(By Andy Meadows) When discussing the length of radio station stopsets there are two studies from earlier this decade that people regularly reference. Those studies are somewhat at odds. One is from the RAB and found that radio retains 93% of its lead in audience during commercial breaks, and the other came via Edison Research and revealed that 54% of listeners wanted shorter and more frequent breaks.
The RAB study is used to justify longer stopsets even though it did find that short breaks had a slightly higher audience retention rate. The Edison Research is quoted by people like me who are arguing the benefits of shorter breaks. Keep in mind though that one of these was published five years ago and the other is more than eight years old.
Studies aside, we need to wake up and realize that we’re currently raising a generation of people who are accustomed to on-demand content that’s delivered after a single, short ad. Those 18 and under listeners, who aren’t used to long ad breaks, make up 22.4% of the U.S. population. That’s over 73 million people and it doesn’t even take into account the 19 to 30 year-olds who’ve spent over half of their life adjusting to this form of ad delivery.
It’s foolish to think that this huge segment of the audience will happily sit through four minutes that contain upwards of eight or more units on the radio, a medium they’re already biased against. Don’t believe me? Have a conversation with a teenager about radio, it’s pretty depressing.
Instead of ignoring this fact and sticking our heads in the sand, what if we embraced it and programmed for it. It’s time for terrestrial radio stations to give in and run shorter, more frequent commercial breaks.
Yes, I know it’s painful and very hard to do on established stations where this could mean cutting upwards of 30 to 40 percent of your hourly inventory. But, there are advertisers out there who will pay more to be in those shorter stopsets. Especially if they’re buying a 60-second spot in a 60-second break, thereby having exclusivity and being surrounded by entertainment elements instead of other commercials.
Plus, some of that lost commercial inventory can be offset by selling sponsored imaging pieces running into songs or other entertainment elements. I helped a station launch in a small, but crowded, market using my minute model, and even as a new entrant they were able to charge more for their spots and, at the same time, quickly dominate in the ratings. It’s a CHR format and the pacing is incredible, so much so that even the commercials start to feel like entertainment elements.
Shorter stopsets also benefit the production department since the reduced spotload allows for stations to focus more on the creative and deliver unique, effective ads.
From a sales standpoint, imagine being able to include this in your sales pitch:
- We run up to 80% fewer spots per commercial break than our average competitor.
- We run 40% fewer spots per hour than our average competitor.
- Our commercial breaks are 3 minutes shorter than our average competitor.
- We don’t bury our advertisers in long, crowded commercial breaks.
- Instead we feature them and surround them with music and fun content on either side.
- Our goal is to do everything in our power to make sure our listeners stay tuned in and listen to your entire ad.
The best candidates for this are new market entrants, format flips, or any under-performing station with significant unsold inventory. I know that not everyone can make the drastic move toward a minute model, but everyone can prepare themselves for the changing habits of young listeners by transitioning toward shorter stopsets.