NonCOMM Recap: Making metrics matter - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Analytics and metrics are one of the most bewildering, least understood and yet most crucial elements of media programming. For the second Friday morning panel at the 2017 NonCOMM-vention, a group of industry vets who deal with data day-in-day-out broke down what information is at our fingertips and how to use it.

“Everyone’s starting with the same pile of records,” said moderator John Rosenfelder, comparing song selection to analytics. “How you annotate and how you program around the music is what makes [your station] better or different or creative. It’s the same thing with data.”

Sean Ross of the Ross on Radio newsletter talked about how fewer songs than ever make it into regular rotation on radio: 94 songs crack the AAA top twenty per year, 75 songs per year crack the top twenty in commercial alternative. “That’s barely a song and a half week. … There are fewer records breaking in general. If you can’t compete in terms of breaking the hits…stations are at least going to compete in terms of helping people stay tuned in. It competes in terms of legitimizing the hits.”

Ross broke down the different points of data that radio promo folks pitch to programmers: touring stats, Spotify stats, chart numbers, TV appearances and more…even Shazam.

“Because there are fewer heroic music directors, Shazam has become America’s music director,” Ross said, noting that Shazam stats are publicly available and easy to find.

“It’s the audience telling you what you want,” added Rosenfelder.

But as music director David Safar of The Current put it, it’s not just having the data, it’s how you use the data. Of Shazam, he said numbers don’t tell you why a listener might have chosen to Shazam a song: “Is it something they hate? Is it something they love? We don’t know the human factor.”

Safar says The Current will regularly compare charts: the top alternative songs, versus the top AAA songs, versus their own top songs. “We’re not entirely AAA, we’re not not entirely alternative. We’re closer to what I call the critical press,” said Safar. “When we [look at] that kind of data, we validate the decision we made or think we’re missing something.”

Safar also talked about the declining importance in an artist’s social media profile — “it used to be a really big deal, but…you can’t tell how authentic it is anymore.”

Tour metrics are also important — they tell you that there is actually money being spent at a label or management level, and they give a window into the artist’s relevance to your local audience. “It’s not so much about ‘is the band playing the biggest venue’ and more about ‘is the tour happening,’ because there’s less marketing around physical releases than there was ten years ago.”

Other ways Safar says The Current uses data — a chart show that is listener-driven; regular DJ meetings (“get the smartest people you can find, different age groups and tastes, and listen to them.”); and paying attention to other stations, from local competitors to the BBC and Australia’s JJJ.

But the first step should always be the same, no matter the data: “Start by listening to song. Ask ‘does it sound right, does it fit us?’ We have the freedom to do that in this format.”

Big Data – NonComm2017
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