Optimize your radio playlists to maximize listenership

Figuring out how large of an audience a radio station has is more of an art than a science. For larger markets, Nielsen can provide some estimates. For smaller markets, radio stations use all kinds of proxies to determine how many people listen in. From how many callers dial in a show to polling and seeing how well advertisements perform, measuring radio station audiences is at best an imperfect science.

Terrestrial broadcast is a tough nut to track

That’s because of the technology. For terrestrial radio and radio waves that travel through the air, there’s really no accurate way to track audience behavior, like how well the new release from Sam Hunt on country radio or Ed Sheeran’s last song on an adult contemporary station performed.

So, we estimate. In large markets covered by Nielsen data, we estimate how many people listen to radio. In smaller markets, we gain a gut feel for our audiences. We don’t know for certain, so we estimate.

Digital radio provides audience and listener engagement metrics

Not so with digital radio. Digital radio provides a whole new level of audience metrics. Once content is delivered through a stream — whether it’s on the web or through a mobile device — you can track it. You can track your audience and see how many people listen in. And you get that feedback immediately through your apps.

But you can go beyond passive audience metrics with digital. Sure, you can see how many of your listeners tune in your station, but you can also tell how many people listened to a particular song in your playlist. That kind of feedback is quite valuable for a program director.

And here’s where things get really interesting. With digital radio, you can actually take it a step further to measure “listener engagement”. Studying listener engagement not only tells you how many people tunes in to a particular song but how they reacted to that song. You can actually tell if they really liked a song or hated it.

Optimizing a playlist using real-time data

At Nobex, we study dozens of parameters around listener engagement to provide feedback to subscribers of our paid plans about how their songs are performing. By looking at various engagement behaviors, like whether someone clicked “like” on a song or turned the volume up, we can begin to develop a picture on how well we’re engaging our audience and whether our song choices resonate with our listeners.

We’ve developed our own metric for listener engagement. We call it eBex, or the Nobex Song Engagement Score and stations have been using it since 2017 as a real-time intelligent scoring mechanism to rate listeners’ reactions to, and engagement with, each individual song.

See below for the type of feedback we provide a sample station. What you’re looking at is a grouping of all the songs played by an individual station during a specific time period.

Nobex Partners playlist analysis
Engagement vs. turn off

The single dots represent individual songs. The axes measure how many times a specific song was played during the period and how engaged listeners were during their listening to that song. A radio station wants most of its songs to be above the X-axis and green, meaning that listeners engaged with the song. Conversely, a radio station wants to limit and remove songs that appear red (which means people shut their apps off when the song plays).

So, you can see our sample station played a certain Coldplay song (Hymn for the Weekend) 68 times during the time period. In fact, because the song is so far out on the right in the chart, it was one of the station’s most played songs, period. But more people abandoned the song than stuck with it. That’s bad. Coded in red, our sample station removed this song from rotation and saw a general lift in listener metrics.

Track the performance of a specific song over time

In addition to looking at playlist data, eBex can also be used to track an individual song’s performance over time.

See the song below. Our sample station first started playing it at the end of December and it performed poorly (its eBex score was negative and the station lost more listeners than it gained by playing it).

Nobex Partners song trend

But over time, this song became a legitimate customer favorite. The station was tracking this song’s performance and began playing it more in rotation as it resonated very well with its audience.

You can find all your listener engagement metrics and playlist data in your account here.

By using listener engagement metrics like eBex, radio stations can begin to optimize their song selection in real time. Combined with strategic use of push messaging, playlist optimization can assist stations in getting their listeners to come back and tune in.

What do you use to track your audience and their feedback?

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