Christmas brings AC radio a huge cume infusion – the tricky part is trying to retain some of that ratings rocket boost, while luring back listeners that found a new favorite station when the Yule music was playing 24/7. Based on a new analysis of first quarter listening data, AC programmers have cracked the ratings code, delivering the format’s best numbers in seven years.
The usual scenario sees AC fall back to earth after the Holiday book ends and the influx of new listeners tails off. “This year has been different, however, with AC surging to one of its best starts to the year (post-holiday) that we have seen in PPM measurement, particularly with Millennial audiences,” Nielsen says in a new analysis released Wednesday. In fact, in the PPM markets, AC posted its highest first quarter share of 18-34 year-olds in any year since Nielsen began tracking national format trends in 2011.
AC cracked an 8.0 share among Millennials for the first time, part of an ongoing four-year upswing in a demo that’s not even core to the format. But AC’s banner first quarter isn’t only confined to younger listeners. The format is also in the midst of a four-year upward trajectory in the 25-54 demo, culminating with an 8.2 in 2018, up from a 7.4 in the same period in 2017. That marks its best performance since 2011. The increases pushed AC’s total audience 6+ share to an 8.3 in the first quarter, beating every year on record since 2011.
Nielsen positions AC’s first quarter triumph as evidence of the supremacy of mass appeal formats. “Adult contemporary is a format that identifies squarely with mass-appeal music,” the company says. The same can be said for the resurgent classic hits format, thanks to a renewed focus on ‘80s titles. As Inside Radio detailed in a feature story last December, “The evolution of classic hits stations over the last five to 10 years has turned the format from a promising niche into a ratings powerhouse.” The new Q1 numbers spell that out in black and white – classic hits notched its best ever performance since Nielsen began tracking formats across the 48 PPM markets. Among listeners 6+, classic hits pushed 5.1-5.5 year over year for its best showing in the eight-year period tracked by Nielsen.
The YOY gain in 18-34 is even more dramatic (3.5-5.2), up a full share above the 3.2 registered in Q1 2011. Likewise, classic hits advanced 4.6-5.1 in 25-54 for its highest Money Demo showing of the eight-year trend. “This may give a preview for what’s in store this summer when listening habits shift and—in recent years—both classic hits and classic rock tend to spike,” Nielsen says, begging the question of whether classic hits will regain the “Format Of Summer” mantle it lost to classic rock in 2016 and 2017. The way Beasley Media Group VP/Programming Buzz Knight sees it, the evolution of classic hits has taken it from “from already being a very big tent format, to an even bigger tent.”
While AC and classic hits are walking on rating sunshine, other formats are contending with multi-year down trends among Millennial listeners. Though CHR remained the top format in the 18-34 demo in Q1, it has declined nearly two full share points since the beginning of 2016 (12.5-11.8-10.9). Hot AC (7.4-7.0-6.6) and urban contemporary (6.7-6.8-6.2) are also both down over the same time, while country is generally flat (8.4-8.1-8.4).