pureplay

Broadcast + pureplay: A venerable radio brand goes both ways

Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 12:40pm

WQXR-FM in New York has been a pure classical-music station since starting in 1939. It’s harder to find classical music on the dial than it used to be, but after decades of decline the public radio sector is grabbing an opportunity to plug the gap. Arbitron (now Nielsen Audio) reported that in 2012, classical was the number-two public radio format, and a mix of news-plus-classical was third.

WQXR joined the migration movement from commercial to public in 2009 when former parent The New York Times sold the station to New York Public Radio (which also operates WNYC-FM).

That same year, WQXR started an experiment, launching an Internet-only offshoot called Q2 Music. The Q2 Music pureplay, which concentrates on less mainstream and more modern classical, averages over 82,000 stream sessions per month. RAIN spoke with Graham Parker, general manager of WQXR, about Q2 Music’s mission, programming, audience makeup, and affiliation with flagship WQXR and cousin WNYC.

RAIN: Congratulations on the station’s long-standing success, and more recently, Q2. Can you describe how Q2 developed?

GP: Q2 Music started as a fantastic way to offer a different music selection [from WQXR] that was more focused on contemporary music. At that time, it also played old music -- the tagline was “500 years of new music.” So it would play everything from Palestrina to John Cage. It was a broad range. Over the last three years we’ve gotten Q2 more focused, and grown the audience. Q2 Music is [now] exclusively focused on contemporary composers. It’s more like 100 years of new music, or even 50 years.

RAIN: How is Q2 Music connected with WQXR?

GP: We’ve worked carefully and deliberately to find the connections between WQXR and Q2, because the audience does so. There is quite an audience overlap. People will listen to WQXR, then drift over to Q2, or start with Q2 and realize that it’s attached to WQXR, and shift over there. There is a lot of brand interchange, so we work to be sure that it’s reflected in programming choices and promotion choices. It has become a 360 degree approach to programming, rather than two stations that have nothing to do with each other.

RAIN: You mentioned audience overlap. Do you measure that as streaming-only overlap?

GP: Streaming and uniques. We did a piece of research, where we did a WQXR survey with a Q2 piece tacked on. That’s where we discovered that people expressed an interest in both brands. We also discovered overlap with WNYC.

RAIN: Do you have a promotional arrangement with Soundcheck [a long-running new-music program on WNYC]?

GP: Sometimes. It is content specific. It is not ongoing. We pitch them ideas; they pitch us ideas. We try to find connections. We have an incredible audio archive [across WQXR and WNYC], so we can find those connections. For example, yesterday when [composer] John Taverner unfortunately died, we were able to quickly pull up an interview that [Soundcheck host] John Schaefer had done with John Taverner -- it was immediately on our website and on the air.

RAIN: You mentioned the music archive. The WQXR library must be immense.

GP: It is big! We add to it all the time. But we have to be careful what we add. We ask ourselves whether we need the nineteenth version of a piece. Q2 went through an important purge, deemphasizing and sometimes deleting a significant chunk of material that wasn’t making it into the playlist. That was part of our focusing effort in the last year in Q2 Music. We tried to be clearer about what the audio brand is for that station -- a clearer equation with our audience.

RAIN: What is the programming mandate for Q2 Music?

GP: The focus is living composers. We try to find music that is wonderful to listen to, challenges the ears, encourages you to discover things you don’t know. We put the discovery objective quite high up. We play challenging music but must balance that with our desire for people to keep listening.

We try to frame it up with hosts who can explain it and put the music into interesting context. For example, Phil Kline, who’s a well-respected composer, is one of most frequent hosts. The composers he plays might be friends of his, or he might be associated with the music in another way . He can tell a story about the music.

We also highlight dead composers when we feel there is a need to do so. For example, we have a marathon series. It started on the hundredth anniversary of [Stravinsky’s] “The Rite of Spring” in Paris. It was a 24-hour “Rite of Spring” marathon. We don’t play a lot of Stravinsky on Q2, but we thought this was a good experiment. It turned out amazingly -- we actually played the same piece over and over for 24 hours, and tripled our audience. We did some cool online content to go along with it. People love themes, and they love programming that ties into a calendar day that makes sense. We do it on both stations.

RAIN: How much of your audience crosses over from WQXR, and how much is new audience that comes to Q2 because they are already interested in the music?

GP: We see crossover, which helps membership dollars -- important to a public station. We work on promotional relationship also. For WQXR that might be Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. For Q2 Music we work more closely with composer collectives, or smaller concert halls. Such external partnerships are important for driving new audiences to Q2 Music. We hope our audience growth comes both from communicating with existing listeners, and all the external work we’re doing.

RAIN: Is there any staff overlap between the two stations?

GP: We have two people directly and solely responsible for Q2 Music. One of them is on the senior staff, and attends WQXR meetings, too. It’s important for each station to know what both are doing. It helps when driving [audience] in and out of each other’s brand.

RAIN: What about WQXR’s approach to streaming? Extending into the online realm can be a challenge for any broadcast station. Can you share your strategy or success metrics?

GP: We’ve seen great success in the digital realm. We have without doubt the largest digital audience of any classical radio station. We are seeing a national and global audience. We think excellence is what sets us apart.

When I arrived I hired a new head of digital who came from VH1. The big strategy is that we want the biggest audience possible for our brands. We don’t think of it as just radio -- we are a classical music media company, which includes, audio, video, writing, editorial, social, feedback loops, live concerts, the whole thing.

Pureplay of the Day: DI Radio

Friday, October 11, 2013 - 11:45am

Connoisseurs of electronica find no better pool in which to dive deeply and slake their unquenchable thirst than DI (Digitally Imported) Radio. (www.di.fm) Started in 1999, when founder Ari Shohat began streaming his favorite music from a college dorm room, DI now presents 55 channels of finely categorized, human-curated electronic music. No selection algorithms are crawling around DI. An emphasis on refined quality is reflected not only in the listening music streams, but also in the darkly atmospheric product design (web and most mobile systems), and the sonic level of its high-bitrate streams. 

The streaming is rock-solid in our listening experience. It’s easy to become immersed in the channel menu, anchored by mainstays like Ambient, Dubstep, House, Trance, et al. Music discovery is furthered with niche specialties such as Russian Clubhits, Cosmic Downtempo, and a delicious favorite in the RAIN editorial office: Vocal Chillout.

Don't expect interactive candy that is standard in the big brands, like song skipping, voting, or artist-seeded stations. This is pure, radio-style, push-button, lean-back listening. Trust the programming.

Ads: yes. House promotions are mixed with national audio campaigns (The Home Depot is in rotation today). DI Premium silences the ads for five bucks a month or 50 per year -- an attractive proposition when you’re focusing on intensely atmospheric mood music where commercial interruption is sharply discordant. Sound fidelity goes up in Premium, too, from 64k AAC to 128k AAC. A nifty audio demonstration tries to convince you how happy your auditory neurons will be if you upgrade.

Edison looks into habits of those who listen to Net-only radio at work

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 11:10am

Edison Research offers some insight into the habits of at-work Internet radio listeners today. Edison has posted some graphs of its findings from the "What's Working at Work" study (sponsored by Radionomy).

Edison found that among the most popular reasons for listening to Internet-only radio while working are "hear favorite songs" (82%), "discover new songs" (72%), "create 'radio stations' based on favorite songs or artists" (72%), "ability to skip" (67%), and "music not on AM/FM" (65%).

According to the study, 86% of those who listen to Internet-only radio at work also "sometimes" (49%) or "frequently" (37%) listen in other locations. In a typical week, 31% says they listen to two different Internet-only radio stations.

The most popular genres amongst at-work pureplay listeners were Rock (especially Classic Rock) and Top 40/Hit Music.

See the Edison/Radionomy summary here. Edison will present "What's Working At Work?" at the NAB/RAB Radio Show in Orlando on September 20.

Radio faces falling TSL, but how much is due to digital competition?

Thursday, February 14, 2013 - 1:10pm

Radio broadcasters are beginning to grasp the reality that, despite steady (and high) cume, the amount of time Americans spend listening to broadcast radio is falling, most notably in younger demos.

Arbitron RADAR data reveal broadcast radio reaches about 92% of the U.S. population regularly, but 12+ TSL is off 3.2% from April 2010-March 2012.

Inside Radio writes today that while "there's evidence (growing Internet radio listening) is a factor... The issue may not be whether listening to streaming is cannibalizing broadcast radio but rather how much it is increasing listening to broadcast radio brands."

In other words, is broadcast radio listening falling, or merely shifting to a different platform? How much of this Internet stream listening is to broadcast radio brand content?

Triton Digital says, in December, broadcasters accounted for 22% of the web radio traffic the company measures, which means 78% goes to pureplay Internet radio. And that percentage as dramatically shifted in pureplays' favor over the last three years.

So, the likely answer is: Yes. Yes, some loss of AM/FM TSL to streaming is recovered by broadcasters' simulcast (or supplemental) streams. And, yes, Internet-only radio, satellite radio, online music services, and very nearly any other entertainment option, are taking a toll on broadcast radio listening.

Election season may have driven broadcasters' October streaming growth

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 1:00pm

The Webcast Metrics October Domestic Ranker shows top streaming broadcasters all posting low double-digit percentage AAS (average active sessions) growth in the past month. Pureplay webcasters showed either modest growth of were flat.

One theory is that this growth was spurred by increased interest in political radio in the lead up to the November federal elections.

Cox Radio AAS jumped 30% since September in the M-Su 6a-12M ranking, and NPR Member Stations were up 28% (in the case of NPR, this is likely attributable to new stations's addition to the measurement panel). Cox and Clear Channel are both showing healthy growth over the past 12 months (AAS up 50% for Cox, and 87% for Clear Channel) and in calendar-year 2012 (49% for Cox; 40% for Clear Channel). (Note: Last late year, Clear Channel had just added other major broadcasters' streams to iHeartRadio, like Cumulus').

Pandora continued to pad to its enormous listening lead over the rest of the entire panel (Pandora's mere 3% increase in October represents a 40,742 AAS, which by itself is nearly twice the AAS of this ranker's current #6 webcaster). The leading webcaster is also up 35% this year.

Most other pureplay webcasters' performance wasn't nearly as impressive. Slacker is up 31% in the past 12 months, but that period began before it completely absorbed the AOL Radio streams. Note that former top pureplay webcasters 977Music.com and Digitally Imported are no longer in this ranking.

See the complete Triton Digital October Webcast Metrics report (with its cool new look) here. For comparison purposes, our coverage of the October 2011 rankings is here; and here for September 2012.

Edison pres embraces the new tech that represents radio's consumption growth these days

Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 12:20pm

Those broadcasters who feel a need to reserve the term "radio" for over-the-air AM/FM signals received by a box on a nightstand or car stereo are actually missing out: they're missing out on the chance to show that radio is "very much a healthy, thriving, and growing medium."

That's an important point Edison Research's Larry Rosin gets across in his guest post in Jacobs Media's blog today. By cordoning themselves off in a strictly "AM/FM" world, some of these broadcasters are defining themselves by a medium that's no longer the dominant force it's been for decades. But when one considers all these other new technology delivery mechanisms "radio," it's clear that "radio is booming. When one thinks of all of radio, I have to believe there is more consumption than at any time in history," Rosin writes.

Rosin, Edison cofounder and president, encourages the industry to abandon the view that radio is limited to AM/FM delivery (which dooms it to a gradual slide from preeminence), and let on-air take its place among the variety of audio content delivery media. A good step in that direction, he argues, is to get behind Arbitron's efforts in building an "all radio" ratings system.

"In the UK, where all forms of radio are measured together, this assertion has already been made. As I travel around the globe I generally hear nothing but optimism about the medium and its expansion in creativity and influence."

Read Rosin in JacoBlog here.

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