Over Catering for Your Listeners

In America they’ve changed the way that they measure the number of people tuning into a radio station. Like the UK they’ve been using a diary system, this is where listeners tick a box for each quarter hour of a station that they’re listening to. It’s not exactly scientific, but at least everyone has the same system. Except, it doesn’t really work like that. As the diary is measured on recall, after the fact, it’s maybe not exactly accurate. ‘Heritage’ stations tend to better, as people can remember them; smaller stations, especially ones that people flick onto when they’re not happy with their main station don’t tend to get recalled so their listening isn’t measured so well. Hence the reason that a lot of stations constantly repeat their names – they’re just reminding the diary holders what to tick. There’s also lot of other pros and cons about diaries, but maybe that’s for another post.

Well, in some US markets they’ve changed to something called PPM, basically it’s a little pager device that you carry that listens to what you listen to, it’s therefore thought by some to be much more accurate. Nothing’s ever going to be 100%, but one thing it does do is give you more information, like ratings by the minute, and it delivers it quicker back to the stations.

There’s some interesting new learning that’s coming from PPM, one is that a smaller number of listeners than previously thought provides a disproportionate amount of a station’s hours. Therefore keeping these super-P1s interested is going to become even more important for every station.

What reminded to write about this, was watching Radio 1’s 40-year anniversary show today. I say, watch, because they’re streaming today live in vision, with the audio from the radio station. Throughout the day lots of old DJs are popping in and co-presenting shows so they’ve decided it’s worth going video for the day. It’s also more than a streaming webcam, they’ve got three fixed cameras, but there’s also a vision mixer cutting between the three and occasionally popping up titles for guests etc. It’s surprisingly compelling and not just because i’m a radio geek.

Whether the presenters are dancing along to a song, giving a little wink when they say something or giving evils to their producer it really makes you interested in watching. I’m typing this whilst a record is on, and then stopping to look at them when they’re chatting in a link. Radio is, of course, excellent as wallpaper letting you do something else while it’s on, but sometimes people don’t want to just to hear they want to be a bit more engaged and to properly listen. Anything, like this TV streaming, that can satisfy their consumption desires is a good thing. Especially for the station which will benefit from their listening hours.

It’s also the type of thing that will really help stations in this new PPM world, by catering for the desires of the core audience, the extension of their listening will drive total hours. This, and other web-based things, are also good because they don’t exclude the P2s or other listeners who occasionally stop by for other reasons as it doesn’t clutter the station with unnecessary speech and promos.

If you only had to worry about your core audience, what would you change at your station?

2 thoughts on “Over Catering for Your Listeners”

  1. I completely agree, it was absurdly compelling. I was involved in testing the setup during Mills’ show on Thursday afternoon. I had mates outside the BBC looking at it as well to check it was getting outside the firewall. Of course, I had to go into the studio to, er, y know, just check everything was ok, and perhaps, wave at the camera once or twice.

    A question about PPM – does it use special silent codes or something to detect what you’re listening to? Or does it just recognise sound patterns or something? Because if it’s the latter, that means listening online, via tv, or via video streams like this would count as well. And what about listening again online or to podcasts? Could it recognise you’re listening to something that was previously live, and add that to your stats?

  2. @Sam: Wikipedia says (yes I know) that these PPM things can last for several months. Given this, my theory is that it must just sample short bursts of audio every 15 minutes (ie the standard Rajar interval.) It does nothing with these other than store them, and then they’re all downloaded into a computer for analysis. If there’s no audio at the time it doesn’t record anything. I believe (based on occasion conversations on TWiT podcasts) that American stations often adhere to a standard clock format for their commercials to discourage listeners from changing channels, so it may be pre-programmed with the minutes past the hour most likely to get an ident. Of course, every single bit of background noise is going to be picked up this way – plus I still don’t thinks its granular enough – I will often listen to two or more stations within a 15 minute period.

    On the subject of webcasts – the stuff the BBC is doing is interesting (not just R1 – whose multicast page seems to hint this might be something they’re considering permanently – but also Five Live). I’m also a bit concerned at what’s had to be cut to free up staff to vision mix, the cost of the equipment to generate the astons, and so on – imho I’d rather all the resources went into the content of the show – the 5-minute refresh rate of the many existing BBC webcams could be reduced at zero cost (we must be getting on for a decade of that policy now?) And I’ve seen these video trials several times before (live stream of the Today programme, anyone?) and they always seem to be abandoned after a short time – though admittedly we all have a lot more bandwidth than we used to.

    The point is, though as a radio anorak I’d personally jump at the chance to watch a live video stream of the studio, want the ability to listen to all the outside sources on demand and monitor the running order and ENPS, I don’t think the “core audience” really care much for this sort of thing. They may watch once or twice but will quickly get bored of it.

    My pet hate at the moment is branding – I’ve just about got used to every BBC station having to run trails twice an hour, whilst gritting my teeth through those *dreadful* BBC One promos which Marketing & Trails insist on bookending with a BBC1 ident and a “BBC One – the one to watch tonight” voiceover, but they’ve now stepped up branding on podcasts as well, so literally every link in a typical Radio 2 podcast has to have a jingle – it seems they’re limited to 10 seconds but 5 is enough to me. If people have gone to the trouble of downloading something they’ve already been exposed to multiple layers of branding, they don’t need more. Wish Ipods were open source so you could press a key combination to skip through them.

    Oh – and as an aside – has anyone else noticed the posh woman who has read out the menu system for Orange mobile phones since time immemorial has been junked for someone with a slightly, er, different, voice?

    (Rant over – apologies if I’ve offended anyone.)

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