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Where Did The Time Go?

October 12, 2023

This blog is not going to be about navel gazing or lamenting how time slips through our fingers while we waltz through life. No, this is about an existential threat to radio.

We know – for a fact – that listening levels are down about 20% in PPM markets. We don’t know where it went or when (or if) it will come back. What we are sure of is that one of the contributing factors to this decline is in Time Spent Listening (TSL). Yes, we know it’s actually Average Weekly Time Exposed (AWTE) but we are old school.

As a quick reminder, your Average Quarter Hour ratings are dependent on two factors: cume and TSL (AWTE). AWTE is composed of two data points: Occasions and Durations.

What we are observing in market after market is a serious decline in weekly TSL. In the pre-COVID era, it was not unusual to see weekly TSL for Adults 25-54 hovering at around eight hours. This is total listening to all radio in a given market. Now, that eight-hour figure is exceedingly rare. In many cases, we are seeing TSL for that segment as less than an hour A DAY. This means stations are fighting over smaller and smaller listening segments every day.

The picture is more concerning when you look at the 18-34 and 25-34 segments. They rarely listen to an hour in a given day. Sometimes it is closer to 30 minutes!

Radio listening is now concentrated in the 35+ demo. The higher you climb that ladder, the more TSL you will find.

Part of this decline is likely due to the increased competition in the “audio” space. COVID created new habits. We know that many households do not have a working radio. And Nielsen is not doing an adequate job of recording digital audio listening. Oh, and then there is that spot load thing.

This is not to say every station is suffering. We are fortunate to work with clients who have created compelling products that take more than their fair share of their market’s TSL.

What can radio do about the new TSL reality?

  • Recognize the power of the older demos. This point has been hammered for years. The data supports the buying power of older demos. The truth is that a spot on a 25-54 targeted station is going to have a much higher frequency with a 50-year-old than a 28-year-old.
  • Crack the 18-34 code. Another truly “Hot Topic”.

Sharper minds than mine are likely tackling those divergent issues on a daily basis.

What can you do? Adjust your expectations. For the longest time, we believed that if a station in a PPM market could maintain a weekly AWTE (TSL) of two hours, it was relatively healthy. That metric needs to be adjusted based on your market’s listening levels.

We all joke about living in a “short attention span” world. Unfortunately, the data is backing that up.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant