Friday, November 18, 2005

A Daypart Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

One essential finding from JSA’s review of Spring 2005 audience data is that many stations, including top-performers, still have weak blocks of weekday programming.

As always, many stations have audience growth opportunities in middays. The big surprise was station performance after 7pm, where more than half of the stations we studied are tanking, to use the technical term.

Traditional thinking is that there is so little listening after 7pm, it doesn’t matter what programming goes there. That thinking is wrong.

Five hours of weak programming per weekday translates to 1,300 hours of lost opportunity per year. That’s 1,300 hours during which current listeners find the station not meeting their expectations. That’s 1,300 hours during which first-time listeners make a value judgment about the entire radio station.

There’s not going to be one single fix for evenings. Programming economics suggests that the financial costs cannot be on par with midday or drive time investments. But something needs to be done. In today’s highly competitive environment, public radio cannot afford to waste thousands, or even hundreds, of hours of precious airtime on programming that delivers substandard results.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It barely started before it was over, but I would've loved to see the interaction between WGBH/WUML's "Open Source" and WBUR's "OnPoint" when they were both at 7pm.

I always thought, and still do think, that one of OnPoint's greatest strengths was that it was on at 7pm. Tom Ashbrook's vaguely-commercial-talkshow-host style fit well at that time. And it was a great setup to take a look at what happened during the day, and then give callers a chance to talk about it.

Open Source has inherently cut itself off from that dynamic by having such a long production cycle (nearly two weeks with some shows, from start to finish) because the listeners are intentionally brought in well before the show airs (and kept around well after) via their website/blog.

Plus let's not forget that with traffic being the way it is (in Boston and no doubt many other cities) rush hour easily lasts until 8pm these days...

Anyways, WGBH has an inherent problem with dayparting in that their core listenership has always been classical and jazz yet the segments making money for them are the increasing news times.

WBUR, OTOH, seems to have completely abandoned it's experiment with having call-in talk shows run later at night, and instead of OnPoint live from 7-9pm and The Connection repeated (from earlier in the day) 9-11pm, we now have OnPoint repeated 7-9pm and a sleepy Fresh Air repeat from 9-10pm and a coma-inducing BBC World Service from 10pm until 5am the next day.


6:35 PM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

It's a tough call for stations on how to program after 7pm. I'm certain On Point was a money loser at that time slot. It is an expensive program and underwriting is a tough sell after 7pm. It is very attractive to save money by repeating programs. That's advice I've given to clients in the past. But there's a difference between inexpensive and cheap(or free). What's often saved in expenses is lost on the revenue side because when listeners use the station less, they give less.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused as to your sureity that OnPoint was a money-loser at 7pm.

Granted, in BOSTON it might be a money-loser because of the Red Sox games typically start at 7:05pm and WEEI-AM just creams everyone else when the Sox are on.

But hell, Brudnoy was on WBZ-AM in the evenings for years and he was insanely popular. I'm sure WBZ had no trouble finding commercial sponsors. And I don't remember a lack of underwriters being announced during OnPoint at 7-9pm, either...although admittedly I have no idea how much (or less) WBUR was getting for those spots. And granted, I can see OnPoint being so expensive that it outweighs any potential incoming revenue.

I do, however, wish that WBUR - and most other pubradio stations - would look less to repeating shows and more to low-cost alternatives. There are plenty of shows out there that cost little (or are literally free) and are still good, national shows. Look at the Theory of Everything by Ben Walker...great show, comes out of WZBC. He's only got a handful of affiliates but damned if he doesn't deserve a lot more.

11:38 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

This is something we've studied quite a bit. Very few local news or talk programs in public radio make money after their direct costs. Most programs are subsidized by grants or surplus revenue from profitable programs. That's as it should be in public radio. Programs such as On Point, heavy on personnel costs, barely pay for themselves in middays. Given WBUR's spending crisis, there is no way On Point was paying for itself at night, even under the most generous of financial assumptions.

5:36 PM  

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