Friday, January 13, 2017

Formats with the Most Momentum Entering 2017: Questions to Ask As You Survey the Competitive Landscape

Towards the end of each year, Nielsen releases its Top Audio Trends report which lists the 10 leading formats in terms of share for the past January through November in PPM markets.  There are separate rankings for 6+, 18-34 and 25-54.

In 2016 News-Talk led in 6+ with CHR winning 18-34 and 25-54. Country and CHR were the only formats to rank in the top three in each demo.

Here are last year’s top three formats.


Breaking out the formats by demo, it’s tempting to cite the election as driving News/Talk’s position. However, while this year’s 6+ shares were notably higher, the format has been the top 6+ format in each of the last four years.

Of all formats that have been in the top 10 over this time, the format with the greatest 6+ growth since 2013 is Hot AC (+0.9) with Classic Rock a close second (+0.8) and Sports (+0.4).

Hot AC5.
Classic Hits5.
Classic Rock4.
Urban AC5.
Urban Contemp3.53.7
Mex Regional3.93.73.7

Among 18-34s, Urban Contemporary saw the largest growth since 2013 (+1.3) and has added shares each year. Hot AC also had strong growth 18-34 (+1.2) followed by Classic Rock (+0.9).

Hot AC6.
Urban Contemp5.
Rhythmic CHR7.
Mex Regional5.65.24.65
Classic Rock3.

Among 25-54s, Hot AC is the growth leader (+0.9) with Classic Rock next (0.7) and Sports third (+0.4).

Hot AC6.
Classic Rock4.
Classic Hits4.
Urban AC6.
Mex Regional4.

Over the four year period, Hot AC and Classic Rock were the two formats registering the largest gains in all demos.

Across the same time period, Country was off half a share or less in each demo (-0.4, -0.5 and -0.2). However the declines since the format’s highs in 2014 are steeper: -0.8, -0.8 and -0.7.

Shares differ in the diary universe. This trended 12+ format information is available only to diary subscribers via Nielsen’s Audio Today Appendix.

Regardless of the methodology, these questions are worth considering as we start a New Year:
  1. What are the major trends in my market (station trends, demo shifts, market AQH, etc.)?
  2. What are key factors driving these trends for my format as well as my competitors’?
  3. What should my station’s responses be to each of these factors?

As we start the New Year, a quick look back can be a useful tool in moving forward.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017


We’re fresh off toasts to the start of a new year - or perhaps instead you toasted “good riddance” to 2016.

Either way it’s probable that someone, somewhere, recently brought up New Year’s Resolutions.

I have no beef with resolutions though often they can be too vague (lose weight) or too negative (stop doing something).

Better I think to plan for self-improvement in the New Year with specific, positive goals and an easy to follow map to help you get where you want to go.

So if improving the quality and engaging nature of your content one break at a time is a goal for 2017, you deserved to be toasted: T.O.A.S.T.ED.

T.O.A.S.T.ED. in this case is an acronym you can use as a checklist for strengthening your content while it’s still in the developmental stage. Each letter offers a way to power up your idea for maximum impact.

Here’s what the letters stand for:


Let's look at each.


"Camera angle" is a phrase I first heard from friend and talent coach Tommy Kramer. It's one of the most useful and important "checks" you should subject your idea to. Fixing the camera angle is another way of asking, “What’s the best way to fame this content?”

Most content has multiple camera angles and some will make a deeper connection than others. The angle you choose plays a big part in determining the impact of your material. Consider as may angles as you can before deciding on the one that is most aligned with the target and their perceptions of you and the station.


Everyone has access to the same information as you do. Plus, by the time your next show rolls around, you may be dealing with something many people already know. But an original perspective overcomes these potential pitfalls.

Your personal “take” on a topic makes your content unique and valuable. It also helps clarify who you are and what you stand for (there’s more on that in Defining).


There are lots of moving parts to accessibility including pre-promotion, recycling, repurposing, social, and archiving. Planning for full accessibility from the start not only means maximum reach for your material, but also can foster new ideas for iterating your original concept.


Accessibility is part of this of course, but before that comes quality. It's either great or it's spam. Your brand is at stake so be sure you’ve done all you can to fully exploit your material.

This would be a great place to invoke the Seven Magic Words (“That’s great – what else can we do?”).


Even a great take can be neutered by tardiness. Delayed delivery of time sensitive content sends a message that this item wasn't particularly important to you. That's a big problem if it was important to listeners.

"Continuing content," such as those long-running concert announcements need special attention as well. Your best bet here is to refer back to “T” and “O” for ways to inject freshness into items with long shelf lives.


Simply put, how will you get me to have a stake in this piece of content - at least enough of a stake to keep my attention and interest? This is also a critical question for multi-break content.

What is there in the content and execution that will repeatedly bring me back for more?

What has been included to encourage virtual or actual listener participation?


Over time what you do on your show will help define who you are to listeners. That's exciting when you're working to make every break count, but it’s a hard dose of reality when you’re winging it.

If improving your content is one of your goals for the New Year, try applying the T.O.A.S.T.E.D. checklist to your work.

Check in during the year and share how it’s going.

Cheers! And here's to a great year ahead!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016: Country's Top 10 Songs, Top 5 Artists, and 5 Thoughts for 2017

We’ve made a list and checked it twice (actually, it’s more like a dozen times).

The “list” is our annual A&O&B Top Songs and Artists of the Year list for the year 2016.

Each year we create our research-driven list using a formula heavily weighted by our online and callout data, and data rankings for every song we played and tested for at least six weeks.

Getting right to it, here is A&O&B’s Top 10 for 2016:

Rhett, Thomas
Die A Happy Man
Swindell, Cole
You Should Be Here
Florida-Georgia Line
Bentley, Dierks
Different For Girls
Bryan Luke w/Karen Fairchild
Home Alone Tonight
Rhett, Thomas
Hunt, Sam
Make You Miss Me
Swindell, Cole
Middle of a Memory
Bryan, Luke
Huntin' Fishin' and Lovin' Everyday
Bryan, Luke

The Songs:

This year we could use "contrast" to sum up a lot of what we saw: many songs showing higher Like A Lot  scores yet lower Total Positive scores.

The Like A Lot average for the 88 songs we tested improved compared to last year.  However the Total Positive scores for the Top 1/3 of the best Like A Lot testers tied a six-year low. 

Also troubling this year was the decline in the percent of songs scoring well enough to be retained in one of our recurrent categories. In fact, the percent of 2016’s currents that went on to recurrent is the lowest percent since we began tracking this metric.

This should generate a number of thinking points.

The Artists:

Meanwhile on the artist front, based on our Top Songs of 2016, Luke Bryan was A&O&B’s Top Artist of the year. He placed the three songs (including his duet with Karen Fairchild) in the Top 10.

Rounding out our Top Five Artists for 2016 were Thomas Rhett, Carrie Underwood, Florida-Georgia Line and Keith Urban. With two songs in the Top 10, Cole Swindell had a strong year as well.

We always track the impact of New Artists, particularly those that break through with top testing songs – something that’s never been easily accomplished.

Without getting into speculation about why that may be, the fact remains that historically our Top 1/3 contains scant few first timers. This year is no exception as just three artists - William Michael Morgan, Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton – had songs that finished in the Top 1/3.


“We don’t have enough tempo songs!” was oft echoed in programming’s hallowed halls this year. In fact, one label was quick to point this out as they worked a non-ballad.

And yes, at least as far as the Top 1/3, there were a lot of ballads.

It was the second strong year in a row ballads have had. Four of the top five songs both this year and in 2015 were ballads. Top 10 ballad presence was strong too with ballads accounting for 6 of the Top Ten testing titles (seven last year, five in 2014, four in 2013 and three in 2012)

Whether the higher number of top testing ballads is coming from stronger ballads and/or story-lines, listener tempo saturation, or other issues, for the second year in a row and fourth time in six years, ballads indexed higher than non-ballads when it came to the percent of songs that tested in the Top 1/3.

Five Things to Do in 2017
  1. While an up-tempo presentation – music, talent, quick fun, etc. makes for a highly listenable station, don’t fear ballads; they have tested very well especially over the past few years.
  2. Give fresh consideration to the number of currents you’re playing and to their exposure. Similarly, review how you’re managing Recurrents.  Balance "churn" and "burn."
  3. Absolutely play today’s Core Artists but, as a current-based format, we need to develop the next group of Superstars to augment our current list (many of whom have now been Core Artists for a decade or more). But be selective; embrace those that polish your brand.
  4. Giving appropriate exposure to high passion songs while taking lower Total Positive scores into consideration will be a challenge in 2017.  Weekly, LOCAL music research is your secret weapon.
  5. Music coding will be critical as programmers need to manage higher passion/lower positive songs as well as control for the six different genres of music the format has. Revisit your existing coding and rules to make sure they reflect the current music landscape and work together to give you the sound you seek.

Thanks for the read.  Anytime in the coming months that you feel like having a conversation about the country format, your station, talent, or radio in general, we hope you’ll ring us up.

And, as we roll into another year, the entire A&O&B team wants to pass along our warmest wishes for health, happiness and success!

Read about 2015’s Top Songs and Artists here.

Read about 2014’s Top Songs and Artists here.

The extended Client Only version can be accessed here  (password required).

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Country Format's 2015 Holiday Book: Nightmare On Elf Street

Last year country radio got a giant lump of coal in its Holiday Book stocking thanks in no small part to all-Holiday playlists.

Here’s how Nielsen trended the 6+ November-Holiday book change-in-shares for the past four years. 

This includes 2015's record 6+ and 18-34 shares for AC (12.9 and 11.5 respectively) as well as a 4-year tie for highest shares 25-54 (12.1).

According to Nielsen Audio's holiday music/radio report from this week, it's no surprise that for AC...

…holiday music significantly increases the share of listening for the format. Between the November and Holiday survey periods from 2012 to 2015, AC stations saw their share of audience among listeners 6 and older jump an average of 72%, compared to the rest of the year. And the combined audience to the top AC holiday music stations across the top 10 markets has grown from 27 million weekly listeners (6 and older) in 2012 to 30 million in 2015, an 11% increase. 

Historically, Country’s AQH tends to be softest during the last few months of the year (including the Holiday “month") and the first few months of the New Year.

While the format can take a hit this time of the year, Holiday listening patterns also can offer an opportunity against a competitor – particularly when fighting over fewer tune-ins where “must hear” content can be a difference maker.

So decorate your station like Dan Patrick’s holiday set and “gift” listeners with your best content.

Then check your stocking.

Thanks to Nielsen's VP of Audience Jon Miller for the data and PPM trend chart.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

A&O&B's Second Annual CMA Fun Facts Infographic

What's a country awards show without some "past winners trivia?" That's especially true this year as the Country Music Association celebrates it's 50th Awards show.

To that end, here's A&O&B's Second Annual CMA Fun Facts Infographics.

Enjoy the Show!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Looking Back Five Years: How Country Has Fared Since the Boom

It’s getting close to the time when year-end lists or links will start appearing in our in boxes. Depending on your interests, some are great - hopefully you feel that way about A&O&B's Year End Music Review released each year during the first week of December!

But before we start opening (or not) those "Top (fill in the blank) of 2016" lists, here’s a look further back – five years back - at some ratings data for both radio in general and country radio specifically.

The idea is to see where we've come over the past five years and why. Spoiler alert: we've saved the best news for the end of the blog.

Special thanks to Nielsen’s VP of Audience Insights Jon Miller who supplied A&O&B with the data we used to create our charts and graphs and help zero in on some specifics.

It’s old news of course that overall, radio has lost AQH over the years. As the chart below shows across all formats in the broadest measure, 12+, radio (red bars) AQH is off roughly 7%, with 18-34 AQH off just over 13% and 25-54 AQH down nearly 14%.

Comparing Country’s AQH losses to radio's as a whole, Country's losses were deeper 12+ and 25-54, losing roughly 10% and 15% respectively of the format's AQH. Meanwhile, in what could pass for a “tallest pigmy” illustration, country fared better than radio overall with 18-34 AQH though the format's AQH was still off 7.6%.

Country’s five-year share trend showed a similar pattern in that 18-34 was the format's best performing cell, growing nearly a full share.

To further drill down into the demos, this chart shows country’s AQH composition change from spring 2011 to spring 2016.

Again, we can see the same pattern of 18-34 vs. 12+ and 25-54. However the Composition grid shows that the 18-34 driver is 18-24.

At first glance, the increase among 55-64s might raise an eyebrow. However consider that in 2011, 45-54s accounted for nearly 20% (19.7%) of Country's AQH, and that over the past five years, some of those strong AQH providers have aged into the 55-64 cell.

All this presents challenges for country and its 25-54 target.  The 18-24 gains to date have not been enough to offset the AQH drop among 35-44s or the ‘aging out’ of 2011’s largest AQH cell 45-54.

On the positive side however, Country's overall cume remains strong. Nielsen breaks Country and New Country out separately (Country is off slightly, New Country has nearly doubled), but the bottom line is that country's total cume is up more than 2.2-million over the past 5 years. 

Plus, as Nielsen has previously reported Country had the 3rd highest share 6+ and second highest 18-34 and 25-54 at the end of 2015.

Still, with cume up and AQH down TSL gets put under the microscope.

A&O&B counts 21 factors that can influence TSL of which music is just one -- albeit a very important one.

Interestingly the country currents from five years ago were particularly strong. In fact, our year-end research pegged 2011 as the strongest year for current music since we began tracking year-end song scores in 1998.

As in many current music formats, new music has cycles of greater and lesser strength. The softer the cycle, the greater the importance other key occasion-driving components take on.

If it’s been a while since you’ve evaluated - or better yet taken your listeners’ pulse on - your TSL drivers including station images, personalities, and individual music titles, it’s important to find a way to do so in 2017 – or sooner.

With two million more cume than 5 years ago, there are now better than 71 million reasons to make sure your on air product is the best it can be.

A&O&B strongly encourage local research. To that end we provide clients tools and expertise for online current and gold music testing plus our annual online perceptual “Roadmap.” Clients receive their local breakouts as well as national data. For more information on these and projects like listener panels and ratings analysis, or for thoughts on how to audit your station's TSL drivers, contact or for more information.

In a future blog we’ll look at how Classic Country data today compared to that of 5 years ago.

Again, a big thanks to Nielsen’s Jon Miller for providing A&O&B with this important data.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Quick: What’s down but up at the same time?

Answer: Country this summer. AQH up, share of pie down.

Country’s strongest months still happen over the summer, though looking at the latest trends (thanks to Nielsen’s Tony Hereau for providing A&O&B this chart) country is clearly off in share compared to the previous two summers. 

In discussing country’s summer, Nielsen’s VP of Audience Insights Jon Miller shared with me that, while country’s PPM share is in fact down, the format’s AQH is up.

“Country's PPM-market AQH persons has actually increased year to year slightly but the share is down. That's because overall radio AQH (or what we call PUMM) has increased to a larger degree…”

Jon credits eCBET as contributing factor to the larger total audience saying that while cume is up slightly for all radio, overall TSL increases have been significantly greater.

“Everything we have seen from eCBET is TSL driven, which makes total sense. Upgraded codes are not finding new listeners out of thin air - they are extending listening occasions, bridging gaps and thus building TSL.”

To that point, here’s a slide Nielsen presented at last year’s December Audio CLIENT Conference (blue bar = no AQH Ratings change Standard vs. Enhanced, red bar = higher AQH ratings Standard vs. Enhanced). A greater percentage of news/talk/sports stations (left pair of bars) had increases compared to music stations (right pair of bars on).

For Country, the news was worse.

This past February Nielsen posted year-over-year AQH Persons data that showed country as one of the formats that benefitted the least from eCBET (additionally, and not illogically, 6+ appeared to increase more than 18-34 or 25-54).

At music stations, TSL discussions often revolve around music; good TSL is equated with the music being “right” and vice-versa.

And there’s certainly been a lot of discussion about the current state of music for mainstream country stations.

Here’s A&O&B’s comparison of our music test scores through September 1, 2016 with our full year, final music scores of the previous 5 years. This year (at least so far) has produced softer numbers (A&O&B tracks 25-54 so there’s not a clean correlation between Nielsen’s 6+ chart above and A&O&B’s music chart below).

Average of All Songs Tested (LAL)

2016 scores are through 09/01 and refer to final Like A Lot rank as a current.
Because these are rankings, lower scores are better.

But music, while critically important, is still just one of more than 20 factors that can impact TSL.

Some of these are station-controllable (like music and talent performance), others are not (such as weighting or the percent of a format’s Lifegroup in a survey sample).

With our music arguably not as strong as in years past and country's share of the AQH pie smaller given the latest PUMM information, managing those TSL influencers that we do have control over has taken on even greater importance.