Are Radio Commercials the Villain?

Content from BPR

One of the most contentious and misunderstood areas of radio content management is commercials and the degree to which they impact radio listening behaviour on a commercial radio station.

Commercials are generally seen as a problem, particularly for TSL on music driven radio stations.  As a result, stations spend a lot of time employing tactics designed to mitigate the impact of commercials such as promising limited commercial break length, promoting “commercial free” hours or offering non-stop periods of music.  Yes, most listeners will tell you they dislike commercials on a radio station but how big a problem are commercials really?

It is naïve to think that radio listeners truly hate or avoid radio commercials.  Radio listeners are not morons, they know they will hear radio commercials when they tune to a commercial radio station.  The issue is really about listener tolerance and the balance between whether the perceived entertainment value of what is being listened to is worth putting up with the interruptions in between.

Radio commercials in themselves are not the villain, the true villain is the broader issue of what the listener perceives as unnecessary interruptions to their listening experience. That may be a commercial break, but it can also be a DJ talking over the end of a listener’s favourite song, a promo for the breakfast show that has already been heard several times or a traffic report that is presented so quickly the listener has no ability to absorb what was said.

All these things can be triggers for listeners thinking to themselves “I’ve had enough of this” and moving from your radio station. It is not just commercials.

A significant factor is the degree of contrast between the perceived interruption and the entertainment/information either side of it.  The more a listener loves something such as a particular personality, a show or mix of music the more they resent what they love being unnecessarily interrupted by stuff they are not interested in.  Equally, the more a listener likes something the more inclined they are to stick around through the interruption waiting for what they like to resume.

The breaking point for listeners is when the perception forms that there have been too many unnecessary interruptions relative to the entertainment/information they are receiving.  I call this balancing act the “Shit to Fun” ratio.

When it comes to commercial breaks there are a couple of points worth noting.  People who listen to commercial radio stations are remarkably tolerant of commercial content however a commercial break longer than a song is a danger zone as is a commercial break with too many commercials.  Listeners are generally more conscious of the number of commercials (elements) than time.  Frequency of the same commercial is also a big issue. This unfortunately goes against the premise of how radio likes to sell itself however commercial repetition is just as big a negative as song repetition however there are ways to mitigate this.

Finally, it should never be forgotten that people appreciate commercials that inform them about something they are interested in. Radio advertising works and that is because a lot of people hear and absorb the advertising messages and respond. It is in everyone’s interests for a commercial radio station to have a commercial content strategy that minimises listener tune out and maximises listeners hearing the commercials. In this respect the longer-term strategy should be about making commercial breaks more listener friendly rather than villainising them. Listeners will tolerate your commercial breaks more if you give them half a chance.
By Wayne Clouten, BPR

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