Monday, January 28, 2013

Holiday PPM Drops Hints, Raises Questions

The annual Holiday PPM throws things a bit out of whack because of Christmas music's success.  In fact, two 4-week reports include Christmas music weeks, the December PPM and the just-released Holiday PPM.  I prefer Arbitron published just one report spanning Thanksgiving week through Christmas week, but doing that would not work with the PPM's continuous 4-week cycles.

One firm conclusion from the Holiday PPM is the Christmas strategies of both B98.5 and 104.7 The Fish worked beautifully.  B98.5 decided not to go all-Christmas but to play 4 holiday songs an hour, still positioning itself as "Atlanta's Christmas music station."

Program Director Chris Eagan apparently was concerned about ceding AC listeners to the competition and was willing to accept less than the historic Christmas ratings highs, to protect the station going into 2013.  And while the regular playlist consumed most of each hour, many people did indeed perceive B98.5 as their Christmas destination, driving the station into the #3 ranking among Persons 6+.

Salem's 104.7 The Fish had been getting a slight lift from holiday sounds in years past, but was coming nowhere near B98.5's December dominance.  That was of course due to The Fish's somewhat more serious and religious selection of Christmas tunes.  However, without a totally-Christmas B98.5, The Fish, already very competitive in non-holiday months, bolted to its highest PPM share ever.

The Christmas ratings performance of B98.5 and The Fish left the super-hot race for Atlanta's young women in some disarray.  One thing that seemed to break through, however, is that Power 96-1 is for real.  Gauging the station has been a little difficult since CHR quickly attracts a lot of trial.  The station has been in its current incarnation for almost 6 months, and its young audience was probably not attracted to Christmas music in significant numbers.

Many were surprised that Clear Channel jumped into the war already being waged among B98.5, Star 94 and Q100.  But the company does the format well, and PPM is good to CHR.  Clear Channel, long frustrated in the Atlanta market, made a decision to go for it.

Wild 105.7, CC's Rhythmic CHR, which had been crawling toward the Rhythmic/Mainstream line, was making ratings hay with young listeners, suggesting hunger for a younger CHR than Q100.  Apparently that hunger was voracious, as Power 96-1 has been working its magic despite the syndicated Elvis Duran in mornings and On-Air with Ryan Seacrest, both shows that my ears will never go near.

One question as 2013 begins is how long Clear Channel will allow Wild 105.7, which has been bleeding listeners to Power 96-1, to go on.  Why not let Power take virtually all of Wild's listeners and become a dominant station?

The Holiday PPM probably should not be of great concern to Star 94 and Q100.  The Christmas music stations likely borrowed far more of Star's and Q's listeners than Power 96-1's.  Yet, B98.5 finished the pre-holiday weeks strongly and figures to be a tougher competitor for Star and Q than in prior years.  Chris Eagan has made some positive changes and likely will make more.  At the least, we know that someone permanent will be installed in afternoon drive following the exit of short-term host Mike Shannon.

Star 94, which will move to its new Interstate North studios in the Spring, peaked earlier last year and has been on a small slide.  The station, which had struggled for a few years, was hoisted back up in 2011 by PD Scott Lindy, who has since been perfecting the formatics.

Star enjoyed some unexpected good fortune as its Big 90s Weekend in 2011 snared substantial numbers of men for the historically female station.  But the themed weekend experienced some burnout.  In an effort to keep the male numbers up while stemming the burnout, Lindy kept some 90s on weekends while emphasizing Star's regular Hot AC playlist.

When Star 94's mini-slide began last Fall, a rumor swirled that a family logging many hours of Star had left Arbitron's PPM panel.  Recently, Star's top swing person and weekend jock, Rachel Logan, left to accept middays at CBS Radio's Hot AC in Baltimore, Mix 106.5, in her home state of Maryland.

Star is an excellent-sounding station, and Scott Lindy is one of the industry's elite PD's.  Jimmy Alexander, who recently joined as morning co-host, was a terrific hire.  We'll see what else Lindy has up his sleeve to counter the growth of B98.5, which still holds the advantage of being the station perceived as right for offices and retail businesses.

Q100 has been getting away with trying to be a Mainstream CHR while playing Hot AC recurrents designed to pull audience from B98.5 and Star 94.  And that was the right strategy when the market had no young-skewing CHR.  It was also the reason that the poor-signaled Wild 105.7 was able to attract as many youthful listeners as it did.

So far, Q100, programmed by Rob Roberts, is sticking with the muddied playlist for which Cumulus SVP/Programming Jan Jeffries is so well known.  I still wonder whether Power 96-1 will force Q100 to stop swinging both ways.  Or will Jeffries bury his head in the sand?

Next issue, I will continue squinting through the haze of the Holiday PPM numbers and providing my thoughts about Atlanta radio in 2013.

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Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:
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