Alt is in trouble; even format’s own listeners don’t love it…
By Paul Marszalek
When election time comes around, you might hear pundits reminding candidates that it’s “all about the economy.”
When it comes to Alternative or “Alt” Radio, you might say it’s “all about the execution.”
There’s a pattern in the ratings data: Alt stations have success in attracting cume (audience), but the ratings share has been consistently rough.
Any radio vet could tell you that this disconnect is a product execution problem. Listeners want Alternative radio, but the stations just cannot hold their interest.
I flagged this issue a couple of times earlier this year, suggesting that some of these stations were in serious jeopardy. Last week, the legendary Live 105 (Alt 105.3)/San Francisco predictably ended a 35-year run, flipping to a Jack-FM classic hits clone.
My earlier columns were overwhelmingly met with positive response, but there were also a few people who simply didn’t want to hear it. For those who didn’t want to hear it from me, let me offer a different perspective – from the listeners themselves.
Every year Jacobs Media does an excellent research piece called Techsurvey. The Jacobs team gets access to station databases to recruit participants. Worth noting, and this is important, it’s a survey of people who already listen to these radio stations. A stellar 470 radio station participated, with more than 42,000 of their listeners taking the survey.
The Techsurvey largely tracks changes in media consumption, ranging from adoption of smart speakers, to podcast listening, to audio subscriptions and much more.
But Fred Jacobs and his team throw in an additional nugget about consumer sentiment called the Net Promoter Score. Consulting firm Bain came up with metric, and people have been using it as a way measure customer loyalty for more than two decades.
It’s pretty simple: Respondents are asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely they are to recommend the product to a friend.
Those who give a score of 9 or 10 are seen as Promoters – product evangelicals. A 7 or 8 is considered Passive – they don’t hurt, they don’t help – but these consumers are seen as susceptible to competitive offerings. Those giving a 6 or below are considered detractors – people who are unhappy with the product and might even damage it through negative word-of-mouth.
The Net Promoter Score is derived by taking the percentage of promoters (9s and 10s), and subtracting the percentage of detractors (1-6). In the NPS world, any score above 0 is a net positive, with 0-30 viewed as “good,” 30-70 as “great,” and 71+ seen as “world class.”
To me, this ranking feels a bit like my daughter’s dance competitions, which scored routines with three head-scratching rankings: Gold, High-Gold, and Platinum.
Because we’re adults, let’s call gold, or in this case, NPS’ “good,” for what it really is — a participation trophy. It’s recognition that you gave it a shot, you have some fans, but you’re not going to the the next level without more work.
Jacobs calculated Net Promoter Scores for each format, and I think you know where this is going…
Christian Radio and Public Radio are viewed as “World Class.” Fans love it and will recruit new listeners. Triple A pulls an extraordinarily healthy 64.
Alt? Second to last with a 38. To be blunt, this is a terrible number.
This isn’t what I think of the format, and it isn’t what you think of the format. This is what the stations’ own audience thinks of the format — and it perfectly dovetails with the mismatch between solid cume and poor performance in terms of ratings share. They want to like it, but they just don’t.
Again, it’s a product execution problem. Thankfully Alternative Radio is not only salvageable, but it could thrive. Stations that have strong cume can often be fixed fairly quickly if they’re willing to change tack.
In recent months, many Alt stations have made a pivot away from a music mix that was heavy on current releases toward a more library-based approach. This move toward “comfort food” will definitely help bump the numbers. The question is how much?
Even Live 105/Alt 105.3 was starting to see a stable heartbeat. In the latest ratings, the station had a weekly audience of nearly a half million people. That’s a significant number, and not something you just throw away. The station’s ratings share moved up to a 1.4 in San Francisco and a 1.8 in San Jose.
Still, those numbers are pretty rough, so despite the bump — and perhaps in spite of it — Audacy pulled the plug.
To truly thrive, there’s much more to be done at Alternative Radio, and we’ll cover that in coming days.
In the meantime we’ll be wondering: will Live 105 serve as the canary in the coalmine, or is it just the lead domino of a format in collapse?