Music radio: a kingdom of gold

(By Larry Rosin) If one were to lump together the “group” of radio formats that depend on new hit music, like a mutual fund, the result would have been disastrous over the past decade. It’s no exaggeration to say that “contemporary music” is in crisis on American radio, and if this trend cannot be reversed, or at least halted, the implications could be far-reaching.

With the full year of 2021 now on the books, the radio industry can check out updated information on format trends. Fortunately, Nielsen has been aggregating results by format in PPM markets since rolling out this methodology in 2011, so now we have the full ten-year range for comparison. And what a decade it has been.

Here is a table that summarizes the changes with the biggest gainers at the top and the biggest losers at the bottom (data courtesy of Nielsen – 6+ share):

There are stories up and down the chart, but by far the biggest drivers in nominal terms are the two forms of “contemporary hit radio” – what Nielsen calls Pop CHR and Rhythmic CHR. Combined, these two flavors of the CHR format went from 11.9% viewing in 2011 to 7.2% viewing in 2021. That is, in round figures, a drop of FORTY PER CENT in the viewing share of this fundamental radio format.

Meanwhile, Country Radio is at an all-time low in 2021, as is Alternative. Urban Contemporary is where it was ten years ago, but that covers the fact that it was more than a point higher (3.8% vs. 2.7%) in 2017. The only formats with the word ” Contemporary” in the name of have grown are Spanish, which has grown modestly, and Contemporary Christian, whose share has skyrocketed over the past decade.

Keep in mind that these are all radio listening shares. Thus, general drops in total listening are not directly taken into account here. This is the “piece of the pie”, regardless of the size of that pie. Even though radio listening is declining among 18-34 year olds at a much faster rate than among 35+ year olds, the data simply does not support the argument that what we see is only the aging profile of listening to the radio being played.

This is because even among 18-34 year olds, listening to contemporary formats is declining. The share of rhythmic RSCs has fallen by more than 50% among 18-34 year olds since 2011, and the share of Pop RSCs has fallen by 29%. Country is at its lowest PPM among 18-34 year olds, as is Alternative. Urban Contemporary is down more than 30% from just four years ago.

What seems to be the logical conclusion of these trends is that the decline of music radio formats that rely on “new hit music” in its various forms stems from a differential form of loss within radio listening. . It is not the general drop in listening, nor the more rapid drop among 18-34 year olds, it’s that people who had turned to the radio in the past to listen to “the latest and greatest” are reducing their listening faster than the general public. Hence all the contemporary formats falling together.

To this day, the radio maintains a strong link with the musical community. You still hear artists talk about the thrill of hearing their song on the radio, labels partner up with radio gigs, and airplay clearly boosts an artist.

But the trend is clear. When browsing the individual ratings of the market, we see Classic Rock, Classic Hits, Mainstream AC, as well as news and sports stations occupying the top spots. American music radio is quickly becoming a kingdom of gold, where you hear mostly the hits of yesteryear, the songs that the radio turned into hits when the radio made the hits.

Larry Rosin is president of Edison Research, which he co-founded in 1994. He can be reached at [email protected]

Comments are closed.