In our previous post we explained why Nielsen national format trend reports can reach misleading conclusions because Nielsen reports are skewed towards what’s happening in just the largest markets.
To get an accurate picture of the health of a format we have to look at all markets, not just the biggest ones.
Are most stations growing or declining? And is there a consistent trend over several months? These are the metrics that matter.
Since 2003 Harker Research has been analyzing formats this way, and we’ve often found a contrast between what Arbitron (now Nielsen) says about formats and what’s actually going on across the country.
We can illustrate the difference between Nielsen’s approach and our own by looking at a recent Nielsen headline that created considerable angst for one format.
In reviewing September PPM results, Nielsen noted this:
For the first time in memory, Country has seen two consecutive months of downtrend in listener shares.
Then a month later, the author emphasized the decline even more by noting that:
The Country downtrend has now extended into a third consecutive month....October marks the third consecutive month of declining shares. Among listeners 6+, the trend has tracked 8.4%-8.3%-8.2%.
Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?
If you’re a Country station reading this, you might fear that your station might get caught up in this Country downdraft.
But is this downdraft real?
To determine what’s really going on we have to look at Country stations across all markets. Look at the number of stations trending down versus the number trending up, and see which side is winning.
We know that month to month wobbles tend to be random, some up, some down, so most stations wobble somewhere around their "true" share.
This randomness means that in any given month about half of the stations in a format will be up, and half will be down.
So for any format to really be trending down or up, we have to see a steady move in one direction over several months.
It turns out that about half of Country stations actually had good months in August, September, or October.
Here’s the percentage of stations that rose each month in the past three months:
In September more stations declined than rose, and then in October the trend reversed, with the majority of stations increasing.
There’s no predominant trend up or down. About half of Country stations went up and half went down each month.
If we average the changes, the three months are pretty much flat with a winner to loser ratio of 48:52, hardly an ominous sign. That’s generally what we see for most formats if we look at short time periods.
Real trends only emerge over time. Crunching the numbers comparing the first half of the year to the latest three months, it turns out that two-thirds of Country stations are actually ahead of where they were in the first half of the year.
So is Country in trouble? Not according to Nielsen's own numbers, despite the onimous headlines. Quite the opposite.
Next we’ll look at the most recent Nielsen releases to see who the real format winners and losers are.