Listener Stop Set Defection and Commercial Free Programming

By Jeff Ogden

The industry is trying to downsize the stop set time so listeners will stay for commercials and not leave a station. A noble idea, but is a shorter stop set an oxymoron when the station is doing commercial free hours, half hour commercial free sweeps and long sets of continuous commercial free music? Do we fully understand Arbitron and what these numbers really represent to a client? Programmers create a format that produce ratings based on the entertainment side of the station, not the revenue side or the client’s commercial side.

Does AQH have little to do with business when stations are commercial free for long periods? At the end of the sweep the commercials are coming and the listeners are leaving. Listeners are supposed to leave after an hour or a ½ hour of non-stop music. Here come all those spots. Did radio forget clients are listeners too? Clients wonder how many listeners are left to hear their commercials. So stations end up with huge numbers that do little for the client side of the business. We then price those numbers to the client based on a value to the music side of the station. But what if the listeners are gone when the commercials start to play! In short, the client is paying for the music sweep that never played his commercial! Don’t blame just Radio! Agencies sell these same numbers as a great deal for the client as well. Regular programming may be okay, but we need to look at “anti client” long sweeps.

The client also has a hard time getting over, “Commercial Free.” Commercial free is satellite radio not us. We will always go back to the commercial even after an hour free from them, and we need them to generate revenue. If anything, we are “Listener Free” with nobody paying 15 dollars a month to listen to our station except for that Client! They pay the bill for listeners to listen freely. Clients may soon come to realize that the better R.O.I and the least RISK in radio may not be in long term schedules with stations that super sweep but in News, Sports, Weather, Horizontal, Fixed and Special programming, Local Events, Promotions and Contesting. These have a built in audience because of what they are, but who can make a P&L on these alone? Here are some suggestions.

1. No more, “commercial free” anything on a station.

2. Create stop sets that you know have less defection — maybe the old 10,20,40 & 50 clock. The audience will soon realize you’ll get them back to the music quicker, and they may stay for the commercials.

3. Arrange each stop set to play 60’s, then 30’s, then 15’s, then live reads to the jingle or to the jock. Because music intensive stations are based on Back Ground vs. Foreground, Hearing vs. Listening and Passive vs. Active, the stop set will seem to go away faster in the listeners mind as the longer to shorter ads play. Listeners may listen longer in the set and increase store traffic because they heard the commercial, and the station would generate a greater AQH because of longer TSL.

4. Except in major markets where the local to agency ratio is zero, those markets that need to produce local and regional ads MUST make this the year of the production effort at your stations. Great ads not only produce more store traffic for the client but are also an AQH tool. Did you ever hear of someone turning the station because of great commercials? Hire the (off air) production person and get the stuff.

5. Make sure all of your air personalities (live or not) going into a stop set sell the audience based on, “Forward Momentum.” Give the audience a reason to stay through the set. “Guilt Trip” them into not turning the station. Stations are now saying back in less than 2 minutes or even 60 seconds. Cable systems running long movies are now breaking for 60 seconds and the audience is learning that if you’re gone too long, you’ll miss the movie that’s now been on for 3 minutes. Bring back the pre deregulation lost art of how to hold the audience through the stop set?

Lastly, although this problem somewhat affects all of radio, I believe this is mostly a music station problem. The format that generates the largest delivery system with the least of these problems and generates the best results in creating audience to store traffic, is still News Talk. While a percent of music audience defects at the commercial, the NT audience embraces them. Commercials are simply more information and they listen, they don’t just hear the spots. The NT station is foreground not background, and they are as active and as engaged into the conversation and information as music audience is to the song, but the NT format is more client-focused. Music stations need to get there. Hope this helps some.

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