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“Less is More” is More Complicated

Thanks to the folks at Navigauge who sent me their excellent new report analyzing real behaviors associated with spot break volume.

First, you must understand how a study is done in order to appreciate the results. This one covered 500 people (electronically) in their cars in Atlanta. Sounds broad enough for me.

The conclusion that, essentially, more listeners are lost after longer breaks than after shorter ones is somewhat intuitively obvious. This study would have been better if it had discussed its limitations. Still, here are the summary findings:

Roughly 88% of qualified pre-commercial break listeners make it through a single commercial, or “Island” spot and back to the programming. And, as the number of commercial elements a break increases, the number of qualified listeners retained decreases Whether through listening or learning, the longer the break, the more likely audiences are to tune out before the completion of the first spot In shorter element commercial breaks (4 or fewer), roughly 80% of the qualified audience is still tuned following the second commercial; approximately 70% following the third commercial spot While the rate of lost audience slows, additional commercials within a break erode the initial qualified listening audience Regardless of the number of elements in the commercial break, first position 30-second spots retain more audience than first position 60-second commercials

My comments:

I’ve looked at this issue before – but never with behavioral data. And that difference makes this research better than anything on the topic I – or anyone else – has ever done.

But…there’s more to this study than meets the eye. If you conclude from this that longer breaks are bad and shorter ones good, you’re not seeing the whole picture.

Here’s why:

– This report studies volume, but not frequency. We do not know, for example, anything about the loss of audience after being pummeled with more breaks vs. fewer. Do shorter, but more frequent, breaks mean we lose ON NET more listeners than longer, less frequent ones? That answer isn’t in this study.

– Leaving the station as a result of a long break (or short one) doesn’t say anything about a listener’s RETURN behavior. That is, are they more or less likely to come BACK to the station if the breaks are longer or shorter. In other words, do they give the station MORE listening or LESS with shorter vs. longer breaks? That question isn’t answered.

– What does the magnet power of the programming have to do with this behavior? For example, if you can ONLY hear Howard Stern on the station with LONG breaks, are you REALLY not going to return for that programming? How does the CONTEXT of this advertising affect the listening behavior?

The more commercials you have the more listeners you lose. No surprise there. But are “shorter breaks” better than “longer breaks” when it comes to the radio station’s ratings? Don’t look to this study for the answers, folks.

One sidebar: These data are gathered from folks IN THEIR CARS. You can BET that the loss of audience in the CAR is easily greater than that in the OFFICE where it’s not so easy to change the station. That means these numbers are about as BAD as it gets. In my mind, that’s a tremendously positive message for our advertisers! Even when the button is arm’s-length away, a HUGE proportion of our audience listens to and through our spots!

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