To those on the outside who don’t understand how radio ratings work, it’s easy to get fooled. Many people look at the higher and lower shares delivered by stations and place credit or blame on brands without having a deeper understanding of how they measure success.
Most sports stations analyze their performances on a quarterly and annual basis. Weekly and monthly reports are important to judge how a brand is progressing, and to study which trends a station should pay closer attention to. Every programmer wants to see their station ahead of their competitor and atop the ratings ladder, but they also understand that it can disappear quickly if literally one person carrying a meter goes on vacation or is removed as a panelist.
The purpose in telling you that is to recognize that the system is extremely weak, and not entirely reflective of how people listen in most markets. Further complicating the picture is digital and mobile listening. Nielsen, the company which measures radio listening, is starting to adapt and measure total audience of radio stations. But even their abilities to capture total listening have flaws. Stations can see detailed data for their digital listening sessions, and although the ratings company is making improvements, it still has a long ways to go.
This is why Nielsen states that radio stations shouldn’t include combined listening totals because it’s yet to provide consistency for all brands in each market. In Dallas, and Philadelphia, this has been a major issue. Unless a media reporter has a full grasp on how the industry works, it’s easy to muddy the situation.
I can see both sides of the argument. Should a station that has great digital ratings not include them in their total audience reports? Of course they should. But, if the measurement company is erratic and not providing a full sample for all stations in a given market, then it makes it silly to provide data for one brand, and not for the others.
I’d love to see the industry reach the point where each station involved has an over the air rating, digital rating, and total combined rating. The measurement system won’t ever be perfect but at least at that point we’d have an even playing field.
For this particular piece, we focus on the city of Dallas, where we have a case of two different stories being told. In print, the Dallas News has made it a point to showcase the strength of The Ticket by featuring it’s combined data between the over the air ratings, and their streaming numbers. The only problem with that story is that the same data isn’t being provided for The Fan and ESPN 103.3 By doing that, it creates confusion in the marketplace, and presents an image that one brand is even further out in front than they really are.
To be clear, The Ticket right now is the market’s leading sports radio brand. There’s no confusion there. They deserve to be recognized, and should feel great about the roll they’re on. Their talent is exceptional and the connection they’ve formed with the local audience is powerful. This isn’t to take away from their accomplishments because regardless of digital data being added, they’d still be in the top position.
The issue is that digital data should not factor into the total ratings report just yet. Here’s why. In the M-F 6a-7p category, there are only two stations in the entire market showing digital ratings – The Ticket, and WBAP News Talk 820. Do we really believe that only two out of sixty radio stations in Dallas have an audience listening on their desktop or mobile phone? Of course not. What if I told you that seven people are responsible for that digital performance?
A great way to look at this in many cases is to ask the radio station owner the following question – if your talent/show receive ratings bonuses based on how they perform in the over the air ratings, and they finish one spot away from hitting a bonus, but with streaming numbers added, would hit that bonus, would you add the numbers and give them the additional money? Most would not.
Making the issue even more complex is that all of these stations can see reports that show how many listeners stream their shows, which devices they listen on, how long they stay, and how many times the app gets downloaded. When Nielsen tells sixty stations they have no digital audience, yet they all see data which counters that argument, it makes it really difficult to take the information seriously. Nielsen is working to make this better, but as of right now, they aren’t where they need to be for digital to be part of the total picture.
For the sake of being fair, we’re going to show you how Dallas looks WITHOUT digital data included. The three sports talkers involved have to live with these results whether they like them or not because each of their companies have made investments in over the air ratings measurement, and these are the results. Whether 10, 20 or 30 listeners determine them or not is irrelevant because all brands know the deal going into each month’s report. This is what salaries, bonuses, and ad rates are often determined by, so until someone changes it, it’s the report we’ll stick with providing.
Here’s the results for May in Dallas!
- The Ticket = 8.0 (1st)
- The Fan = 4.8 (6th)
- ESPN 103.3 = 2.1 (19th)
*** The Ticket wins the full week and has now improved their ratings for six straight months. A very impressive feat. The Fan however isn’t far behind and sits only three tenths of a point away from hitting the Top 5. They’ve also increased their numbers for the past four months. ESPN 103.3 on the other hand is in third place and down three tenths of a point from April’s book.
- The Ticket = 10.4 (1st)
- The Fan = 4.5 (6th)
- ESPN 103.3 = 2.2 (tied for 17th)
*** A monster month for The Ticket who perform two times better than their competitors. During weekday prime programming, they are clearly clicking on all cylinders right now…..for The Fan, they’re up a point and a half from where they stood three months ago so that’s encouraging. Being in 6th is also very solid, and they’re only a half a point away from reaching the Top 5. That’s a ranking most sports talkers would be satisfied with…..ESPN 103.3 on the other hand remains consistent in the low 2’s and is widely considered the market’s third brand. One thing to take into account, The Ticket and 103.3 are both owned and operated by Cumulus Media, so the lower performance of 103.3 may not be a bad thing. It keeps the company’s top station (Ticket) in focus, and that is after all their bread winner.
- The Ticket (The Musers) = 13.5 (1st)
- The Fan (Shan and RJ) = 3.2 (tied for 7th)
- ESPN 103.3 (Mike and Mike/Le Batard) = 3.0 (tied for 9th)
*** The Musers continue their reign as the market’s most dominant show on radio among males 25-54. They not only are destroying their local sports radio competitors, but all radio stations/shows in the Men 25-54 demo. To put it in perspective, their 13.5 share was 6 full points higher than 2nd place KZPS-FM Lone Star 92.5 Classic Rock which finished 2nd…..for The Fan, the good news is they’re up from where they were a few months ago, and they’ve climbed in front of ESPN 103.3. They were behind them a few months earlier. On the other hand, they’re still way behind The Ticket who has also grown their numbers….for ESPN 103.3 the story remains the same, a solid showing by Mike and Mike who are playing in the Top 10 and performing the best of any show on the radio station, but not in the conversation with The Musers who own mornings in Dallas.
- The Ticket (Norm Hitzges/Donovan Lewis) = 8.6 (2nd)
- The Fan = 4.0 (G-Bag Nation) = 4.0 (7th)
- ESPN 103.3 (Le Batard/1-hour of Dennis & Freido) = 1.0 (26th)
*** Norm and Donovan were just under a 9 share which is excellent and more than double points ahead of The Fan. Given that they were in weaker shape last year, this shows tremendous growth and they’ve got to feel ecstatic about the way they’ve turned the tide in their favor…for G-Bag Nation, the first two hours of their show finds them in the top 7. They broadcast five hours each day. Just a few months ago the show was under a 3 share so they have to feel encouraged by the progress even if they don’t feel great about being a distant second to The Ticket…..ESPN 103.3 on the other hand loses the momentum they have in mornings and drops two points. For whatever reason, the meters are moving away from the station during this window.
- The Ticket (BaD Radio) = 9.3 (1st)
- The Fan (G-Bag Nation) = 4.9 (6th)
- ESPN 103.3 (Dennis & Freido) = 1.7 (20th)
*** Once again The Ticket delivers in big fashion. BaD Radio increases the station’s performance after Norm/Donovan which is impressive since those guys themselves are turning in a strong showing. They’re almost five points ahead of where The Fan is……for G-Bag Nation, they increase their performance by almost a full point between 10a-12p and 12p-3p so that’s certainly a positive. They’re also sitting in 6th place during these 3 hours and that’s nothing to be ashamed of……for Dennis & Freido, they improve as the show goes on, adding seven tenths of a point during this timeslot. They however sit in 20th overall and have a long ways to climb to reach the other two shows.
- The Ticket (The Hardline) = 8.9 (1st)
- The Fan (Ben and Skin) = 5.6 (4th)
- ESPN 103.3 (Cowlishaw & Mosley) = 2.2 (19th)
*** The Hardline continues to surge in afternoons, leading the market with an impressive 8.9 share. Their challenge is to try and find a way to take that 13+ share from morning drive and convert some of those listeners into afternoon fans. None the less, 1st place is 1st place….for The Fan, Ben and Skin have a lot to feel good about. They’re nearly two and a half points higher than the station’s morning show, and inside the Top 5 which shows that they’re very much a legitimate threat. They’re the highest rated show on The Fan which should make them feel good too. Their challenge is to keep chipping away and hope for The Ticket to stumble……For ESPN 103.3, they remain a distant third, and judging by the past twelve months, they’re going to be consistently in the 2.0-2.5 range.
- The Fan = 8.7 (1st)
- The Ticket = 4.2 (5th)
- ESPN 103.3 = 2.8 (14th)
*** Texas Rangers baseball has made an impact for The Fan during the evenings. It’s a big reason why the station jumps up three full points between afternoon drive and the night time. The Fan also invests more in local programming during the evenings than the other two brands. That said, The Ticket and ESPN 103.3 are both up. This is likely due to the Dallas Stars playoff run, and airing the NBA Playoffs on ESPN Radio.
As someone who’s programmed multiple stations, lived and died with the ratings, and has a lot of respect for Jeff Catlin at The Ticket and Gavin Spittle at The Fan, my only goal with this piece is to provide an accurate story. I can’t control the numbers, I don’t work for either company or station, and I have no favorites in the race. I know a lot of the talent in the market who do a great job, and they deserve to have a fair and accurate story told about their performance.
For the month of May, The Ticket is in full control. The meters love them right now, and all the other two brands can do is continue to push forward and try to chip away at their lead in the months ahead. Jeff Catlin and his team are doing an amazing job, and I’m sure Dan Bennett and the Cumulus brass are more than satisfied with the results.
What should be understood though is that The Fan is still very much in great shape. There’s only room at the top for one station, but in a city with a population of close to 6 million people, there’s plenty of room for two sports talkers to have success. ESPN 103.3 provides a third option and when the programming (Mike and Mike) meets the needs of the market, you can see a spike in the station’s performance.
There are other areas to measure each brand’s strengths. For The Ticket, they’re going to focus on Men 25-54 and look extremely well. This is their wheelhouse and one which they’re rewarded strongly by. The key to their success comes from listeners aged 45-54.
The Fan on the other hand skews younger and can take some solace from the fact that their Men 18-34 story remains strong. The station has won that battle for 16 months straight, and they’re rewarded most by Men 25-34. That may not be the target demo which most radio groups covet, but it gives them encouraging signs to build upon. They also have a higher cume than The Ticket M-SU 6a-Mid, finishing with 561,400 compared to 471,800.
Dallas sports radio fans will find different things to hang their hats on depending on which side of the fence they sit. But, since sports radio is largely judged by Men 25-54, the month of May belongs to The Ticket. They’ve turned in impressive over the air ratings, which on their own are enough to feel great about. They don’t need a murky digital story to help tell their story. When Nielsen starts including digital data for all brands, then we’ll report that part of the story. For now, this is where things stand for all involved.