programing to win

By Jon Miller, Vice President, Audience Insights, Nielsen 

Jon Miller

Jon Miller

For our latest Programming to Win column, Nielsen Audio’s Jon Miller examines some of the latest data driving radio listenership, such as popularity amongst millenials and the politics of each format’s P1s.

With the first quarter of 2016 in the rearview mirror, it’s amazing how fast time seems to fly these days. Like many in the radio field, I find myself caught up in the day-to-day details that can sometimes obscure larger trends happening in the industry.

So, with that in mind, I thought it was important to devote this column to some key insights that radio programmers will find informative but don’t necessarily have to do with the traditional metrics often discussed. Driving more daily tuning will continue to be important, and knowing how to interpret the impact of sample turnover on your station’s performance will always be key to keeping ratings changes in perspective. But a few larger trends and insights can also help PDs continue making an impact with listeners.

Radio’s Real-time Advantage
Last year, Nielsen began to look at audience usage habits by various platforms including radio, TV and smartphone, with the goal of providing comparable metrics across various mediums. The results showed that radio reaches 93% of Americans weekly, the largest weekly reach of any platform.

Reaching a large audience is a fundamental key to ratings success, but holding onto that audience over time is also critically important in today’s ever-changing media world. As an example, it’s informative to look at how the reach of radio among U.S. Millennials (ages 18-34) has changed over the past two years. When comparing the year-over-year (2014 to 2015) weekly reach among persons 18-to-34 year-olds nationally, the radio audience decline has stayed very consistent year-to-year, dropping by just one percentage point.


As the audio landscape continues to grow and the ways listeners can engage with content continues to evolve, programmers should never lose sight of the importance of radio’s real-time advantage. Despite the growing popularity of podcasting and streaming audio, the vast majority of radio content is meant to be consumed in-the-moment or mid-stream as listeners tune in and out.

It’s a major factor that keeps a large amount of listeners both young and old tuning in year after year.

Where Millennials Get Their Music
Sticking with Millennials, a recent Nielsen Entertainment study revealed that music is important to them, with more than 90% of them being music fans. Nielsen Entertainment’s music division fields a yearly study of how music fans consume, where they listen and what kind of technology they use to get their music. It’s a different survey and different methodology from how Nielsen produces audio ratings for Diary and personal people meter (PPM) markets; nevertheless, it offers some fascinating insight into how music fans approach the audio landscape.

Not all self-identified “music fans” nationwide listen to radio, but a significant proportion of them do. And for all of the commentary about how the Millennials are abandoning traditional media, radio still leads the way as the top source for music discovery—17% higher than audio or video streaming websites or apps.


In 2015, 66.5 million Millennials tuned in to the radio weekly, more than any other generation. As a programmer, this is important to understand if your station is trying to reach this highly coveted generation. Although you are competing with digital sources and mobile apps and everywhere else that Millennials can get music, radio still has the top position as a place to find new music. Music is available everywhere these days, but a carefully curated experience with engaging local talent is still mostly the domain of radio.

The Politics of Formats
As we continue through the thick of the presidential primary season, it seems that everywhere you look and listen, people are talking politics. This could be a good or bad thing depending on your personal point of view, but what really matters is how your listeners feel and their tolerance for political discussion. Prior to this year, there simply wasn’t a lot of behavioral data available about radio listeners and their political stances, a space traditionally dominated by news/talk and national public radio.

For this political season, Nielsen looked to change that conversation and recently launched new insights that combine PPM-market format information with detailed voter characteristics. It presents an opportunity to look at every major format among 10 different distinct voter groups.


What’s interesting about this data are the side conversations that it inspires just by looking at the composition of each audience. When programming an Urban Adult Contemporary (AC) station, Democratic causes will be near the top of the list of things audiences might want to discuss. For Country, the assumption is that conservative ideals would play well, and they do, but the proportion of Democratic voters in the audience is nearly the same as Republican. Meanwhile, to no surprise, News/Talk has the lowest percentage of unregistered voters.

The bottom line is that this data shows that it’s unwise to simply assume that listeners swing one way or the other because of a predetermined assumption. As we’ve seen this primary election cycle, voters are unpredictable and are capable of surprising even the savviest political pundits. It’s critical for programmers to know which way their audience leans. With such insight, you and your hosts can address topics appropriately with your listeners.

Reach the Nielsen Programming Services Team at Email, and follow the latest insights on Nielsen Newswire

Note: Jon Miller penned this column before suffering serious injuries in a skiing accident last month. FMQB wishes Jon and his family the best of luck in this truly difficult time. A GoFundMe page has been set to help pay for his significant medical expenses while he begins the recovery process.