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Urban Contemporary Radio’s Sweet Spot

2 minute read | November 2015

Throughout this past year, it seems that nearly everywhere you look—and listen—hip-hop music is making a big splash. Whether on the summer music festival circuit, during Fox’s breakout hit Empire or in the world of digital album sales, a deep and growing interest in hip-hop is evident. But all of this recent attention may be traced back to the radio airwaves, where the Urban Contemporary format has been mixing together R&B, rap and hip-hop music for more than 40 years.

In recent years, Urban Contemporary has been at the crossroads of beats-driven pop music, dovetailing with the increasingly broad appeal of many of today’s biggest urban artists. And this constant evolution has helped it set the pace for mainstream urban hits. But recently, the format has grown by leaps and bounds in the ratings, particularly in the last two years. 

Simply put, 2014 and 2015 have been the two best years ever for Urban Contemporary across Nielsen’s 48 portable people meter (PPM) markets. And just this fall, the format posted its best month to date for share of listening audience among persons aged 6 and up, 18-34 and 25-54.

This growth has been centered in the 18-34 demographic, which is the traditional core of Urban Contemporary audience; but what’s notable is how dramatic the rise has been among 25-to-34 year-olds in particular. Listenership for this age group has grown an impressive 35% from 2011 to 2015. Meanwhile, the teen and young adult audiences have remained flat.

This format’s rising popularity sets up an interesting scenario for other formats in the urban radio landscape, which includes both Urban Adult Contemporary (AC)—the most listened-to format among black consumers—and Classic Hip-Hop—a format that has been grabbing headlines for the past 12 months. Urban AC’s core audience has traditionally been above the age of 35, territory that Urban Contemporary is now stepping into. And although Classic Hip-Hop stations are still few and far between, they’ve built their playlists around 90s-era hip-hop and rap, giving them strong appeal to listeners aged 35-to-44.

In other words, the urban radio landscape now has even more formats competing for the same groups of listeners all across the country. If you’re interested in learning more, this will be a major topic of discussion at the upcoming Nielsen Audio Client Conference and Urban PD Clinic, which happens Dec. 3-4 near Washington, D.C. 

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