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Airwaves: August 6, 2010

Commercial Time

Ever notice that music stations seem to have commercials at the same time? Thought it was coincidence? Think again. Turns out it is related to ratings.

It’s done with science, and it’s much more than making sure you don’t give your listeners something to tune to if you break for commercials and your competitor does not.

Arbitron’s new electronic PPM ratings system gives credit to a station as long as a listener tunes in for at least five minutes in a quarter hour (every hour split into 15 minute increments). It doesn’t have to be continuous, as long as it is a minimum of five minutes. The reality, though, is that many listeners will listen to a station until a commercial comes on, then will tune away.

Place your commercial break at five minutes after the hour, and the listener who tuned in at one minute past the hour may listen for four minutes, then not come back until the next quarter-hour begins. If they tune away in another four minutes, those eight minutes don’t count at all because they are in different quarters. Your ratings suffer. The same listener listens to your competitor for only five minutes, but in one quarter hour, and they get the credit.

You could theoretically have someone listen to your station for 16 minutes in an hour and the system won’t give you any credit at all, if the listening was four minutes per quarter. Maddening!

But if you place those commercial breaks so that they evenly split the quarter hours -- such as breaks from :13 to :17 and :43 to :47 and you have allowed music -- and listeners -- to have 13 minutes of each quarter ... and a much higher chance of earning those five minutes needed to register your rating share, possibly in more quarters per hour.

It is said that music stations in some cities can do even better in the ratings simply by placing commercials at :28 to :32 and :58 to :02, because those stations not only get the quarter hour credits, they also attract by playing music when the other stations run commercials.

Of course music stations wouldn’t have to worry about this had they not conditioned their listeners to long commercial breaks. If stations ran only a commercial or two per break and got right back to the music, people wouldn’t punch the button as soon as a commercial started.

But they are conditioned ... Craig Powers told me years ago when he programmed KMXN (94.3 FM) that they went to shorter breaks and cut the commercial load ... only to find that the extra needed breaks made people think they had more commercials. Unfortunately, perception supplants reality.

Why only music? Talk station listeners are more tolerant of commercials and tend to stay with the station through breaks.

As I said, it’s a science. Also known, I suppose, as gaming the system.

Time with Dave

I happened to meet with The Sound (KSWD, 100.3 FM) programmer Dave Beasing last week, the first time I really spent time talking with him since he launched the station in the Summer of 2008.

Along with numerous other topics (including my promised suggestion to bring Dr. Demento to The Sound ... he said he’d consider it) the question came up on what I think of the station.

An interesting question. I really like The Sound. I like the way it treats listeners with respect; I like the way it runs things like surf reports; I like the way it helps me work out at the gym; I like the way Andy Chanley gives the background of some of the music and albums he plays. What would I change? I wouldn’t mind some more current music. Other than that I couldn’t think of anything.

Which then piqued my interest ... what would you change, if anything, about The Sound? Or for that matter, any other station in town? I’ll print interesting responses right here.

Payola Case Settled

Spanish broadcaster Univision settled a probe into possible “pay for play” violations by the Department of Justice and the FCC last week. They admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to pay a $1 million penalty.

The investigation centered on former employees of the Univision Music Group (UMG); that company was sold by Univision in 2008. Univision actually self-reported the violations and according to a company statement “cooperated fully with law enforcement authorities throughout the (three-year) investigation process.”


Copyright © 2010 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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