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Tracking the Top Music Radio Storylines of 2018: Mid-Year Edition

3 minute read | June 2018

The midpoint of the 2018 calendar is just around the corner, and as the days grow longer, habits and radio listening preferences shift into full-blown summer mode. Historically, many mass appeal formats have seen big summer ratings increases due to listener preference, popular music cycle and the democratization of music listening thanks to digital and mobile technology. Given the ebbs and flows of these aspects, Pop Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR), Country, Classic Hits and Classic Rock have all vied for ‘format of the summer’ in recent years and are likely to do so again this summer.

But before we get there, the release of Nielsen’s May portable people meter (PPM) ratings allow the opportunity to reflect on the first chunk of the year—five months of radio format trends, compared with the same five months in previous years. By stepping back to examine the long view of music radio consumption, we can start to se some interesting storylines in the data.

The following insights are based on the average of the January through May survey books in PPM markets, compared year-over-year.

Adult Contemporary is ascendant

The leading storyline in 2018 for radio formats has been the rise of the Adult Contemporary (AC) format. The format that identifies squarely with mass-appeal music, AC has been consistently trending upward since 2015. At the same time, other formats that compete for the same audience have cooled. Hot Adult Contemporary (AC), a younger-skewing format with a lot of similarities, peaked in 2015 in terms of share of audience in PPM markets but has declined every year since. But now, it’s back to 2013 levels.

Pop CHR is trending downward

Pop CHR is one of the biggest radio formats in America, and it’s also known for mass-appeal music, though with a younger skew and a direct focus on current popular music. We have been tracking its downward trend for most of the year and currently Pop CHR has its smallest share of audience since the beginning of PPM measurement in 2011.

The chart below tracks the combined results for January-May over the past eight years for AC, Country, Pop CHR and Hot AC (the top four music formats nationwide in 2018). News/Talk ranks No. 1 overall but, we didn’t include it in our music-format-only chart.

Since 2015, Pop CHR has seen its share of audience shrink 15%, and its rank among all music formats drop from second place to fourth place this year.

Country has become more consistent

When you step outside the top 50 markets based on population and consider the nation as a whole, Country is the top-ranked format—even ahead of News/Talk when it comes to total audience. In the larger markets—the PPM markets—Country trails News/Talk and AC, but has been up and down in the past decade before turning more consistent in the past two years. 2014 was a high point for the format, but only two years later the share had declined by almost 10%. In 2017, and now in 2018, Country has stabilized and become the second-highest ranked music format.

Alternative is reaching new heights

Alternative is the second-highest-ranked rock format in America, right behind Classic Rock. The Alternative format is more focused on showcasing the new, popular rock music of today, while simultaneously relying on acts from the 1990s and 2000s at its core. Simply put, popular music influences Alternative. So for our final storyline this month, it’s rather interesting to see that while Pop CHR is declining, Alternative is recording some of the best audience share numbers we’ve seen in PPM markets. The format’s share of audience among 25-to-54 year-old listeners has been at an all-time high since February, when Alternative garnered 4.2% of all radio listening, the first month its share of listening had ever been north of 4%. And it has remained there every month since, trending 4.1%, 4.2% and 4.2% in March, April and May, respectively.

Data used in this article is inclusive of multicultural audiences. Hispanic consumer audiences are composed of both English and Spanish-speaking representative populations.

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