(By Mike McVay) The work world has been slowly returning to normal, and despite many businesses continuing to Work from Home, we’re seeing listening levels start to improve. The uncertainty of the Delta Variant, and other mutations of the Coronavirus, has slowed some businesses from returning to a full five/six day on-location workweek. That directly impacts radio, regardless of on what device you listen, as our medium does the best when the audience is listening in habitual patterns.
Listening levels are showing growth, but there’s still a way to go as Persons Using Measured Media (PUMM) levels are lagging behind share levels. People are listening longer than in recent months, but the number of individual people listening continues to be behind pre-pandemic levels. Radio still owns listening in the car, and is dependent on that listening location, to drive overall radio use.
Stations will likely find that they need to market aggressively to better compete. Research shows that a significant number of listeners have shifted to listening on their smart speakers, on a computer or on their phone. This is particularly true during non-drivetime. That should encourage stations to seriously consider Total Line Reporting with Nielsen. In most cases, the increased revenue from overall rating growth will overshadow the revenue loss of eliminating streaming commercials.
Commute habits returning to normal are dependent on state rules, and many states are going backwards in regard to their Covid case numbers. That’s leading to a return of mask rules, and in some cases, lockdown. That alone should be reason enough for everyone to focus on messaging their audiences to take action to prevent the spread of COVID. Radio needs commuters, in-auto, to be able to fully return listening shares to pre-pandemic levels.
The competition for the ear continues to become more intense. It is reasonable to believe that many listeners have expanded what they listen to, where and when. That means that the level of competition is greater as we emerge from the pandemic versus before. The audience has been exposed to many other entertainment and information options. Radio appears to have surrendered Music Discovery to the DSP’s (Digital Signal Processors). News has been mostly replaced with Commentary. To some that is a positive. To others, those two changes will deepen some listeners dissatisfaction with our entertainment and information products.
To some listeners, who return to radio after having been away, the change they notice could feel extreme. Mainly because some air-talents have been eliminated and replaced with a Voice-Tracked personality. Some stations have extended shifts in order for the station to have a smaller airstaff. This disruption requires messaging that introduces the new talent. It would be a terrible assumption to make if you believe that your audience is aware of your new programming lineup.
Things have changed. Account for those changes and adapt to the audiences’ new habits and listening patterns. Consider how your audience uses your content and play to that benefit. Highlight what you do well, that shows demand for it from the audience, and do more of it. Improve the listening experience by managing/reducing your commercial load while playing fewer units. Move to Total Line Reporting and simulcast what’s over the air with what’s on-line.
If you’re a music station, and you play current music, realize that Music Discovery is important if you plan to compete with the DSP’s. The songs you expose to your audience have to be the type and sound of the music they want to hear, and if showcased properly, you can create a well-traveled path between your station and your audiences favorite DSP. We still lead the world over Digital Signal Processors, and they all wish that they had radios distribution, but radio has to make changes to survive long-term. That object you see in your review mirror is a DSP.
Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]