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Research Issues


How to Set Your Research Priorities

(delivered to the European Radio Conference)

Austereo, with stations throughout Australia , the Scandinavian Broadcasting System, NRJ in France, Chrysalis in London , Primedia in South Africa , the Spanish Broadcasting System in Puerto Rico, Vibration and Ado in France – and perhaps some others I've forgotten to mention - all have something in common.

They all decided, in the same week, that research was important.

It is also the reason I don't have a nice PowerPoint slide presentation for you today!

Why? Why did these experienced broadcasters do this?

You've all heard the expression “Nobody wants research.” I think that is accurate. Broadcasters don't want research. They want listeners. Yet nearly all, including this week the ones I just listed, do research.

What does it mean to do research?

You can put research into four “boxes”.

  • All research is either primary or secondary.
  • All research is either experimental or a survey.

If you begin to work in radio and work for an experienced programmer you will learn from him or her. They've tried things that did or did not increase ratings, and they learned. You learn. You're doing secondary experimental research.

When you become the program director, you'll do primary experimental research.

When you look at the trade charts, such as Music & Media's European Top 50, and sales figures, or you read a market study done by another station or at an earlier time, you're doing secondary survey research.

When you do an AMT music library test or weekly call-out research of current music, or field a market study, you're doing a primary survey.

  • When you use secondary research (you learned by observation, or it was done for somebody else) there are some questions to be answered.
  • Does it apply to your listeners?
  • Was the research conducted with people of a different age?
  • Was the research conducted with people of a different gender?
  • Is this a different or changing culture?
  • Was this information very short-lived?
  • Does it have anything to do with hearing things on the radio?

When you use experimental research (you tried things, pretending perhaps that the audience were lab rats, and observed their reactions) there are some problems:

It is slow.

It is hard to say “I did “this” and “that” happened. Perhaps “this” had no real effect, but something else really caused your success.

Put those two together and you see why it takes years to become an experienced, wise programmer. And that is one of the most important reasons experienced, wise programmers are so valuable.

  1. Everybody does research, and does so in many different ways. A lot of those ways have nothing to do with what research companies do.
  2. Research is important for the station, and for the growth of programmers.

We're probably most concerned in this discussion are new surveys done for our own stations. We're talking about primary survey research.

To evaluate any research in terms of whether it has value to you, you'll just need to answer two questions:

  1. How badly do I need to know this?
  2. Do I already know this?

So, experienced programmers really do need less new research, so long as the situation is very similar to others they have seen before.

We all learn that listeners don't want us to cut songs short, talk too much, play too many commercials, etc…

But there are limits to this.

The most important factor that will increase the importance of research is competition. If there are more competitors, a small improvement in the programming brought about through research becomes more valuable. As competition increases, a certain level of research effort is necessary just to stay even with other stations. Other (expensive) efforts may be needed to pull ahead of the competition. But those efforts will be wasted if the basic benefits of research aren't in place first.

This can be very frustrating to radio station owners and programmers. Generally, competition is increasing and so research seems to be less effective even as it is clearly becoming more important.

Depending on your own situation, certain types of research will tend to be more valuable.

Let's run though one scenario:

If you play current music – at least 25% of your hour – ongoing research of the current music will be the most important research you do. This usually takes the form of a weekly “call out” telephone survey. Let's look at the value of this, using our two rules.

Q: How badly do I need to know this?

A: A lot! For such a station, music is the primary reason most people choose the station over other stations.

Q: Do I already know this?

A: No! This information has a very short shelf life. It is very much out of date in only a few days.

All other research can be evaluated in the same way. You can make that evaluation yourself.

When you look at the research done by smart people, you'll see that they try to find out two things about each issue.

  1. How do people rate your station on this attribute?
  2. How important is this attribute?

For example, you could be rated #1 for news quality, but if your audience of 15-24 year olds doesn't choose their favorite station based on news you have won – the wrong battle!

One result of this at Steve Casey Research has been an increased focus. Unless we're dealing with a new format or very inexperienced programming people – were we know far less than is usual – we focus primarily on call-out and library music research. Within that work, we will also study the most important non-music issues, such as perceptions about the morning show.


More ideas and information on this topic:

Caution: Research is a Loaded Gun