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Chasing the Results of Christmas Past on the Airwaves
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Chasing the Results of Christmas Past on the Airwaves

As browning Christmas trees begin to pile up at the curb and decorations are hastily relegated to the basement for another 11 months, Americans are easing back into their typical radio listening trends as the New Year dawns. But as 2014 comes to a close, radio programmers across the country are starting to gauge the impact of holiday music on their airwaves, most notably those that flip from Adult Contemporary (AC) to all-Christmas formats.

This December portable people meter (PPM) survey covers a four-week period that ends the week after Thanksgiving, which means the true impact of holiday music in top markets won’t be fully evident until next month. In the meantime, we’ve assessed the data we have thus far to see what the impact of the annual switch to the “all Christmas” format across AC has been while judging how those changes affected other popular formats, including Country and Hot AC. Elsewhere, Urban Contemporary built on its success in November to reach some new highs in December as the classic hip-hop format continues to expand across the U.S.

But the lead story, as it is every year when the holidays roll around, is the aforementioned performance of AC stations around the annual Christmas music flip. In 2014, the December AC results mirrored those of last year. In fact, AC shares for audiences aged 6 and older were identical (8.5%) year-over-year, and the 18-34 shares this year (7.2%) were just one-tenth of a percent lower than they were last year. The 2014 results for audiences aged 25-54 (8.2%) were also identical to those we saw last year.

What’s interesting is that the growth in AC tune-in from November to December has been getting smaller with each passing year when the format flips to holiday music. In 2011, the format grew by more than 2 points, increasing from 7.8% to 10.0%. This year, the increase was 1.5 shares, going from 7.0% to 8.5%. The year-end bump for AC was music to programmers’ ears, as the format hit its lowest 6+ numbers ever in PPM measurement for all of 2014. But, as we discussed last year, the long-term trends around the impact of holiday music on the radio are revealing slower rates of audience growth with each passing year.

Four-Year trend of the December results for AC audiences

Audiences 6+ 2011 2012 2013 2014
December 10.0% 9.5% 8.5% 8.5%
Source: Nielsen

Country stations fall on the other side of the holiday music story, as they typically see their audiences shrink as a result of Christmas music. December marks the fifth consecutive month of declining shares (among listeners 6+) for Country, which posted a 7.7% this month, down from 7.9% in November. For context, the format stood at 7.8% last December. That means this year’s results to date are in line with what we saw in 2013. When the holiday book releases next month we’ll have the full picture on where Country will begin 2015 as it looks to reverse the trend of declining shares.

Below are some additional headlines from Nielsen’s December PPM data across 45 markets* using the full-week (Monday-Sunday 6 a.m.-midnight) daypart audience shares.

  • Urban Contemporary remained in the news, as more classic hip-hop stations came online. Thanks in no small part to that growing trend, Urban Contemporary picked up in December right where it left off last month, breaking November’s record results for listeners 6+ (3.4%) and 25-54 (3.8%) while tying the number for 18-34 year-olds (6.3%). 2014 was the most successful year for Urban Contemporary in PPM history, with the format finishing the year ranked sixth among all formats in the 18-34 demographic.
  • And not to be outdone in the record-breaking department, Hot AC also finished the year on a strong note by matching August’s record results. The format posted a 6.5%  among audiences 6+, a 7.4%  with listeners aged 18-34, and a 7%  in the 25-54 demographic. All three of those results match the all-time best numbers set earlier in the year, and give Hot AC its best year under PPM measurement, as well. It finishes the year ranked fifth overall and fourth among listeners 25-54.

December 2014 PPM Markets
Top 5 Formats by Average Quarter Hour Share (Full Week Daypart)

Persons 6+ Adults 18-34 Adults 25-54
News/Talk (9.0%) Pop CHR (11.9%) Pop CHR (8.7%)
AC (8.5%) Country (8.8%) AC (8.2%)
Pop CHR (8.0%) Hot AC (7.4%) Country (7.6%)
Country (7.6%) AC (7.2%) Hot AC (7.0%)
Hot AC (6.5%) Urban Contemp. (6.3%) News/Talk (6.3%)

PPM—Portable people meter. CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio. AC—Adult Contemporary.

Source: Nielsen

*Note: Nielsen Audio officially has 48 measured PPM markets, but three of them (Nassau-Suffolk, Middlesex-Somerset-Union, and San Jose) are included in the larger New York and San Francisco metro areas. Therefore, the listening data from those markets are included in these results even though we did not break them out separately.