Radio audiences: “Stickier” than you might think.

Radio audiences:  Stickier than you might realize.It’s a pretty common belief that when commercial breaks come on the radio, the audience scatters to the four winds.

And that view isn’t just held by laymen … those in the broadcast industry itself tend to believe that.

A study conducted by Arbitron, Media Monitors and Coleman Insights, released about six months ago, discovered that ad agency personnel believe that the typical radio audience is one-third lower during commercial breaks than during the lead-in.

Among radio industry personnel, those feelings are only slightlycloser to reality; they believe that the radio audience is about one-fourth lower during commercial breaks than during the lead-in.

In fact, a parallel study conducted by the same researchers found that these industry perceptions are way wide of the mark. Their evaluation, which covered nearly 18 million commercial breaks and ~62 million minutes of ads airing over a 12-month span on ~865 radio stations, revealed these interesting findings:

  • The average radio station aired 2.6 commercial breaks comprising nearly 9.0 minutes of advertising per hour.
  • The average break was ~3.5 minutes in duration.
  • On average, more than 93% of the lead-in audience stuck with the station during commercial breaks.
  • Longer spot breaks (4 to 6 minutes) still delivered ~90% of the lead-in radio audience.

These figures are significantly higher than the perception of industry observers. But one perception did turn out to comport with reality – the fact that older radio listeners are more apt to stay listening through the commercials than are younger listeners (~98% versus ~90%).

The study also determined that listening behaviors don’t differ at all between the different seasons of the year. But the audience for music stations is somewhat more prone to “wander off the reservation” compared to listeners of radio stations with spoken-word formats:  Fully 99% of the news-format radio audience stays on the station during commercials, while only ~88% of music format station listeners have the patience to stick around through the advertising.

The bottom line on the study’s findings is that radio is delivering audiences for commercials at levels that far exceed advertisers’ expectations.

So, the radio industry’s job is two-fold: Change the erroneous perceptions about audience levels … and also convince advertisers that the audience is actually listening and learning during the advertising breaks, not tuning out. 

This last bit may well be a lot harder to accomplish!

You can read more findings from the radio audience research here.

3 Responses

  1. Radio has been a bargain for years. Drive-time listenership is high. There’s no such thing (yet) as a car radio DVR. You can negotiate great deals. Audio messages can be high impact, particularly in an automobile where billboards are the only other media competing for attention. And… radio production costs a fraction of a TV ad. Why so many people have abandoned radio is a mystery to me. It’s a lot of pop for your dollar.

  2. I’m a satellite radio listener, and I am abandoning most of the talk radio programs because I’m sick and tired of GOLD commercials and “herbal supplement” promotions. I went satellite to get away from this — I’m considering a move back to free radio as a result. (Plus the sound quality is actually better!)

  3. This effect might be related to the communication theorist Marshall McCluan’s “hot” and “cool” media theory: Radio is a “hot” media requiring less effort to fully engage using primarily one sense, hearing.

    TV, in contast, requires hearing and sight and is typically in an environment full of distractions.

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