The Last Stronghold for Broadcast FM

While we track usage of FM and its streaming competitors in our NuVoodoo Ratings Prospect Studies, we’ve started something new in this latest study: regular usage by place. We want to be able to look at usage of FM at work and in the home, as well as in the car – compared with usage of Pandora and her peers.

The car is the stronghold of FM, for now. But, if you’ve bought a new car or shopped for one or even paid mild attention to ads for new cars, you know that car manufacturers are making a very big deal about Internet-connectivity in their new models. And streaming audio is the feature of the connected car most desired by consumers. We won’t know which in-dash interface approach will become “normal” for some years yet. But, it’s clear that the ability to stream audio content from the Internet easily is becoming standard in all cars.

When we asked our sample of over 3500 consumers 14-54 across all PPM markets in our newest Ratings Prospect Study which media types they regularly use in different places in their lives, the car was the only place where more people said they use Broadcast FM than say they use Pandora, Spotify and/or other Internet Radio sources.

We also asked about listening to FM radio through Internet-connected devices (not shown here) and, while that usage helps to even the score for FM programming in the home and at work, it’s cold comfort given the number of quarter hours at stake in the car.

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For now, FM has free distribution and frictionless convenience-of-use on its side. The VHF signal goes nearly everywhere in a metro area and there’s no app to install or select or even start – and chances are the FM presets in your car have been programmed for years. We’ve been in cars where the owners have forgotten how to change the presets, so one or more is programmed to a frequency that has changed out of a format they liked, into one they don’t like – and the owners still listen from time to time, mostly in hopes that the station will change back.

Given FM’s declining usage in the home, should savvy broadcasters offer low-inventory digital-only channels to target time spent with digital pureplays? You can imagine that station branding would lift adoption of these channels in many cases – specific channels “curated by the music experts at WXXX” to listen to when you’re having friends over, doing things around the house, exercising, etc. The data suggest that stations need to use their brand strength to build bridges into the Internet-distributed world. If we really walk the talk that our brands are bigger than just the signals that come from tall towers, we need to be exploiting the good will associated with station brands to expand distribution and compete on the wider stage.

We’re preparing to present the findings of a study of morning radio listeners at the 2016 Morning Show Boot Camp in Atlanta, August 11-12. We’ve dug into the top three markets to look at what separates casual morning passers-by from morning super fans – and what drives the shows that attract those super fans. The deep dive will be at our session in Atlanta, but we’ll tease a few tidbits here next week.