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.