Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Flipping Christmas

Unlike flipping the bird, flipping a house or flipping your wig, flipping to Christmas is traditional, and in some places regular as clockwork. Hundreds of U.S. radio stations drops their regularly scheduled formats and "flip" as we say in the biz to an all-Christmas music format.Each of these stations for sometimes as long as 60 days embraces a change from radio station to background muzak. The change matters because programmers, consultants, reps and everybody else still disagree what the effect of this is on ratings. There are changes to cume, and various demos. Specifically the female demo 25-54 doubles. On the other hand it's not unusual to lose half of your existing primary listeners. Generally speaking, TSL increases, but only in the sense that the radio is on, conscious listening essentially ends. Sure we all hear the hold music when we call the bank, but are we listening? No.

While many stations flip to all Xmas in early November, (yes some as early as September, I know) But there is a perceptible change on November 24th. On November 24th, the flip pays off, suddenly with Halloween and thanksgiving out of the way, perhaps a little frost on the ground people are willing to accept that Christmas is coming. So on the 24th, an uptick in listeners begins. See KODA case-study) AC Stations like WLTW, and WBEB see increases of 30-40% in their ratings.

Not to give you the idea that only AC stations flip or alternately that all AC stations flip. After country, AC is the most common radio format. It's logical that a large number of the 200+ Xmas stations will be from AC as they are every year. But a large number of christian AC and Oldies stations flip as well. This year I've also noticed a number of Spanish stations, especially the "La Preciosa" brand mixing in some Hispanic holiday cheer.

Despite this known set-date, stations still behave somewhat differently. They flip formats cold, or evolve toward 100% Xmas saturation from a base of one spin per hour. Some actually maintain a few weeks of a 50/50 split blending a Soft AC mix of artists like Elton John with CHR covers of Xmas classics. I don't want to give the idea that an all-Xmas format has to be dull. WRBQ in Tampa actually has forged their own Xmas playlist, not adhering at all to the expected list Sinatra/Burl Ives reruns.

It's pretty revolting actually. This year the Christmas flip will be studied more intensely than usual as Arbitron's PPM markets will be applied to a "holiday book" which will measure listening between December 13, 2007 and January 9, 2008.