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Urban Contemporary’s November Ratings Boom
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Urban Contemporary’s November Ratings Boom

In recent weeks, the radio industry has been buzzing about a wave of format flips that is bringing classic hip-hop (think Notorious B.I.G. and Snoop Dogg) to the airwaves in major markets. Branded the ‘Boom’ format in several places, this new style of radio is taking off at a time when Urban Contemporary stations—which have traditionally been modern hip-hop’s main outlet—are hitting all-time highs for audience numbers in Nielsen’s portable people meter (PPM) markets.

This nationwide trend stretches back several years, long before the recent wave of station launches that have been in the headlines. In fact, all but one of the new classic hip-hop stations flipped before the November survey. Across all three of the listener groups we monitor each month, Urban Contemporary radio has seen sustained growth. As we’ve reported in preceding months, 2014 will close as the best year the format has ever had in PPM measurement.

In November, Urban Contemporary established new historic highs for share of audience in PPM markets with listeners aged 6 and up (3.3%), 18-34 (6.3%) and 25-54 (3.7%). These are not only the best numbers the format has achieved, but in the core group of listeners aged 18 to 34, the November results mark the first time the format has had ever above a 6-share (6.0% of the listening audience). Its previous best was a 5.9-share back in March of this year.

Below is a four year trend of the November results for 18-34 year-old Urban Contemporary audiences.

Historical Share Trend of Urban Contemporary Listening
(Audiences 18-34)

  2011 2012 2013 2014
November 4.6% 5.0% 5.4% 6.3%
Source: Nielsen

But while Urban Contemporary has been growing, Rhythmic Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) has drifted in the opposite direction, hitting new all-time lows this month. The format’s 6+ (3.1%), 18-34 (6.1%) and 25-54 (3.4%) listener shares all marked the lowest we have seen in PPM measurement. This follows a four-year trend of November results for 18-34 year-old Rhythmic CHR audiences that’s opposite of the one seen for Urban Contemporary. 

Historical Share Trend of Rhythmic Contemporary Hit Radio Listening
(Audiences 18-34)

  2011 2012 2013 2014
November 7.3% 7.2% 6.9% 6.1%
Source: Nielsen

These trends, coupled with the growing number of stations going to classic hip-hop, are setting up to make 2015 a very interesting year in the competition for younger audiences that prefer urban and rhythmic-based formats.

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

Winter is coming…and so is Christmas music. With Thanksgiving now behind us, a majority of stations will have flipped or are about to flip to Christmas music as we begin the buildup to Dec. 25. In recent years, this has benefitted Adult Contemporary (AC) and Soft Adult Contemporary above all others (they are the formats that most often flip to holiday music), while Country has seen its shares decline in greater numbers than other formats. What’s unique about this year is that Country heads into the holiday season on a four-month downtrend, which is unprecedented in PPM measurement. Beginning in August, the listening trends among listeners 6+ has fallen from 8.4% to 8.3% to 8.2% to 7.9%, and the 18-34 and 25-54 results show similar declines over the same stretch. So we could likely see Country shares dip even further over the next two months, as the impact of Christmas music echoes through the radio landscape, given the historical trends.

How holiday programming has affected major music formats between November and Holiday

Format (6+ share) % change Nov12 – Holiday12 % change Nov13 – Holiday13
Soft AC 57% 83%
Adult Contemporary 76% 61%
Hot AC -6% 2%
Urban AC Flat Flat
Classic Hits -4% Flat
Rhythmic CHR Flat -3%
Pop CHR -4% -5%
Mexican Regional Flat -8%
Country -13% -13%
CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio. AC—Adult Contemporary.
Source: Nielsen

Finally, last month Sports radio grabbed the headlines with a big October and records set across the PPM markets, as the baseball playoffs and the return of football boosted audience levels to new heights. In November, listener numbers remained consistent, meaning 2014 will go down as the best Fall season of Sports listening that the format has ever seen (or rather, heard). Each of the last two months, Sports has logged a 5.4-share among listeners 6+, 4.1-share for audiences 18-34, and 6.0-share for 25-to-54 year-olds.

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

Persons 6+ Adults 18-34 Adults 25-54
News/Talk (9.2%) Pop CHR (12.4%) Pop CHR (9.0%)
Pop CHR (8.2%) Country (9.2%) Country (7.8%)
Country (8.0%) Hot AC (7.1%) Hot AC (6.8%)
AC (7.0%) Urban Contemp. (6.3%) AC (6.7%)
Hot AC (6.2%) Rhythmic CHR (6.1%) News/Talk (6.5%)
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.