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How Big is Your Playlist? Do Your Listeners Know That?

We all know that music radio in general suffers a perception that it repeats songs over and over.  Anecdotally, we also all know that smaller playlists tend to generate better ratings than larger ones.  Now that the word “playlist” is part of the vernacular for many people because of iTunes and other platforms, we wondered about the perceived dimensions of radio station playlists among listeners.

The dataset in our Nielsen Audio Prospects Study includes all music formats, but we’ll focus here on a library-based format: Classic Rock/Classic Hits.  Weekly playlists on the biggest Classic Rock and Classic Hits stations in the country average a few titles over 600.  Yet, when asked, over half the Classic Rock/Classic Hits P1’s in our study put the weekly playlists on their favorite stations under 300 titles.

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Only 28% put the playlist size over 700 titles, even though it would be true for about 1/3 of the biggest Classic Rock/Classic Hits stations.  Here’s a case there reality is likely far more positive than perception.

We told respondents to imagine an 8-hour listening span (we were thinking of the workday) and asked how many times their favorite station – a Classic Rock or Classic Hits station – would repeat the same song during that 8-hour span.  Given that the greatest number of spins on the biggest Classic Rock/Classic Hits stations in the country averages about 10 per week, it’s likely that the actual number of times these stations play the same song in an 8-hour workday is 1.  Yet, these listeners have a different perception.

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Only 21% got the “right” answer – that the station would play the same song only once in 8 hours.  We’ll forgive the 25% who said twice.  But, over half the P1’s to these Classic Rock and Classic Hits stations said their P1 station would play the same song at least 3 times in that 8-hour span.  Again, their perception is far worse than reality.

To be sure, artist repetition plays a role – if you don’t like The Doors, Love Her Madly might sound a lot like Light My Fire.  Also, it’s easy to confuse that you heard Light My Fire at 10AM and 2 PM – but on different days.

Nevertheless, here’s a case where we can shape perceptions with packaging and promotion.  The time-honored no-repeat workday is one tactic, but great minds can certainly prevail with different and more creative ways to shape listener perceptions for the better.

So much of a station’s audience delivery depends on the quality of our music programming.  It seems to us that there are positive differentiations to be gained not only by the programming itself, but also the messaging we use to shape perceptions of how the music programming is crafted.

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