As you can gather from the not-so-subtle, cheesy title of this post, holiday music is in the air, it is already impacting PPM ratings, and it’s just a matter of weeks before the industry trades and Nielsen glowingly report on the stunning story that this end-of-year stunt was wildly successful once again.
But what does success look like when it comes to radio’s obsession with the All-Christmas format?
Last week, Country guru Jaye Albright posted a not-so-cheery message on Twitter that included this chart of PPM markets published in Inside Radio about the impact of holiday music on other formats. Lamenting that Country radio endured an average of 13% lower ratings in both 2012 and 2013 during this festive season, Jaye stated that “For us, it’s not ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’”
And the format roster clearly shows why. While most formats are flat to down, Country appears to have been especially hard these past two Q4s by Burl Ives, Brenda Lee, and The Chipmunks.
Like Jaye, Christmas music stunting is on our radar screens as well, as many rock formatted stations end up with lumps of coal in their ratings stockings. So we devoted a question to holiday music in last year’s Techsurvey10 to gain a more global perspective – the audiences of 199 stations across North America in both PPM and diary markets weighed in on this same issue. Now keep in mind that we’re measuring the audience’s recall of how they listened to in the past season.
Our data shows that nearly a third of our overall sample tuned in Christmas music on the radio at least half the time or more often at this time last year. And the biggest swell of listening occurred among those who are fans of Contemporary Christian Music, as well as Adult Contemporary partisans – the stations that most likely played holiday music to begin with.
Other formats fans that say they spent mass quantities of their radio listening time tuned into seasonal music offerings include Hot AC, Variety Hits, Country (there you go, Jaye), and CHR.
But listeners to all formats – including Active Rock – are impacted, whether it’s the actual listeners who participated in our survey or someone else in the household or the office tuned into holiday music.
So that begs the question about what constitutes success during the December ratings period – or in the case of diary markets, a large chunk of the Fall Book. The industry trades continue to show us ratings results, but isn’t the true measure of an annual mega-event – think the Super Bowl or a major election – a station’s ability to cash in on this annual ratings bonanza in real time when the stunt is taking place.
Unlike a snow storm or an emergency situation that often strikes a market without warning, the impact of Christmas music is predictable. Stations like WNIC in my hometown of Detroit have been presenting wall-to-wall holiday music for many, many years, with consistently strong audience numbers.
And as the data clearly shows, this temporary format flip destabilizes ratings across a wide swatch of formats – including the other stations in the cluster who occupy the same building space. And while the AC and Soft AC stations that go “All Christmas Music” are drinking their egg nog, donning their party hats, and dancing around the conference room in December, what defines a win? In the meantime, the rest of radio is hustling to make up for the losses, while buys in January and February are going to be placed on these seasonal numbers.
Maybe we can learn a little something from brick and mortar stores as well as ecommerce sites during the holiday season. For them, November and December produce an expected and necessary windfall. The National Retail Institute reports that department stores, as well as outlets that specialize in clothes, electronics, and sporting goods, glean an average 13%-15% increase in December business. For jewelry stores, it’s more like 24%. And for all retail stores, the last month of the year shows an average gain of about 10%.
But they never take it for granted. And in fact, most retailers work extra hard to ensure their optimal success during the holiday season. They market, promote, offer deals and specials. They totally redecorate their stores, hire more staff, and gear up for the expected throngs of customers, old and new. They know that it’s crunch time, and they have to do everything they can to get every dollar in their cash registers during this short period of time.
It’s not about January – it’s about generating mega-sales when shoppers are hitting the stores, malls, and ecommerce sites in November and December. That same yardstick ought to be applied to All-Christmas music stations, too.
But are holiday music stations going all-out to lock in revenue during the season? How many actually invest in their famous, end-of-the-year stunt, gearing up by adding staff (especially sales support), offering new packages and ways that retailers and community organizations can participate, and marketing this spiritual steroid in the hope of not only boosting ratings, but adding much-needed revenue to the books?
That may be the true spirit of radio Christmas – not turning markets upside-down for a couple months with ratings that really aren’t reflective of the norm, but delivering the dollars during what should truly be “the most wonderful time of the year.”
You may call “Bah! Humbug!” on me, but if the radio industry at large is going to experience widespread losses because of a six-week stunt, companies and clusters who make that happen ought to have the onus of delivering the dollars when it counts – when credit cards are being swiped billions of times in November and December.
Christmas Post Script: In surfing around station websites for this post, most digital and promotional treatments were pretty typical – gift wrapping in the margins and ornaments on the station logos. But More FM (WBEB) in Philadelphia was doing something very interesting and community-spirited – the Christmas Choir Competition, showcasing school choirs in two different divisions with cash prizes. Think of it as a bracket contest for school children who typically aren’t honored because they’re not playing football or soccer but are making a cultural contribution to their communities. BTW, it’s sponsored by Mercedes-Benz. Bravo, More FM.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.