Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Christmas Flip

 I've written a bit about Christmas seasonal programming in the past. but today I intend to reveal statistics about this evil scourge of radio.  the most recent count indicates that over 400 radio station sin the U.S. are running Christmas programming today.  That's a little under three percent. It doesn't sound like a lot, but there are under 300 Arbitron radio metros, meaning that many cities have two or more 24/7 Christmas formatted radio stations. that's a bit repulsive.  The debate has never been to flip or not to flip. The question is always when.We call the phenomena "Christmas creep."

Not all formats flip per se. Many formats ad a little mistletoe to the playlist as the holiday approaches, but there is a certain stable subset that goes all the way. This comes as a series of waves, each seemingly in response to the last. Adult Contemporary of all flavors stations make up the bulk of the ho-ho-ho.  A few Classic Hits, Adult Standards and Oldies stations follow, then at the end of November the Christian AC and Christian Contemporary stations go with the flow. The complaint for years is that it's happening earlier and earlier every year. Let's see if the math bears that out.
  • AC                 25
  • Adult Hits       1
  • Christian        7
  • Classic Hits    1
  • News/Talk      1
  • Oldies            5
  • Smooth Jazz   1
  • Soft AC          2
  • Urban Oldies  1 
 I am taking the top 25 markets as a sample because sorting all 400+ Xmas stations is absurd. Below are all the Xmas stations in the top 25 metros. I know that requires the assumption that the top 25 metros are representative of the nation as a whole. I am willing to do that to avoid more math. I am also limiting my sample to stations that flip to 100% Kris Kringle. These stations more reliably make the flip giving me a better data set separate from all other variables. I have also merged Christian Con and Christian AC because I din't think the trades reliably distinguish between the formats, News and Talk get the same treatment as well. I'll follow the raw numbers with some pretty graphs I promise. This is only about 45 radio stations and more manageable. I have eliminated a few for not flipping consistently as they do not contribute data to trending in any direction. Because formats are not static, this is an expected anomaly in the data (see above).

I'm comparing 2003 through 2001 for no reason except those are the years that I have in my data set. And yes, I know that there are probably some errors in my data set. I am assuming further that we can discard outliers and press onward. In the final set I have 34 stations, and out of a churning 400 or so that's about a 8.5% sample... much better odds than they give medical research.(totals below)
I sumed the movement by year, then divided by the number of samples. In effect that averages annual change since 2003. Admittedly I have a much larger sample in the present than I have in the past, complicating matters, it sounds dubious but the trend line shows a pretty tepid trend that's believable.
Basically even the years with the largest samples still show negative motion, as in the flip occurring earlier than it did in prior years.The diminishing returns could be the earlier small sample set or that we have reached a point as which flipping earlier has an adverse effect on ratings. Ratings and profit ultimately drive these decisions. I'd like to discern the median flip date from each year and rerun this set of numbers as a double check... but I really don't expect a varying result. If you want to challenge me please feel free to use my raw data set. You can download it here.