Deeper understanding of listener expectations and preferences key to building audience, say Summit experts

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Issue Date: 
Apr 19 2013 - 1:50pm

From Issue:

Unsurprisingly, the panelists in our RAIN Summit "Accelerating Your Audience Growth" panel stressed the importance of good, "differentiating" content to build an audience -- especially as music (and even news) becomes "commoditized."

More interesting was this point: An important step towards delivering the right content is a more thorough understanding of your listeners.

Edison Research cofounder/president Larry Rosin (left) moderated this first panel of the afternoon half of the Las Vegas Summit. He asked Pandora VP of Engineering Chris Martin about Pandora's "genre" stations

[sidenote: Pandora not only creates channels "on the fly" by asking the listener for a favorite song or artist, it also offers more traditional radio-style channels programmed by genre, e.g. country or pop hits]

Martin (right) explained them as the product of realizing that not all Pandora listeners come to discover new music. Rather, these channels are an "entry point" for those listeners who want a "super simple" experience based around artists they already know.

Rachna Bhasin is SiriusXM SVP/Corporate Strategy and Business Development (lower on the left). She explained SiriusXM is always looking for new content and talent intended to drive more subscriptions. Those efforts are informed by significant amounts of research and interviews with listeners, and an understanding of the expectations of "key audience demographics" to develop that content ("We're doing a lot with Latin right now," she illustrated.)

The Echo Nest CEO Jim Lucchese introduced his company's concept of "audience clusters" as an example of understanding the listener to deliver the right content.

[The Echo Nest is a "music intelligence" service with a massive database on listeners preferences and musical attributes of millions of songs, which is used by services like Spotify and iHeartRadio (and SiriusXM's new MySXM customizable streaming service).] 

Putting "a real keen focus" on understanding the listener, Lucchese explained, means looking at "clustering audiences into different types of music listeners" and examining how different underlying programming rules need to be applied for those different clusters.

"We found different 'rule sets' drive engagement wildly differently based on (listeners') geography, (preferred) style of music... you need to understand your fan base better before messing around with rules."

Rosin followed up with a question on how The Echo Nest client services learn about listener preferences, especially new listeners. Lucchese (right) explained some services can scan a new listener's local media library (by examining their iTunes XML file, for instance) to get a sense of the listener. There's also public preferences expressed on social media (such as Facebook 'likes'). Then, of course, later the services can simply track "what you listen to" -- and, importantly -- "how you react to it and build that up over time."

The Echo Nest CEO spoke directly to broadcasters and advised them to improve their streams by spending more time "focusing on and understanding" their audience: "Online listeners provide you with a ton of information about who they are. We're still in the stone age about recognizing not just what they like, but how they listen. Developing that will make a more engaging experience, and a more profitable one," he said.

Speaking to this very point, ABC News Radio VP/GM Steve Jones (left) described how he wants this guide the development of his service.

For a hypothetical 28-year old country music listener, Jones' company has vast amounts of "non- fiction spoken word" that she'd find of interest (she could learn how to "advance her career, manage her boss, get relationship advice").

"We can't yet, but what I'm excited about is being able to, when that listener is finished listening to a Taylor Swift song to let her know there's an opportunity right now to drive that listening experience into one of those other areas," Jones said. "That, to me, is the future, to control how listeners are going to consume audio beyond any one narrow niche..."

SiriusXM's Bhasin even returned to the theme of "understanding the listener" when discussing Apple's expected entry into streaming radio: "They have lots of data" on purchase history and customer preferences from which they can draw to program the right content. "They're trying to build curation now."

Consultant Alan Burns (Alan Burns & Associates president/CEO) (right) even suggested streaming broadcasters and pureplay webcasters could look to each other for better ways to present content.

"What radio needs to do most of all, the thing that would boost online listening to (music) radio streams," Burns said, is to "make broaddcast streams skippable" (that is, replicate the ability of most Net-only streaming experiences in which a listener can instantly skip to the next song).

For pureplays, his advice was that "jukeboxes don't hold up as well" as programming with "deeper branding and content." Pureplays need to create experiences "that will help them develop the personal bond you get with traditional radio," he suggested.

You can listen to the audio of "Accelerating Your Audience Growth" from RAIN Summit West. Go to RAIN's homepage to find all the RAIN Summit West audio in the right-hand column.

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