Are There Too Many Commercials on the Radio? Nope!

micA friend told me how radio broadcasters at a recent conference emphasized the importance of minimizing commercial interruptions in online radio streams without mentioning the proverbial elephant in the room:

What about the far worse ad clutter on good, old-fashioned terrestrial radio?

Does the logic of minimizing spots in one place mean spots should, for the same reasons, be minimized in every place?

Here’s my answer (and this may shock you): No.

Three reasons:

1. Practical Reality

On a purely practical basis, there is no way the radio industry is going to significantly trim on-air spots en masse. All the business pressures are moving in the other direction no matter what the audience wants and no matter what the audience does. Indeed, if audiences bolt for the door (as is already happening, drip by quarter-hour drip), I expect stations to add more spots, not to cut back.

So arguing that we should drop spots from the radio airwaves because our products would be more compelling is like arguing the sky should be colored in flavorful shades of pastel because every day would be a delightful new surprise.

It ain’t gonna happen.

2. The Clash of Context

Consider the reality that non-music commercial formats are universally cluttered with far more spots than their music-oriented peers. It’s a well-known fact that the very same listeners who tune in non-music formats tolerate far more ads than they do when tuning in music formats. So the tolerance for spots is related to the nature of the content around those spots.

In other words: Context.

The problem, therefore, isn’t too many spots on the radio. It’s the fact that spots clash with music and, frankly, that clash happens no matter how many or how few spots we’re talking about.

In the long run, as listeners continue to wander, the more contrast there is between radio platforms with more spots (like terrestrial radio) vs. those with fewer spots (like iTunes Radio or Pandora), the more the spot-heavy platforms will surround those spots with programming that doesn’t clash.

In other words: Look for more non-music on more stations.

If you can’t raise the bridge, lower the music.

3. Advertising Inertia

Why do we assume that fewer spots is the new normal? After all, terrestrial radio can thin down to online radio or online radio can fatten up to terrestrial.

Although the easy entry strategy is to go lean and mean and relatively commercial-free, the lure of advertising dollars – especially to public companies – will prove to be irresistible, and that will result in more online radio outlets sounding more and more cluttered over time, assuming they subscribe to the same ad-supported business model that created today’s radio landscape (although not all of them will).

Indeed, isn’t this why Pandora runs more spots today than it used to? Not just because it can but also because it must? It’s certainly not because that’s what the audience wants.

So what’s the bottom line? Is it that we should trim our over-the-air spotload to compete with online sources?

Perhaps we “should,” but we won’t.

No, the real answer is to create more value, to make our content worth listening to no matter what clutter surrounds it, to minimize the clash between content and messaging, to make the ads relevant to the audience who hears them, and to focus on what’s hard for platform competitors to do rather than what’s easy.

Advertising is the price consumers pay for radio. If the price is too high, perhaps that says more about the content than the ads.

* = required field
  • Don Keith

    “Advertising is the
    price consumers pay for radio. If the price is too high, perhaps that says more
    about the content
    than the ads.”

    Preach on, Brother Mark! Since forever, we broadcasters have demonized commercials on our air, even as we sold and ran all we could. Anybody who offers music, talk or whatever–whether over the airwaves or through the vast digital universe–will have to make users pay for it one way or the other–ads, subscription, donation.

    A couple of quick thoughts for over-the-air radio and their affiliated digital offerings:

    1) Train sales to sell what you have to offer: responsive listeners. Every station has an audience that is of value to a sub-set of advertisers at some price. By more effectively and efficiently matching your audience with the advertisers who want to reach them, pricing it appropriately, and painting an accurate picture of who those folks are, you can get better results for advertisers, charge more for your air, and, maybe, be able to keep spot loads at a reasonable level. This takes training, work, resources, and smarts, though. Toting rankers and a nice brochure to every advertiser and agency listed in the Yellow Pages shows you are working hard. Maybe not smart, but hard. “Make ten cold calls a day!” is easier to manage and impresses corporate. Double the goals and cut commissions shows how serious you are about making those sales slackers work, and if they don’t deliver in six weeks, fire ’em and hire some more.

    2) Stop demonizing commercials! Be creative in mixing in commercial content with compelling programming. Have you heard how Rush Limbaugh is halfway through a Lifelock commercial before we even realize it’s happening? How about front-selling a spot set the way you do the next set of music? “I’ve got the new song from Little Big Town coming up but first listen up and find out who is offering a large pizza with unlimited toppings for $9.99…delivered in time for the kickoff of the game tonight.”

    Is it just possible people would not hate commercials quite so much if we quit telling them they are supposed to? Or if we truly made them sound good and included content in the production that would be of value to those listening to them?

    But how many stations have copywriters and production people anymore? When was the last time a salesperson or manager told an agency their creative would not fly? No, let’s play an 18-unit stop set so we can deliver, “Another 45 minutes of commercial-free classic hits…”

    Don Keith

  • But – for the record – 28 minutes per hour….that’s too high for any music station!

  • Pingback: MLM Scams()

  • Blu Soulstn

    Most people listen to music in their cars… you only drive on average 20-30 minutes in one sitting…. during that time you maybe only hear 2 maybe 3 songs (if your lucky enough to not catch the station going into a commercial set, no random luck punishment online) and more then likely they will not be songs you even like. Then they fill in the rest of the time with station “bumps” and commercials. Some people just want to hop in the car go where they are going and listen to a few tunes they can enjoy not sitting through a commercial in hopes that they will hear a song they may or may not like. To rephrase an old saying, Radio is dead and internet is the box their gonna bury it in

Dive Into The Blog