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Country or Contemporary? Forecasting Summer Listener Trends

4 minute read | August 2014

Summertime weather can be unpredictable—from clear sunny days to heat and humidity or sudden thunderstorms. And this summer has also presented some surprises on the airwaves, based on the ratings results pouring in from the release of the July portable people meter (PPM) radio listener shares.

While Country seemed poised to see the biggest increase in summertime listening as of the June rankings, its lead has cooled slightly this month; this could be just one of those quick passing showers that bring the mercury down for an hour on a hot day or the start of a shift in this summer’s listening habits. Why the shift? Pop Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) logged a second consecutive month of steady growth, turning what could have been a runaway race by Country for ‘format of the summer’ into a neck-and-neck affair down the stretch.

Elsewhere in the pack of formats competing for shares of ears this summer, we saw other trends continue from previous months. The record-setting ways of both Hot Adult Contemporary (AC) and Classic Rock showed no signs of slowing down in July; meanwhile, in the spoken word arena, the heart of summer has once again proven to be a cool period for news and sports listening.   

Below are some highlights from Nielsen’s July PPM data across 45 markets* using the full-week (Monday-Sunday 6 a.m.-midnight) daypart audience shares.

  • After establishing new all-time highs for listening share last month, Country held steady with audiences aged 6 and over (8.6%) and 25-54 (8.4%) and dropped back by nearly half a share-point among listeners aged 18-34 (10.2%) in July. This ended an impressive run of growth stretching back to January for America’s No. 1 overall format. Country finds itself tied with Pop CHR this month among all listeners aged 6-plus, and it appears these two formats will take the race for ‘format of the summer’ down to the wire in next month’s August results.
  • Pop CHR’s upward movement over the last two months (growing from 8.4% in June to 8.6% this month with listeners aged 6 and over) is making May’s 8.0-share appear more and more like a blip on the radar for a format that this July was either ranked No. 1 or tied for first across the three of the demographics we analyzed. Not surprisingly, this month’s 8.6-share is Pop CHR’s best showing since July of 2012, when the format was on fire in PPM markets.
  • In the record-keeping department, Hot AC and Classic Rock kept our archivists busy this month, yet again. Hot AC remained the format with the most consistent upward trend in 2014 by upping the bar for 6-plus (6.4%), 18-34 (7.2%) and 25-54 (6.9%) listener shares in July, each a new all-time high. And Classic Rock made some news of its own, topping out at a 5-share with listeners aged 6 and over and a 4.1-share among audiences 18-34 years old, each marking the first time the format has been above a five or four share in PPM in those demos, respectively.
  • In the rock arena for the 18-34 demo though, Classic Rock is still looking up at Alternative, despite closing the gap to almost a share-point this month (5.2% for Alternative, 4.1% for Classic Rock). That 5.2-share for Alternative is its best since July 2013.
  • Urban AC also hit a notable historical benchmark this month as the format’s 25-54 listener share was 5.0 percent. While only a tenth of a point higher than June’s results, it was the format’s first time above a 5-share since May 2013. Prior to that, Urban AC had held steady above that mark for nearly two years.
  • Lastly, the changes in lifestyles, work habits and consumer trends that occur each summer, coupled with news and sports cycles create an annual down-trend for spoken word formats during the middle of the summer. 2014 is no different as July revealed that the 6-plus shares for News/Talk dropped to their lowest mark in PPM since we began tracking this data in 2011 (8.1%), All News stayed flat relative to last summer (2.5%), and Sports fared slightly better this July (4.1%) than in 2013 (3.8%). For all three of these formats, the coming months should bring an upswing in listening as football returns and we head into the mid-term election news cycle.

The table below tracks how the July landscape has changed for the top music formats with 25-54 year-olds over the past four years. It’s ranked on the July 2014 results, and you can see that Pop CHR, Country and Hot AC have increased their shares dramatically, while long-time leader AC has moved in the opposite direction. 

July PPM Listening Share (Persons 25-54)

Format July 2011 July 2012 July 2013 July 2014
Pop CHR 7.9% 9.0% 8.8% 9.2%
Country 7.2% 7.1% 8.2% 8.4%
Hot AC 6.0% 6.2% 6.2% 6.9%
AC 8.2% 7.5% 7.4% 6.8%
Classic Rock 4.9% 4.5% 4.9% 5.6%
PPM—Portable people meter. CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio. AC—Adult Contemporary.
Source: Nielsen

July 2014 PPM Markets Top 5 Formats by Average Quarter Hour Share (Full Week Daypart)

Persons 6+ Adults 18-34 Adults 25-54
Country (8.6%) tie Pop CHR (12.4%) Pop CHR (9.2%)
Pop CHR (8.6%) tie Country (10.2%) Country (8.4%)
News/Talk (8.1%) Hot AC (7.3%) Hot AC (6.9%)
AC (6.9%) Rhythmic CHR (6.3%) AC (6.8%)
Hot AC (6.4%) AC (5.7%) News/Talk (5.6%)
PPM—Portable people meter. CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio. AC—Adult Contemporary.
Source: Nielsen

*Note: Nielsen Audio officially has 48 measured PPM markets, but three of them (Nassau-Suffolk, Middlesex-Somerset-Union, and San Jose) are included in the larger New York and San Francisco metro areas. Therefore, the listening data from those markets are included in these results even though we did not break them out separately.

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