Radio Spot Load - the Achilles Heel Against Streaming Audio

Author's note: An early version of this was originally published March 26, 2010, before the tipping point was reached...


  1. The "Tipping Point" for traditional radio has passed

  2. Use Nielsen Audio PPM data to test commercial load on your station

  3. Superserve your P1 audience now, before it's way too late


A lot of digital ink has been spilt on the subject of how many units of advertising a radio station can support without losing listeners. Years ago, Sean Ross (then of Edison Research)  wrote this article in Ross on Radio, "It's Time to Rethink your Spotload, Now." A follow-up was written by Jim Kerr, of Triton Digital Media, entitled "Spotloads, Perception, and Listener Tolerance."  Unfortunately, neither article is available publicly today. 

Great points are made by both Tom and Jim. All radio people, whether "traditional" or "new" media types - need to pay close attention to how their spot loads effect listener behavior. For traditional broadcasters, the problem is like a cancer. It's a small thing, poised to grow exponentially when the right set of circumstances align themselves.

The Issue

Up until recently,  there were few realistic alternatives for most people who are in-car and listening to the radio. Sure, there's iPods, streaming Pandora, Spotify and iTunes Radio through smartphones, Sirius and good old fashioned cassette decks and CD players. But most people don't want to mess with this stuff. It's the blinking clock syndrome. You shouldn't send a text while you're driving, let alone mess with the rest of this stuff.

The tipping point comes when easy, straightforward access to alternative channels comes to the major environments where people listen to traditional broadcasters. We are now at midpoint in the adoption curve. It took about 4 years for this tipping point to occur. Why? Because mass-market automobiles were just being introduced with these features in them. As they filtered out into the market, more people became aware of them and began to use the technologies. In 2014, these cars began to enter the resale market en masse and THAT's when the tipping point occurred. When ordinary, average Americans can pick up a car with these technologies in the dashboard at their local "Ernie's Auto" corner car lot, the tide began to turn dramatically.

This doesn't mean that traditional broadcasters figured out the commercial spot load thing during their grace period. Today's behavior is a result of repetition of behavior from yesterday and the day before. However, it's still not too late - begin today to calculate the optimal spot load for your P1 listener group. How?

The Solution

Nielsen Audio's PPM data provides the best solution for determining listener behavior on a granular level. Without spending tons of money on third-party software (you could, but you don't have to), you can use Nielsen Audio's PPM Analysis Tool to dig deep into the behavior of your listener.

Running this test will take some guts. You'll have to very methodically tinker with your station's spot count, positioning, and other variables you think could effect a P1's behavior. You'll have to wait for the relevant PPM data to be released. You'll have to analyze it, then rinse and repeat. Run this kind of testing for 6 months or so. In the end, you'll know what the magic number is for your listener. The problem is, of course, that that number is only good for today. It will change over time, so you must repeat this test frequently.

If you start this process today, determine what your magic number is, and implement whatever business process is necessary to make sure that you implement the spot count limit, you should be well-prepared for the post-tipping point.

Or, you could just run a maximum of 8 minutes, spread 2-3-3 and be done with it.