Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When the Ratings Are/Aren't What You Expected: A Process for Uncovering What's Important

Ratings data is noisy.

Along the pathway to “is this real?” meaningful data rests alongside the spurious or even potentially misleading.

And usually when those results are better or (fortunately less often for our stations) worse than expected, there are questions.

Also usually within the data there are some (but likely not all) answers.

You'll increase your changes of finding the meaningful when you have a plan before going under the hood.

Use your ratings data and knowledge of what happened at your station and in the market to develop a list of as many possible scenarios that could be contributing factors. This list will direct you to specific areas of inquiry. It will also help give your investigation focus while still allowing you the freedom to go down some rabbit holes without the fear of getting hopelessly lost or sidetracked. 

Let’s look at one example – a big TSL swing – and some possible scenarios:
  •  There was real change in usage because of something that changed on the station
  •  There was a real change in usage not because something changed on the station but rather in the market or on a competitor
  • There were more/less heavy radio users, regardless of format, in the sample with overall usage that deviated from the norm
  • There were more or less heavy users of your format, station or a competitor’s station in the sample
  • There was a change in the demographic composition of the sample overall or in the sample of your format’s lifegroup
  • Proportionality was/wasn’t an issue
  • Geography/zip code returns was/wasn’t an issue
  • There was a significant change in the percent of employed fans of your station who are in the sample
  • There was a change in occasions of listening or in vertical or horizontal cuming (revisit bullets 1-5)
  • There was a single or handful of respondents that skewed a particular cell
  • There was a station identification issue (diaries) or a crediting error

Some of the above bullets can be assessed with relative ease, but others require more investigation, time, and a strong working knowledge of your ratings analysis software.  Regardless, getting a handle on the ‘degree of truth’ in your theories will go a long way in providing insight (of course you'll want to develop a different line of hypotheses for other issues).

Wading through ratings data is time consuming and some of your efforts won’t lead anywhere (we did say the data is noisy). But if you're going to get as much of a handle as you can on things, you'll need to do a deep dive. Having a plan helps.

And yet, even with as much noise removed as possible, conclusions may still be a bit murky. Sometimes we’ll need to call on the recent past to help us interpret what we’re seeing and give us guidance for the future.

But finding and then spending time with the critical information will increase the probability of being closer to the truth.

Two quotes from Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail - but Some Don’t” sum things up pretty well:

“…immersion in a topic will provide disproportionately more insight than an executive summary.”


“…success is determined by some combination of hard work, natural talent, and a person’s opportunities and environment – in other words, some combination of noise and signal.”

PS - “The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail - but Some Don’t” is an excellent read if you live in a world where data-driven assumptions, reporting and forecasting are a way of life - or if you play poker, bet on sporting events, or simply watch the local TV weather casts. Finishing the book at a time when such a large amount of ratings analysis is going on here at Albright & O'Malley & Brenner inspired the camera angle for this blog. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Welcome Back: Country Returns to New York Metro. What Drove Past Success

Something that’s been a long time coming happened yesterday (Monday, 01/21) in the nation’s number one market: New York City got a country station again.

Having launched WYNY as a country station for NBC and programming it from 1987-1992, I know that the New York metro is a great country market.  As with many formats, some pockets are hotter than others, but with 1-million-plus cume, there are lots of fans and potential P1s.

We had a number of firsts at WYNY including being the first country station to raise 1-million dollars for St. Jude. We had a cume of over a million with no sports affiliation to inject additional audience.

We had a staff of high profile personalities including the great Dan Daniel and Jim Kerr – two of the biggest names in New York City radio – and Scott Carpenter from KZLA, plus talent that worked (before or after) at New York's legendary CHR Z100.  

WYNY turned out to be a radio “Who’s-Who” whose staff also included the brilliant Steve Blatter (@Steve_Blatter) who is now the Sr. VP/GM, Music Programming SiriusXM.

We marketed.

We researched (continually) which helped us develop a unique brand strategy and a programming action plan that was built on totally on the New York/NJ/Connecticut country user.

We had a stellar promotions department that had a passion to find ways to put our amazing station and talent in the midst of listeners. 

We loved on the music and the artists, from Merle Haggard at the Garden to the Kentucky Headhunters at the Plaza Hotel (I’d love to tell you about THAT event when we see each other at CRS this year).

We hung with listeners every chance we could.

We embraced them and loved on their towns.

Over the years I’ve often been asked, “Why is there no country station in New York?” I’ve responded that three big factors are in play: signal, power ratios, and the corporate passion for the format.

Certainly one of the challenges for country in the New York metro is that big pockets of the audience live to the east (Long Island) and to the southwest (New Jersey). You can be talking in the neighborhood of 100 miles between the eastern and western pockets of the metro, so a signal with a big footprint is necesary if you’re going to be able to reach the maximum audience.

Obviously the revenue potential is a key consideration of any format decision, and formats have various power ratios (a power ratio of 1.2 means you can generally charge 20% above your ratings). These ratios vary across formats and across the country, so if the power ratio of one format is better than another, that would be a consideration. Recently country’s national Power Ratio was 1.07;   all news was a 2.0. 

That may or may not be what country is today in market #1.

And finally, yes, New York IS a different market for the format. The degree to which the plan is customized for the best prospects will make a difference.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way advocating watering the format down – but New Yorkers won’t accept “medium” as an acceptable suit size.

Country won’t be a ‘gimmie.’

But I’m excited for the industry and the fans that country has made a return to a great country market - hey, Jason Aldean sold out the Garden in 10 minutes and Brett Gardner, outfielder for the New York Yankees has been playing country music as his ‘walk to the plate music’ in Yankee stadium for years. 

Plus there's the market's strong sale of country music.

The blueprints for success are well documented. 

The potential rewards are great. 

The bar is high.

And those who have gone before you are here as resources to help you succeed.

The degree to which that success happens will be what Cumulus will do beyond the ordinary, and how they will treat New York as the unique – and amazing – country market that it is.