lapel pin. We can listen closely to plans around policy and opinions on issues.

Lest you think I’m only referring to big national debates between candidates for major national office, I urge you to think beyond that. Local races can also reap the benefits of reaching radio listeners. Issues affecting your local audience are just as important. Why not bring people into your studio to debate a hot or critical concern for the community you serve?

There are other, more practical advantages to airing debates on the radio. According to Nielsen’s Ballot Box Breakdown, radio reaches 95% of Hispanic Americans and 91% of Black Americans—huge numbers, especially when you consider that Hispanic Americans spend less time watching TV than Black or White Americans. And think of the advertising! Radio is, after all, this country’s #1 reach medium. Engaged listeners are great targets.

Since 1960, we have become so accustomed to television that we have forgotten the beauty and benefits of listening to and discussing political events on the radio. Image is everything, right? But when we’re choosing our leaders or wondering how we should vote on an important issue, do we care more about a tan and a good haircut… or about intelligent discussion of the issues we find most important?

For the next debate? Lead them to the radio before you send them to the polls.


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.

  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.

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!

Do Your Ads Fit Your Brand?

Tuesdays With Coleman

As we at Coleman Insights have learned from years of radio research, a station’s brand is vital to its success. Coleman Insights’ Brand Content MatrixSM illustrates our belief that the success of great radio stations is the result of two dimensions. First, the station’s brand strength—its top of mind awareness and perception. Second, its in-the-moment content strength—a function of how compelling the content is. The Brand Content Matrix shows the most successful radio stations marry high-quality content with a well-established brand.

Brand Content Matrix

The content we program should fit with the brand we’ve established or are trying to establish. For example, a Classic Rock station with a harder edge should consider whether playing Fleetwood Mac, even if it tests, fits the brand. The development of a station’s brand—and making sure the brand is considered in decisions from programming to marketing—plays a very important role in a station’s continued success.

The cable TV world, where I spent a good chunk of my career, understands this. However, a cable network, especially one with a carefully and well established brand, also concerns itself with the ads it airs. That is, if it wants to maintain its brand integrity with its audience, the brand’s objectives must be woven through advertising as well as content. Commercials have to make sense in a viewers’ experience or a viewer might, literally or figuratively, walk away. With the advent of minute-by-minute Nielsen measurement and new platforms for measuring viewer engagement, ad content fit has become part of the network brand equation. This is especially true for custom ad content, like sponsorships and integrations. Networks want to be sure that ad content flows with carefully selected programming content and doesn’t provide a misguided “jolt” that disrupts the viewing experience. Yet in radio, we don’t always take that approach.

In the radio world, we also talk about “fit”, but that addresses programming elements like music and personalities. It is rarely viewed in the context of whether advertising makes sense on a station. We don’t often concern ourselves with how well an ad integrates into the listener experience. After all, an ad is an ad, and stations need ads to survive, and people are used to hearing ads, so why make any changes?

PPM tells us that “in the moment” listenership diminishes during ad breaks (though, as we found in our 2011 and 2006 studies, not as much as the industry believes). When stations strive to provide their listeners with a seamless content-to-ad experience, they can cut down on this disengagement even further. Listeners shouldn’t get the aforementioned jolt when an ad break starts, cueing them to tune out either literally or figuratively. An advertisement won’t always sound exactly like a station’s regular programming, but if an ad makes sense within the framework of the station, it will likely maintain audience engagement while it plays. More engaged listening can lead to both a more engaged audience and better advertiser ROI.

The question, then, is how best to provide a listener with an experience that is as seamless as possible. One suggested method is through localization.

When a station’s hosts, who are already known quantities to their listeners, read ad copy that is customized for the station and its metro area, listeners connect it directly to the station’s content. The voices they hear are familiar, and listeners think of a station’s host as local. Therefore, the ads make geographic sense. Using a station’s talent is also great for business. Recent studies, like one from the USC Annenberg School of Communications and another commissioned by Cumulus Media, tell us that using familiar personalities in radio ads increases purchase consideration or purchase itself, and that familiar personalities influence listeners’ opinions.

Another method would be making sure the products advertised—and the style in which they’re advertised—make sense for a station’s brand. For example, a car dealership commercial featuring a country song might feel jarringly out of place on an Urban AC. You might not want a Motley Crue music bed under a spot on a Mainstream AC station, just as hearing John Legend could be confusing on an Active Rock outlet.  If your station is perceived as “family-friendly”, are there clients with edgy spot content you need to turn away or spots you should at least daypart? Is the production quality to the station’s standards or will it reflect poorly on the product?

Not every solution will work for every station. Programmers who are fortunate to have the advantage of research—especially perceptual research—can glean a better understanding of what their brand stands for. Understanding what your brand means to your audience and the broader marketplace can empower you to view the product from every angle. This level of strategic knowledge allows savvy programmers to consider every song and piece of content. Sharing these brand insights and working collaboratively with the sales leadership at the radio station can help ensure that your station’s listening experience continues to engage your audience even when your programming is on a break.