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Seasons (and Politics) Change the Radio Landscape
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Seasons (and Politics) Change the Radio Landscape

On the radio airwaves, summer seasonality plays a big role in how audiences grow or shrink during warm weather months. A number of factors—including working, traveling, music cycles and changing tastes that accompany lake vibes, coastal vacations or backyard cookouts—affect what and when audiences tune in. Yet for as much as things change season-to-season, some things stay the same. The release of Nielsen’s July portable people meter (PPM) survey results have storylines that cover both angles; Classic Hits listening is once again benefiting from a seasonal uptick while the News/Talk format—typically ranking high among listeners—is spiking as a result of the upcoming presidential election race.

Classic Hits—the soundtrack of the summer for millions of Americans in recent years—has recorded yet another strong month of listening. From June to July, its share of audience remained flat, but the historical trends reveal that the format is in a strong position. Classic Hits was the ‘format of the summer’ the past two years and stands poised to be the radio format that sees the most increase in listener share during summer months for a third year.

Classic Hits Listening Trends

Classic Hits Jul-13 Jul-14 Jul-15 Jul-16
Persons 6+ 5.4% 5.4% 5.5% 5.4%
Persons 18-34 3.4% 3.7% 3.5% 4.0%
Persons 25-54 4.8% 4.6% 4.8% 4.9%
Source: Nielsen

It’s also worth noting that Classic Hits’ appeal with millennials (those aged 18-34) continues on a strong course in the July ratings. Since PPM measurement began in full in early 2011, there have only been three months that the format has topped a 4.0% share with listeners 18-to-34, with two of those coming in the June and July reports.

While seasonality has given Classic Hits a nice boost in ratings, News/Talk radio is generally the top-ranked overall format among listeners 6 and older in major markets; however, this year’s presidential election has helped push this format even higher in the ratings department. Simply put, we haven’t seen comparable summertime results for News/Talk since the 2012 election. Listening patterns tend to fall off for the format during summer months, but don’t drop as dramatically in big election years. This month’s numbers mark the best July in four years.

News/Talk Listening Trends

News/Talk Jul-12 Jul-13 Jul-14 Jul-15 Jul-16
Persons 6+ 9.3% 8.7% 8.1% 8.5% 9.0%
Persons 18-34 3.5% 3.4% 3.2% 3.4% 3.9%
Persons 25-54 6.8% 6.1% 5.6% 5.8% 6.5%
Source: Nielsen

By examining the full historical trends, it’s likely that the next few months bode well for News/Talk—just as they did in fall 2012. There’s certainly no shortage of controversial things to discuss surrounding this year’s race for the White House, and it will be interesting to track the expected audience spikes that are likely just around the corner for the format.

July 2016 PPM Markets Top Five Formats by Average Quarter Hour Share (Full Week Daypart)

Persons 6+ Adults 18-34 Adults 25-54
News/Talk (9.0%) Pop CHR (12.2%) Pop CHR (9.1%)
Pop CHR (8.3%) Country (8.7%) Country (7.7%)
Country (7.7%) Hot AC (7.1%) Hot AC (6.9%)
AC (7.4%) Urban Contemporary (6.7%) AC (6.9%)
Hot AC (6.5%) AC (6.2%) News/Talk (6.5%)
PPM—Portable people meter. CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio. AC—Adult Contemporary.
Source: Nielsen

*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.