Radio Delivers Most of its Lead-In Audience During the Average Spot Break

Arbitron, Media Monitors, Coleman Insights studied 18 million commercial breaks
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Arbitron, Media Monitors, Coleman Insights studied 18 million commercial breaks

Radio delivers more than 93% of its lead-in audience during the average commercial break, according to a new study from Arbitron, Media Monitors and Coleman Insights.

They say the findings dispel a common misperception among advertisers, agencies and even radio executives that most of the audience goes away when ads come on.

Arbitron SVP Marketing Bill Rose stated, “Now that the Portable People Meter service can track radio audiences across 48 top markets, we can now demonstrate how radio constantly replenishes its audience with new listeners during commercial breaks.”

The three companies studied radio ratings data and commercial occurrence data in “What Happens When the Spots Come On: 2011 Edition” an update of a 2006 study of radio audience behavior during commercial breaks.

The companies looked at minute-by-minute audience levels across 48 Portable People Meter markets.

For the 2011 study 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. They compared the audience level for each minute of a commercial break to the audience for the minute before the commercials began.

Key findings of the 2011 study include:

  • One- to three-minute commercial breaks deliver radio audiences levels that are practically the same as the lead-in audience.
  • Longer spot breaks of four- to six minutes-plus delivered an average minute audience that was nearly 90% of the lead-in audience.
  • Commercial breaks in morning drive deliver 97% of their lead-in audience, on average.

New findings unique to the more comprehensive 2011 study include:

  • There is little difference by market in terms of the average audience delivery during commercial breaks. Of the 48 markets studied, three markets with the highest percentage delivered an average of 95% of their lead-in audience levels during commercial breaks and the three markets with the smallest percentage delivered an average of 91% of their lead-in audience levels.
  • Audience delivery during commercial breaks was consistent throughout the year.Radio commercial breaks delivered between 93% and 94% of lead-in audience levels during each month of the year.

These findings stand in stark contrast to the perceptions of the advertiser/agency industry and even of radio broadcasters about the impact of commercials on the radio audience. In an Internet poll conducted by Arbitron and Coleman Insights, 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% 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% of the audience during commercials.

“The incredible ability of radio stations to deliver audiences during commercial breaks suggests that programmers should not obsess over their stations’ spot placement strategies,” according to Coleman Insights President/CEO Warren Kurtzman. “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.”


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