Radio Evangelist

Thoughts of a Evangelist for Radio in all its forms

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Radio Spot Loads – the Solution

Posted by Steve on March 26, 2010


  1. The “Tipping Point” for terracasters is rapidly approaching
  2. Use Arbitron PPM data to test commercial load on your station
  3. Superserve your P1 audience now, before it’s too late


A lot of digital ink has been spilt on the subject of how many units of advertising a radio station can support without losing listeners. Sean Ross of Edison Research started the ball rolling last week with his article in Ross on Radio, “It’s Time to Rethink your Spotload, Now.” A follow-up was written by Jim Kerr, of Triton Digital Media, entitled “Spotloads, Perception, and Listener Tolerance.”

Great points are made by both Tom and Jim. All radio people, whether “traditional” or “new” media types – need to pay close attention to how their spot loads effect listener behavior. For terracasters (I am floating this as a much easier term to use than “terrestrial broadcasters,” or “traditional radio”), the problem is like a cancer. It’s a small thing, poised to grow exponentially when the right set of circumstances align themselves.

The Issue

Right now, there are few realistic alternatives for most people who are in-car and listening to the radio. Sure, there’s iPods, streaming Pandora through iPhones and Androids, Sirius/XM and good old fashioned cassette decks. But most people don’t want to mess with this stuff. It’s the blinking clock syndrome. It’s hard enough to manage sending a text while you’re driving, let alone mess with the rest of this stuff.

The tipping point comes when easy, straightforward access to alternative channels comes to the major environments where people listen to terracasters today. We are still early in the adoption curve. It will take about 4 years for this tipping point to occur. Why? Because mass-market automobiles are just now being introduced with these kinds of features in them. As they filter out into the market, more people will become aware of them and begin to use the technologies. By 2014, these cars will begin to enter the resale market en masse and THAT’s when the tipping point occurs. When ordinary, average Americans can pick up a car with these technologies in the dashboard at their local “Ernie’s Auto” corner car lot, the tide will begin to turn dramatically.
incar alternative audio adoption curve.png
This doesn’t mean that terracasters have 4 or five years to figure out the commercial spot load thing. Today’s behavior is a result of repetition of behavior from yesterday and the day before. Begin today to calculate the optimal spot load for your P1 listener group. How?

The Solution

Arbitron’s PPM data provides the best solution for determining listener behavior on a granular level. Without spending tons of money on third-party software (you could, but you don’t have to), you can use Arbitron’s PPM Analysis Tool to dig deep into the behavior of your listener.

Running this test will take some guts. You’ll have to very methodically tinker with your station’s spot count, positioning, and other variables you think could effect a P1’s behavior. You’ll have to wait for the relevant PPM data to be released. You’ll have to analyze it, then rinse and repeat. Run this kind of testing for 6 months or so. In the end, you’ll know what the magic number is for your listener. The problem is, of course, that that number is only good for today. It will change over time, so you must repeat this test frequently.

If you start this process today, determine what your magic number is, and implement whatever business process is necessary to make sure that you implement the spot count limit by 2012, you should be well-prepared for the tipping point.

Or, you could just run a maximum of 8 minutes, spread 2-3-3 and be done with it.

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