The first two parts of our Alternative Radio State Of The Format 2013 series focused on the resurgent mass appeal and cross-format strength of Alternative music, its nuances and the great results it is bringing, especially in cume with Arbitron’s PPM measurement. While that is fine, is this positive momentum yielding results for the sales department? After all, many a strong Alternative station has left the format because sales were just not there. While programmers are largely competing for audience against those stations just to the left or right of them, the sales department competes with EVERY station in the market for buys.
Truthfully, ratings at Alternative radio are not always the compelling sell to buyers. The unique, hard to reach, qualitative portion of the audience is a large part of Alternative’s value proposition. Alternative’s history has largely been in the 18-34 demographic world, and if you are not a top three (sometimes top two) player, making budget is going to be difficult. However, the new wave of melodic modern rock music, combined with the fact that many Alternative stations longevity is approaching heritage status, is showing Alternative radio is competing in other demos quite nicely quantitatively and qualitatively.
James White, General Sales Manager at 101X/Austin talks about the demographic sweet spot , “…to be more on the older side of 18-34. When the format was first breaking it was more college age.” 107.7 The End/Seattle longtime GSM, Jennifer Wisbey places the sweet spot on the high end of that older side by telling Alternative Contraband, “I’d say it’s a 33 year old person, broad range at 28-35.” A recently released Arbitron study, Radio Today 2012: How America Listens To Radio, shows 30% of Alternative’s audience composition coming from 25-34, while 23% is 35-44 and 20% at 18-24. This is a shift from just five years ago where 18-24 would have been first or second. With the melodic sound of today’s alternative music, this shift has every chance to increase.
Alternative has been around for 30 plus years and because of the aggressive music swings over the last fifteen years, the “look” of the audience has always shifted which causes some perception issues at the ad agency level. Alternative’s last new music incarnation was, admittedly, full of black t-shirts and the younger side of 18-34. The End’s Wisbey is seeing a big shift in the qualitative look and feel of the audience and its effect at the agency level, “We’re coming back out of a rut. The crossover of the music is hipping it up and the quality of our festivals is critical, and they are selling out. At Deck The Hall Ball there were nine bands and we were full to capacity at 3 o’clock. It was filled with the audience we all desire to see and all my clients were there and had a great time. It wasn’t kids; it was employees from Amazon taking the afternoon off.”
101X’s White, who has sold Alternative radio since 1993 with KNNC/Austin speaks of the agency perception that, “ratings have always been somewhat of a challenge and that plays into the whole Arbitron discussion. But what we are presenting when you break down the audience is that they’re getting older. We talk about the audience getting older and that is a good thing, The music is an easier sell now.”
Both 101X and 107.7 The End are ahead of budget in 2013, which is crucial early in any year. There is nothing worse than being behind budget early in the year as it causes a game of catch up and is often distracting. That said, both White and Wisbey feel there is a lot of money to be made on the digital front, something that both Emmis owned 101X and Entercom owned The End continue to work at improving. White says, “There’s still a ton of growth there. The content needs to be different from what they get on our terrestrial signal. It will be interesting to see where things go in the next two to five years. I can see the case where there are different personalities on our website opposed to what we have on air.”
There is a palpable feel and forward momentum coming from all departments at Alternative radio. There is a major shift taking place where Alternative radio is becoming an “A” level format once again. The hits and potential hits show no signs of slowing. These hits are bringing increased ratings and the sales departments are feeling the effect of those hits.
The final part of our State Of The Format series comes Monday when we talk to those that supply the hits—-the record labels and their take on the Alternative format.
How is your sales department doing in 2013? Join the conversation here.
Part I Alternative Radio State Of The Format http://www.alternativecontraband.com/?p=7879
Part II Alternative Radio State Of The Format http://www.alternativecontraband.com/?p=7934