RCS Lets PDs See Changes in Ratings ASAP

'Audience Reaction' Charts Minute-By-Minute Behavior of Listeners in the Arbitron PPM Panel
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Two emerging technologies, used together, promise to add new dimensions to audience research and change the ways radio stations are programmed. That's the belief of broadcast software company RCS.

Arbitron's Portable People Meter provides more accurate tracking of panelist listening habits in a fraction of the time taken by the traditional diaries. At the same time, Gselector from RCS made "goal-based" music scheduling a reality.

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MScore for Britney Spears' 'Break the Ice.' Note initial audience uncertainty, followed by acceptance, and finally the audience tiring of the song.
The recent move by RCS to link Arbitron PPM data with Gselector creates a service called Audience Reaction. RCS believes it is a revolutionary programming and audience research tool with far-reaching implications. Media Monitors has signed agreements with broadcasters including Citadel, Emmis and its own parent, Clear Channel.

Radio World talked to Philippe Generali, CEO/president of RCS and Media Monitors, and Steve Borneman, president and general manager of WABC(AM) in New York, an early adopter of Audience Reaction, about hopes and expectations for the service.

Feedback loop

"Gselector enabled program directors to do goal-based music scheduling, but that left the question of how to inject the right information," Generali said.

"We realized that the PPM carriers can make or break your radio station, so that data from Arbitron is vital in shortening the feedback loop from audience to programmer."

Data collected by the PPM meter is uploaded to Arbitron once every 24 hours. Arbitron crunches the numbers into meaningful statistics, which are forwarded to Media Monitors. Currently the process takes about a week, but Generali wants to improve on that.

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Audience Reaction tracks an increase in listenership for the Super Bowl on New York's WFAN(AM), followed by an even bigger spike as TV viewers drive home and listen to the postgame show.
"We're working with Arbitron to shorten the turnaround time for digested PPM data. Ideally, we'd like to get it overnight."

The result is a process in which Audience Reaction users can listen to a recording of the station's programming that is synced with PPM data. Program directors can see when listeners tune in and out, allowing them to gauge which songs are working and which aren't, as well as the success or failure of other programming elements.

Generali listed the type of questions that can be answered: "Do contests work? Are talk show hosts boring? What types of commercials work? Do commercial breaks work where they are, or should they be moved?"

Local trends

All of this newfound data being dumped so quickly onto a program director's PC comes with a danger of jumping to make changes too quickly. Data is no substitute for good judgment.

"It's important to give new ideas a chance to succeed before reacting too quickly," said Generali. "On the other hand, careful application of information from Media Monitors with PPM can allow a station to quickly improve its standing over a ratings sweep."

Generali said program directors don't need special skills in statistical analysis to use these tools. "A great deal of work has gone into the user interface so that this vast amount of data is presented in an easy-to-understand and pleasing manner."

Audience Reaction generates some entirely new types of data that seem likely to excite a PD. "We're able to track the life cycle of a song in terms of audience response," he said.

A metric known as MScore tracks the initial uncertain reaction to a new song, followed by acceptance, and finally, tune out when the audience tires of it.

About Mscore Media Monitors, the sister company to RCS, said its new Mscore Series will be a way for programmers to understand how listeners use radio.

The first in the series, Mscore Switching, calculates an index of switching when radio panelists react to songs on the radio. The Mscore is derived from looking at what happened during spins of the song on a specific station and then displayed on the Media Monitors Web service.

The company said Mscore also can be downloaded into RCS GSelector to enhance music scheduling.

"Understanding the interplay of listeners, ratings and switching delivers a clear, strategic advantage to programmers, allowing them to respond to the preferences of their audience," the company said in its announcement.

The company's Philippe Generali said, "Radio programmers will be able to see how their audience reacted to every song on the air. They will know which songs hold listeners, and what songs cause switching to another station."For many songs, this data graphs into a standard bell curve, but not always.

"Sometimes it's too difficult to get the audience to like a song, and it's never accepted," Generali said. "Other songs hold their popularity far longer than the average. This type of information allows program directors to pull songs which will never succeed early on, and hold on to those which are still listened to for a bit longer."

He adds that spending time with this type of data may be one of the best ways to really know a radio station's audience.

Might this tool also herald a return to more locally-driven music programming? Perhaps program and music directors may see a song with strong local interest even though it does not fare as well nationally.

Generali recalls, "In the early '80s, songs by The Ramones got a lot of airplay on New York City stations but less elsewhere. MScore may enable programmers to better understand these types of local trends." He adds that the same data would be useful to record companies; the company is working on ways to present it to labels.

Minute by minute

WABC(AM) in New York is one of the early adopters of Audience Reaction; it has been using it for about a year.

"It gives you a minute-by-minute measure of what's effective and what's not, so you can find out what you're doing right, and do more of it," said Steve Borneman, president & general manager.

"It validates what your gut is telling you about programming decisions. Instead of saying, 'Here's what I think isn't working,' I can say, 'Here's what I know isn't working,' and that's a huge weapon to have at your disposal."

Borneman's wish for future releases of Audience Reaction is to shorten the turnaround time from PPM monitors to his desktop.

"I wish the data was more current. If I could have it quicker, then I could make key decisions sooner."

While there are other audience research tools available, Borneman is enthusiastic about the value of Audience Reaction.

"Other than having a one-on-one session with a focus group, this is the best weapon you can have at your disposal. The data that it provides takes programming to a different level."

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