Where you place anything you create, or others create, can be very impactful on how it is received. I’ve posted before about hour structure, and maintaining messaging around the hour, but the actual structure- the building blocks and where things go (and don’t go)- is worth a fresh rethink. When I sat in the programmer’s chair I would often (probably once a month), just spend some time thinking about what needed to be shifted, changed or tweaked with the basic structure of the hour. Even if I didn’t change anything, it was good to run the brain through it to make sure it was still fit for purpose.
There isn’t one size that fits all when it comes to a basic structure- so much depends on your format, target demo, time of day and other commercial considerations. They all have an impact into the structure you might use, as does competitor activity and their structure if you are in a battle for listenership and looking for an advantage or leveraging your competitor’s weaknesses.
Lets jump right in and start getting specific. Firstly, no-one listens from the start of a clock hour to the next start of clock hour. As programmers we have logically and traditionally built TOH (Top Of Hour) openers and planned and laid out the structure from the 00:00 to the 00:59. We build hour clocks that start at the top of the hour and GSelector does the same and so its a “built in” precondition. Here’s the thing… its 2022 and the world has changed so much since this logic first stood up (if it ever really did). You have to start somewhere I know, but lets all agree that we shouldn’t let it be the prevailing norm that shackles the thinking in a digital, streaming, time-shifted listening world.
The legacy of this thinking is that there is a majority of people who will listen for their “news fill” at the top of the hour, and so the programming job was to keep them listening around the hour from then on. Music sweeps, adbreak placement and quarter hour maintenance all stemmed from that initial thought. Good logic to that thinking and all made sense and as I said, you have to start somewhere! So a few things there which are no longer really true… Not all stations carry news at the top of the hour and the reliance on radio for news delivery has changed hugely (with the onset of apps, the internet and the 20th century, let alone the 21st!), so does the initial thought still hold water? When you bear in mind the thoughts about how listening has changed – point number 2 in my blog post about 3 things to grasp, its probably not at all relevant for listening today I would wager. Now, its true that listeners drop in and out at differing times around the hour and always have done, but if the fundamental building precondition is structured around distinct hours we are starting from a shaky foundation when it comes to relevance to a listeners lifestyle.
Adbreak placement in mainstream music formats has tended to fall as below.
It may vary slightly from format to format, and also time of day too with breakfast dayparts generally having more breaks. Breakfast listening, whilst traditionally higher for some formats (caveat my last post), and with the impacts of commutes, getting kids to school and other bits of life, listening spans tend to be shorter than perhaps some other dayparts as a result. Some formats might also have more breaks in daytime music hours. Perhaps for different reasons such as a commercial necessity (client clash, being able to get away campaigns in terms of inventory management, and utilising reach availability in each quarter hour etc).
Here is the issue. If I were a station which didn’t take news on the hour (and there are many), would I want to place my breaks when all the other stations who did take news, place their breaks? Lets say if it were a Saturday afternoon and I wasn’t running hourly news, and again many don’t and even those that do take news at other times don’t at this time, do I want to place a break at 00:57(ish), thereby creating a stopdown at the very time when others are doing the same because they are taking a news at the top of the hour?
An aside here. The thought process of running ads to news as in the above example is this… if you are going to stopdown, then you might as well stopdown for longer just once (for ads then news) rather than increasing the number of stopdowns in the hour (thereby interrupting the listening flow and creating more opportunities for listeners to leave). Fewer longer stopdowns is arguably better than more frequent shorter ones. You are sitting at your desk- would you prefer your colleague to come in and interrupt you 5 times in the hour to ask ONE question, or twice and ask you 3 questions?
The other side of the coin is that if I decided to run my breaks at, say, :10, :30 and :50- its true I will be running music content when everyone else is in a break, but then everyone else is running music content when I’m in a break too! Inertia therefore persists for logical, understandable reasons. The status quo prevails.
A few services have tweaked to model from time to time. Moving the last break earlier in the hour and whilst it creates another stopdown for news, if the news is engaging content, short and on brand is it really an egress? For example Capital, competing with Radio 1 for a bulk of audience runs a similar sequence and runs news slightly ahead of the top of the hour (around :59). Some stations have moved the entire stopdown, news and all and run it earlier. Slightly less successful as we have been preconditioned through all of our lives that the sun rises in the morning, sets in the evening and news happens at the top of the hour-ish (Except Radio 1 of course where it’s always been at :30). Wait- think about that! A youth oriented music station has always run its news at half past the hour? It generally runs longer news bulletins than its commercial counterparts, runs two 15 minute news programmes per day and the world hasn’t stopped turning? Take a look and the news length differences for example between Capital and Radio 1 below.
|TIME||CAPITAL||BBC RADIO 1|
It also remains competitive in audience terms, see below particularly in the key 15-24 demo, and whilst not having adbreaks to deal with, has a LOT of other chat and “stuff” around the hours and largely in song count per hour matches its commercial counterparts even with their ad load.
|ADULTS 15-24 DEMO Rajar WAVE 4 2021||REACH %||TOTAL HOURS (000s)||SHARE|
|BBC RADIO 1||23%||11207||15.8%|
|CAPITAL NETWORK (UK)||19%||7115||9.8%|
Its more than the hour structure of course, but doesn’t it prove that there are more ways to look at your hour construction than the preconditioned, ingrained traditional 00:00-00:59 model? Particularly when thinking about your target demo usage and listening patterns.
There is so much to consider when it comes to hour structure and where things should be placed within the clock hour- and there are no REAL barriers to invention. There are a few based on tradition, and some which are yet to be discovered in the world of new listening patterns post pandemic and with more hybrid working and remote working.
Its a time to be creative and break out of the traditions built on lifestyles which are perhaps no longer relevant.
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