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Coleman on Commercials

Tomorrow Media

tim_biopicBy Tim Moore


Audience Development Group has stood behind the contention most listeners will indeed listen through spot-sets, with many revealing in focus panels that “they expect commercials” with some stressing that “some commercials are even entertaining.” From our colleagues at Coleman Research comes the following bona fides.


Be listening for the radio industry to start shouting the number 93 from the rooftops in the upcoming weeks and months. Here’s why. A study released yesterday has concluded that an average of 93% of your listeners will still be with you from the time your stop-sets begin until the time they end. In the age of DVR, iPods, Pandora and all the other technologies and products that put the consumer in charge of music content, radio has been trying to decipher where it fits in. There has always been this in-house battle between Program Directors who believe we need to keep the stop-sets short, and sales (and GM’s) who will try to squeeze every dollar they can into every stop-set of every hour.

Coleman Insights President and Chief Operating Officer Warren Kurtzman reports, “The incredible ability of radio stations to deliver audiences during commercial breaks suggests that programmers should not obsess over their stations’ spot placement strategies. There is no doubt that running excessive commercial inventory can undermine a station’s brand and hurt its long-term performance, but we see very little evidence that commercials cause nearly as much audience tune-out in the short term as many radio industry professionals believe.”

The popularity of playlist creation has created a perception that consumers want less commercial clutter and talk and more music. Radio has responded by saying listenership is not down, that playlist creation cannot save you during a tornado and the new technology is simply giving consumers more ways to tune in, not tune out. A study released yesterday attempts to shed some light on whether or not consumers will sit through commercials and wait for the return of the content.

The study, done by Arbitron, Media Monitors and Coleman Insights, analyzed 18 million commercial breaks, 62 million minutes of commercials and 866 stations for a year of audience data from all 48 PPM markets. The key point of the study focuses on comparing the audience level for each minute of a commercial break to the audience for the minute before the commercials began. The study did not ask listeners if stop-sets were too long, if radio stations should reduce the amount of clutter or if listeners were leaving radio for other music-only technology. It focused on the percentage of listeners who were still with a station from the start of a break to the end.

The study is called What Happens When the Spots Come On and the authors concluded “that radio maintains its audience delivery during commercial breaks, contrary to the common misperception among advertisers, agencies and even radio executives that audiences during commercial breaks are a fraction of the numbers that were listening to the station just before the commercials began.”

In what may be the most helpful stat, the study says one to three-minute commercial breaks keep listeners engaged the longest. Listeners who were onboard before the stop-set began will be with you when you come out of a break. While they may not be the exact same people, the study says nearly 100% stay if the break is one minute, two-minute breaks deliver 99 percent of the audience and three-minute breaks deliver 96 percent. You might conclude that shorter stop-sets are better. The question is how many radio stations actually still running 1-3 minute stopsets and how concerned should you be if you play 6 or more minutes per break.

The longer the breaks, the more tune-out you get according to the study. For longer breaks of four to six minutes-plus, the study says 90 percent of the lead-in audience stays. Four-minute breaks delivered 92 percent of the lead-in audience; five-minute breaks delivered 87 percent. Breaks of six minutes or longer delivered an average minute audience that was 85 percent of the audience level before the commercials began. The study says commercial breaks in morning drive deliver 97 percent of their lead-in audience, on average.

Arbitron and Coleman also conducted a web poll about the perception of commercial loads and the results were included in the study. People identifying themselves as members of the advertiser/agency industry (362 responses) said that, on average, the size of the audience during a radio commercial break is only 68 percent of the size of the audience before the commercial began. On average, respondents identifying themselves as members of the radio industry (1,178 responses) believe radio holds only 78 percent of the audience during commercials.

Our thanks to Eric Rhodes and Coleman Research