When Radio Insights last looked at formats in October, Mainstream AC was holding its own, but Hot AC and Modern AC were trending down.
What a difference a few months can make.
AC has swung 9% to the positive. Today, more than half (55%) of the 139 AC stations in PPM markets are ahead of their 2011 numbers.
Even more intriguing, virtually all the gains are coming from Hot AC stations.
Two-thirds (66%) of Hot AC stations are up over last year while Mainstream AC remains flat. Modern AC is up as well, although few stations call themselves Modern anymore.
(These are Arbitron format labels. Slightly more than half (53%) of AC stations consider themselves Mainstream, 43% Hot, and only 4% Modern.)
This is a turn-around for Hot AC. Last Fall only one-third (33.3%) were ahead of their 2010 numbers. Today the number of growing stations has doubled.
Unfortunately these changes are based on February ratings, and they will be the last complete look at AC.
We won’t be able to reliably follow the format into the future.
Arbitron has stopped publishing the ratings of non-subscribers, and Arbitron subscribers are forbidden from discussing how non-subscribers are doing in the ratings.
Consequently, Arbitron’s new policy effectively prevents Harker Research from doing similar analyses in the future.
But we digress.
There are many ways to analyze Arbitron ratings, but we’ve found that the most reliable measure of the health of a format is to determine whether the majority of stations in a format have positive or negative momentum.
That’s harder than you might think.
Most month to month changes in a station’s share are random. One month the numbers might go up for no apparent reason. The next month the numbers might go down.
That’s why Arbitron has to call ratings estimates.
Changes in Arbitron estimates are significant only if we see a persistent trend. Even as shares wobble from month to month, an over-all trend will ultimately emerge from the noise.
The concept applies to formats as well. If growing numbers of stations in the same format move in the same direction over time, a trend is emerging.
For our analyses, we look at all stations within each format in the 48 PPM markets.
We compare each station’s current share to the same month last year, and tally the number of stations ahead and behind where they were a year ago.
If the majority of stations are gaining share, we know the format is growing. If the majority of stations within a format are down, we know the format is in decline.
Since random chance alone creates a 50:50 split between gainers and losers, any format with more than 50% gainers is in growth mode.
The higher the proportion of growing stations, the greater the momentum.
With fully two-thirds of Hot AC stations ahead of their 2011 numbers, Hot AC is one of the hottest formats of the year so far.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking one last look at all the major formats...unless Arbitron rethinks its decision to conceal non-subscriber ratings.