Help! Digital Growth Is Eating My Ratings

Help! Digital Growth Is Eating My Ratings

by Tracy Johnson

Good news! Radio stations are doing a better job of engaging listeners online and in social media. And there’s more and more content available to consume online. This is fantastic. But at the same time, many programmers worry that digital strategies are eating my ratings.

If the show is readily available on-demand, could it be cannibalizing the on-air product?

What Is Eating My Ratings?

There’s no definitive study that examines this question. But there’s evidence to support the idea that the more content is exposed on all platforms the more popular it becomes on each.

In other words, a rising tide lifts all boats.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but it makes sense. As content is made available online, it’s exposed to a broader audience. As a result, the brand becomes more important, increasing the urgency to listen to the live show.

That’s why television networks offer segments in bite-size chunks on YouTube. Viewers who miss SNL can still catch the best moments on Sunday morning with a couple of clicks. No DVR, no commercials. Easy!

That convenience may not help the live Saturday night ratings, but there’s a marketing value. The more people that watch and talk about it, the greater the brand value. And that lifts the top of mind awareness. It builds momentum for live viewing over time.

How Much Digital Content Should Be Shared?

But that doesn’t mean everything should be made available.

Many radio shows upload everything online. But that’s too much. Here are some tips to find the proper amount to offer on-demand.

  • There’s too much to consume. Who wants to sit through an entire show?
  • Only offer “A” material. There’s a reason SNL uploads highlights in short segments. And there’s a reason the best moments are prominent. Get the hint?
  • Upload as much material as can be adequately promoted. That’s probably no more than 3-5 segments per day.

Make it Easy to Find And Share

The next consideration is making on-demand audio easy to access. Some stations bury the audio segments. If I have to click on the menu for Shows, Then for Morning Show, then Today’s Show, and then find the segment, it’s too many clicks. Even if a listener seeks it, they’ll probably give up before finding it.

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Since it’s the best content, promote it online. Make it stand out with a direct link from the home page to a landing page for “Best Moment” audio. It’s not enough just to put it out there and hope listeners find it. And be sure to include sharing tools so listeners can spread the word to friends and social networks.

Then, promote it with every tactic available, including social media, notifications, and email alerts. This exposes the show to a new audience and could lead to a new tune-in occasion.

If it’s truly great content, boost a social media post. It will enhance traffic and, with proper targeting, steal a few listeners from a close competitor. It only costs a few dollars to drive sampling to the show. And, if using encoded audio (PPM markets), on-demand listening adds to ratings!

Promote Tune in

Add a short promo at the end of the segment to drive tune in to the on-air show. If the audio is part of a feature, promote specific tune-in times. This helps build the mini-brand and could convert new listeners into fans.

Still not convinced making audio available on demand is a good idea? No problem. Take baby steps.

  • Set an expiration date on digital audio and video. Some personalities fear that if they make too much content available, the incentive to listen live is lowered. And it could hurt ratings.
  • Consider setting a time limit to listen to tracks online. In PPM markets, online listening counts as ratings credit if it’s within 24 hours of the original airing. It’s probably best to leave content up for 2-3 days after airing, but place a priority on listening to current (today’s) audio-on-demand.
  • Limit tracks for key features online. The syndicated feature Tough Love (Starring Siri or Alexa) is a big hit, but managing the episodes online is important. If the archives become so deep online listeners are satisfied, it defeats the incentive to listen live.
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Add a Pay Wall

Of course, the most loyal fans can’t get enough! They want to hear everything. So make that content available forever. But get value in return.

If the content is strong and the listener base is large, consider making the most recent show available for free. But the archives can be accessed behind a paywall.

This is similar to a VIP club created by personalities like Rush Limbaugh, Free Beer & Hot Wings and Phil Hendrie. They have developed a successful revenue stream from previous audio archives.

This can be a great strategy for shows with a big fan base. If you fit this description and would like to discuss the potential, contact me. I can hook you up with the folks that will make it happen for no out-of-pocket costs.


Offering audio-on-demand builds momentum for content, key features, and the show’s brand. We’ve found that online content is often a leading indicator of increased over-the-air listening.

If managed well and promoted aggressively, there is much to gain. If you’re worried about digital eating my ratings, stop. Be proactive and turn it into an advantage.


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