Monday, March 10, 2008

The Demise of Age/Sex Demographics?

Arbitron's Portable People Meter (PPM) data reaffirms public radio's appeal to college educated listeners. Public radio's ratings performance is best among people with a college degree or higher.

While college educated listeners are our strength, the majority of college educated listeners don't use public radio on a weekly basis. The data suggest that public radio might still be more a niche medium than we thought.

That niche has served public radio well. That niche will serve public radio well into the future and it might provide an example to all radio stations trying to succeed in a constantly fragmenting media marketplace.

Age/Sex demographics are great for selling radio time as long there are fewer choices for listeners and a substantial audience has been aggregated. But the industry is moving in the opposite direction. Age/sex demographics will be far less useful if HD is the success the radio industry wants it to be, slicing the audience into even smaller cuts. The same holds true as listeners disperse to other sources of radio-like content.

Those who sell underwriting for public radio understand the challenges of trying to explain it to potential buyers. It's not a big format like "country" or "rock." Those big formats have been going away for a while. The process will accelerate.

The niche market of the future will have even more formats and flavors of formats than there are today. There will come a point when naming a format and showing the demos won't be a strong enough sell. It will require explanation and better research to describe the audience.

The question is, will we have that research or will radio be stuck selling in a new market with an old sales model?

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