Power in the Middle

Power in the Middle

Which group of radio listeners is most influential when it comes to radio ratings?

For radio programmers, the questions don’t get much bigger. Intuitively, it would seem like the power listeners would fit the bill, given their extensive exposure during a typical week. Surprisingly, however, Nielsen research shows that there’s more influence in the middle of the road than at the extremes, and those findings hold true across portable people meter (PPM) and diary listeners.

PPM findings

To arrive at these findings for PPM listeners, Nielsen broke down some behind-the-scenes data and examined raw listening numbers for the broad spectrum of listener types aged 25 to 54. When we plotted the findings across a traditional two-axis graph, we found that the ratings impact was far greater among the group of listeners who are using the station in moderate levels each week, but aren’t necessarily super-users.

To illustrate, the chart below includes plotted raw listening data over a three-month period from a major classic hits station in a major market from several years ago. The vertical axis is for the raw quarter-hours of listening time, while the horizontal axis plots the total number of panelists exposed to the station.


When we look at the data, the resulting trends show how significant the middle of the pack listener is to the ratings. The station’s best ratings month was not the one (December) in which it had the most amount of power users, but rather the month (October) where it had the most listeners tuning in between 25 and 75 hours. It goes without saying that stations always want as many heavy listeners as possible, but cultivating that level of devotion from a listener takes time and nurturing, and they don’t necessarily just grow on trees. So while it’s important to maintain the loyalty of the super-listener, it’s worth paying more attention to the listeners who have the potential to be true ratings makers—the ones you can cultivate into heavier users.

Diary Data findings

To ensure that the listener trends and ratings impact weren’t isolated among PPM listeners, we examined diary data as well. Notably, the same trends held true: the most important group of listeners is the one in the middle of the road—the ones whose ears are tuned in between 25 and 75 hours a week. More so than any other group, these are the listeners that programmers want to engage and appeal to.

To illustrate, the chart below includes plotted raw listening data over a three-month period for a major urban contemporary station in one of the largest diary markets. The chart includes diary data from the winter and spring surveys this year from listeners 25-54. As before, the vertical axis is the raw quarter-hours of listening logged to the station, while the horizontal axis is the total number of diaries that were returned to Nielsen noting listening to this station.


Even though total diaries for this urban contemporary station increased 20 percent from the winter to the spring (visible across the bottom axis of the graph), the winter shares were significantly higher because of the cluster of listeners who logged more than 100 quarter-hours (25 hours) during the week they were surveyed. In other words, ratings actually dropped in the spring because the station didn’t have as many of the middle-of-the-curve listeners as in the prior survey.

No matter which kind of market you program in, there are some great tools to help you gauge the impact of your middle-of-the-curve audience. For diary markets, check out the “100+ quarter-hour diaries” report (report #9) in the PD Advantage desktop software. In PPM markets, you can use PD Advantage Web’s threshold and minimum listening features that are available in most areas of the program, in addition to the “time spent listening distribution” report.

So instead of focusing all of your time on the high-end super listener, a more strategic and longer-term strategy would be to work on cultivating the listener that is engaged already—and wants to be engaged more. Work on convincing them to listen a little more. The data doesn’t lie: a hundred listeners contributing an hour a day will have far more impact than your one or two heavy listeners.