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Down the Stretch come Radio’s Summertime Winners
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Down the Stretch come Radio’s Summertime Winners

As summer has kicked into high gear across the U.S., we’ve been tracking the fortunes of major radio formats on the airwaves. In past years, a wide variety of formats have grabbed the crown of “format of the summer,” which is an unofficial race based on how each genre performs in June, July and August compared to the first five months of the year.

Now that the season’s in its final stretch, the field for this year’s race has narrowed. Initially, we saw Pop Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) and Classic Rock jump out to an early lead in March, with Hot Adult Contemporary (AC) and Country closing the gap in April and Urban Contemporary and Classic Hits joining the race in May. In June, however, Classic Hits, Country and Hot AC began to pull away from the field, and that trend continued this month with the release of Nielsen’s July potable people meter (PPM) data.

With just one month left to go in the race, one of these three remaining contenders should be our 2015 summer winner unless a dark horse makes up some significant ground in August. Hot AC is currently the hottest of the three formats in contention overall, setting continuous listening records this year. But based on the rules of this race—comparing the average of January through May to June, July and August—Classic Hits is the current leader (with overall audience shares up 9% in June and July compared to the beginning of the year) followed by Country (up 6%) and Hot AC (up 4%).

And this month, Classic Hits continued its seasonal upswing by increasing audience share among listeners 6+ (trending 5.4%-5.5% from June to July), 18-34 (3.4%-3.5%) and 25-54 (4.7%-4.8%). These results are the best for the format since last August when Classic Hits charged through the field to win the 2014 summer format race. Another strong showing next month could secure the first back-to-back winner in this race since its inception in 2011.

Classic Hits July Listening Trends

Classic Hits Jul-12 Jul-13 Jul-14 Jul-15
Persons 6+ 5.3% 5.4% 5.4% 5.5%
Persons 18-34 3.4% 3.4% 3.7% 3.5%
Persons 25-54 5.0% 4.8% 4.6% 4.8%
Source: Nielsen

Keeping pace with Classic Hits is Country, which started slowly rebuilding its audience shares in January after a brief downtrend at the end of 2014. Since then it’s risen by more than half a share-point among both audiences 6 and older (from 7.5% in January to 8.2% in June and July), as well as the 25-54 crowd (from 7.5% in January to 8.1% in June and July). But the real story for Country this year has been in the 18-34 arena. There, the format has jumped a full share point (from 8.6% in January to 9.6% in July) and sits just off the pace of 2013’s summer results when Country went home the winning format.

Country July Listening Trends

Country Jul-12 Jul-13 Jul-14 Jul-15
Persons 6+ 7.5% 8.4% 8.6% 8.2%
Persons 18-34 8.6% 9.9% 10.2% 9.6%
Persons 25-54 7.1% 8.2% 8.4% 8.1%
Source: Nielsen

Last but certainly not least, Hot AC is actually breaking more records this year than any other format and has been a model of consistency so far in 2015. It has tied or set a new record for audience share each of the past four months across all of the demographics we track. July was no exception as Hot AC set a new high with audiences 6-plus (6.9%, up from 6.8% in June) and tied previous records with listeners 18-34 (7.7%) and 25-54 (7.3%). Regardless of where Hot AC finishes this summer, the chart below reveals that the past two years have been the best two years on record for the format since PPM measurement began.

Hot AC July Listening Trends

Hot AC Jul-12 Jul-13 Jul-14 Jul-15
Persons 6+ 5.7% 5.7% 6.4% 6.9%*
Persons 18-34 6.4% 6.3% 7.3% 7.7%*
Persons 25-54 6.2% 6.2% 6.9% 7.3%*
*Record. AC—Adult Contemporary.
Source: Nielsen

July 2015 PPM Markets Top 5 Formats by Average Quarter Hour Share (Full Week Daypart)

Persons 6+ Adults 18-34 Adults 25-54
News/Talk (8.5%) Pop CHR (12.4%) Pop CHR (9.0%)
Country (8.3%) Country (9.6%) Country (8.1%)
Pop CHR (8.1%) Hot AC (7.7%) Hot AC (7.3%)
AC (7.5%) AC (6.5%) AC (7.2%)
Hot AC (6.9%) Urban Contemporary (6.4%) News/Talk (5.8%)
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.

Data used in this report is inclusive of multicultural audiences. Hispanic consumer audiences are composed of both English and Spanish speaking representative populations.