Study: 93% of listeners stay tuned in during spot breaks


Seems many more listeners actually don’t change the dial when the commercials come on than commonly perceived: Expanding on a landmark 2006 study, Arbitron, Media Monitors and Coleman Insights studied 18 million commercial breaks across 48 markets and found radio delivers more than 93% of its lead-in audience during the average commercial break. 62 million minutes of commercials and 866 stations for a year of audience data from all 48 PPM markets compared the audience level for each minute of a commercial break to the audience for the minute before the spots began.

“What Happens When the Spots Come On: 2011” is a comprehensive update of a landmark 2006 study on the radio audience behavior during commercial breaks. Both studies took advantage of the increased precision of passive electronic measurement, both for radio audiences and for commercial occurrences.

The 2011 study of minute-by-minute audience levels disputed the common misperception among advertisers, agencies and even radio executives that audiences during commercial breaks are a fraction of the numbers that were listening to the station just before the commercials began.

One to three-minute commercial breaks deliver radio audiences levels that are practically the same as the lead-in audience. The average minute audience during one-minute breaks is equal to the lead-in audience for that break; two-minute breaks deliver 99% of their lead-in average minute audiences; and three-minute breaks deliver 96% of their lead-in audience levels.

Longer spot breaks of four to six minutes-plus delivered an average minute audience that was nearly 90% of the lead-in audience. Four-minute breaks delivered 92% of the lead-in audience; five-minute breaks delivered 87%.  Even spot breaks of six minutes or longer delivered an average minute audience that was 85% of the audience level before the commercials began.

Among teens and persons aged 18-24, radio delivers nearly 90% of its lead-in audience during commercial breaks.  Among people age 65 and older, radio delivers 98% of the lead-in audience once the commercials come on.

Dedication to morning show talent/traffic/news
Spot breaks in morning drive deliver 97% of their lead-in audience, on average. The higher percentage during mornings is driven by shorter commercial breaks during morning compared with other time periods and the higher number of people who are first tuning into radio early in the day than those who tune out.

There is little difference by market in terms of the average audience delivery during commercial breaks. Of the 48 markets studied, three markets with the highest percentage delivered an average of 95% of their lead-in audience levels during commercial breaks and the three markets with the smallest percentage delivered an average of 91% of their lead-in audience levels. Audience delivery during commercial breaks was consistent throughout the year.  Radio commercial breaks delivered between 93% and 94% of lead-in audience levels during each month of the year.

These findings stand in stark contrast to the perceptions of the advertiser/agency industry and even of radio broadcasters about the impact of commercials on the radio audience. In a web poll conducted by Arbitron and Coleman Insights, people identifying themselves as members of the advertiser/agency industry (362 responses) said that, on average, the size of the audience during a radio commercial break is only 68% of the size of the audience before the commercial began. On average, respondents identifying themselves as members of the radio industry (1,178 responses) believe radio holds only 78% of the audience during commercials.

RBR-TVBR observation: The immediacy of PPM measurement packs a lot of powder into this report. Yes, there is tune-out during spot breaks, but this also shows the replenishment/tune in from other listeners during these breaks. With PPM we’re now able to take a look at listening levels of spot breaks like Nielsen’s C3 measurement, and the news is good. But bottom line, the more clutter during a spot break, the more listeners you lose. So it’s best to sell more mentions with on-air talent. It’s very effective and the listener doesn’t get as easily annoyed by the pitch.