Numeris released its quarterly metered radio ratings today. There aren’t a lot of surprises, because it’s mostly the same numbers as the last time, and the time before that, and the time before that.
So instead of just excitedly reposting the top-line numbers or fetching the various spins by the broadcasters that make everyone look like they had the best quarter, I thought I’d take a look at some historical data and see how the stations are trending over time.
In this post, I’ll go into some more detail about the Montreal numbers, with charts!
For the record, here are this fall’s market shares among anglophones:
- CJAD 800 30.2%
- The Beat 92.5 16.6%
- CHOM 97.7 10.7%
- Virgin 95.9 10.6%
- CBC Radio One 10.1%
- TSN 690 2.9%
- Rythme FM 2.8%
- CBC Music 2.7%
- 98.5FM 1.6%
- Rouge FM 0.9%
- CKOI 0.7%
- Énergie 0.7%
- ICI Première 0.6%
- ICI Musique 0.2%
- AM 980 0.2%
- 91,9 Sports 0.1%
- Circulation 730 0.1%
Market shares among francophones:
- 98,5: 21.4%
- ICI Première: 13.0%
- Rythme FM 12.7%
- Rouge 9.9%
- CKOI 8.3%
- CHOM 7.1%
- Énergie 5.6%
- The Beat 5.3%
- Virgin 4.4%
- 91,9 Sports 2.0%
- ICI Musique 1.9%
- CJAD 0.7%
- TSN 690 0.6%
- AM 980 0.5%
- CBC Music 0.3%
- Circulation 730 0.2%
- CBC Radio One 0.2%
One station is no longer on this list: francophone community station CIBL 101.5. The station is in the middle of a financial crisis. A manager brought in to turn its finances around subscribed to Numeris in 2016 after learning the cost wasn’t as high for community stations who didn’t need complete data. But the top line share among francophones never climbed above 0.1%.
Virgin vs. The Beat
The Beat launched in the fall of 2011, with a dramatic rebrand (including new call letters) of 92.5 The Q, formerly Q92. Gone was the “lite rock” image that focus groups associated with their mothers, replaced with a big marketing campaign, new “hotter” adult contemporary music and some personalities snatched from competitor Virgin Radio. Within its first year, Cat Spencer, Nat Lauzon and Cousin Vinny made the switch.
Virgin, which had rebranded itself from Mix 96 in 2009, bringing in a network Ryan Seacrest show in daytime, made Freeway Frank and Natasha Gargiulo their new morning show (both are still there seven years later), and used Andrea Collins and Nikki Balch to fill daytime (Balch is also now at The Beat).
In the short term, there wasn’t any obvious trend in the ratings. The fall of 2011 was good for The Beat, but there was a setback in the winter. The stations were tied in the spring of 2012, but then The Beat fell behind again. Finally, starting in winter 2013, The Beat pulled ahead, at least among total audiences. Virgin still had the advantage in key demographics, which led to several books where both could claim to be #1.
The two remained competitive for a while, but then in 2016, and especially in 2017, The Beat started pulling away, and Virgin started slipping. In fall 2017, for the first time since Virgin became Virgin, it fell behind sister station CHOM in overall market share.
No one obvious change can explain the difference, but a few key things happened in those years that may have had an effect.
- On-air staff: This is the one people like to point to because it’s the most forward-facing and emotional. But if you attribute The Beat’s success to poaching staff from Virgin, then you have to attribute its recent dominance to losing a bunch of people through resignations and layoffs: Kim Sullivan (2016), Sarah Bartok (2016), Natasha Hall (2016, to CJAD), Ken Connors (2016, to CJAD), Adam Greenberg (2017, to Virgin). Virgin, meanwhile, lost Collins (2016) and Shannon Brooksbank (2017). Despite some shuffling, neither station has added as much talent as they’ve lost (The Beat’s Rob Kemp and Meghan Kelly notwithstanding).
- Management: 2016 and 2017 was also a tumultuous year for management at both stations. The Beat let go of program director Sam Zniber in 2016, replacing him with Martin Tremblay, a former Astral/Bell boss of their French music stations in Montreal. In 2017, Tremblay was rehired at Bell Media to head Énergie and Rouge but also Virgin Radio. The Beat hired Luc Tremblay (no relation to Martin) as general manager and made CKOI boss Jean-Sébastien Lemire program director (he’s since been replaced by Paul Awad). Virgin, at least, has had stability in its program director position, with Mark Bergman holding the role since Virgin launched in 2009.
- Music: This one has the biggest impact but is the hardest to classify. The Beat’s Wikipedia page lists its format as “rhythmic adult contemporary”, but in the past few years it’s tried to expand its scope a bit, as shown by its branding, adding the tagline “Montreal’s perfect mix,” making it sound like the Mix 96 of old. Virgin hasn’t changed much, following the national brand but with the caveat that it has to meet the CRTC’s hit music limits for FM stations in Montreal. Other people are more qualified than I am to comment on this, but you shouldn’t underestimate its impact.
- Talk/music mix: A lot of people who scan their radios through music stations will just keep going if they hear an announcer giving a traffic report or talking celebrity gossip. Which is why music stations like to keep their announcer breaks short. Like, really short. Like, seven seconds short. In a metered world, every second counts. I don’t have enough data to quantify how short those breaks are on average, but I did notice The Beat tightening up its breaks in recent years.
- Promotions: There’s a reason radio stations have promotions departments. The Beat made a huge splash when it launched in 2011, and has been keeping the promotions game active ever since. Virgin has only recently been upping its game with highly promoted cash giveaways.
- Everything else: The Beat does better in the winter because of Christmas music. People didn’t understand that “96” meant “95.9” on their dials. Some sort of voodoo curse. All sorts of other reasons could come into play for why this happened. All we can say is that something happened.
In short, I don’t know why The Beat has higher ratings than Virgin now. Maybe the 2011 rebranding work by then general manager Mark Dickie and PD Leo Da Estrela was a success that took a while to solidify as listeners slowly changed their habits. Maybe the marketing effort slowly got people (particularly young women) associating the station with hit music that’s more in line with their tastes. Maybe it was a combination of hard work by managers, on-air staff and promotions. Or maybe Nat Lauzon used her dog blog to pass a secret message to canines across the region to tune their owners’ radios to 92.5.
But The Beat is ahead. And that’s no fluke.
So what now? Does Virgin clean house? Rumours have been circulating or a while that Bell might drop the Virgin brand, especially after wiping away talent at morning shows in Edmonton and Toronto. I have no insider information on whether that will happen or not.
Another question to ask is whether anything really needs to happen at Virgin. Being the top-rated music station offers a lot of bragging rights, but it isn’t the most important thing to a company like Bell Media. If you’re breaking the bank to get that top rating (say, by poaching talent from your competitor), you could end up less profitable.
I don’t know if Virgin has accepted having lower ratings as a consequence of spending less on programming (technically I don’t even know if they’re spending less on programming, but it certainly seems that way). All I do know is that with another book showing it tied with CHOM (which is itself trending down), this can’t be a good day for Bergman and his team.
The one constant in Montreal anglo radio ratings is the dominance of CJAD when you count all age groups. With a 30% market share, it’s by far atop everyone else. And its share is increasing over time, despite the decline of AM radio generally.
I don’t have any really good theories on why this is, so I’ll just say CJAD deserves credit generally for its work over the past few years.
Meanwhile, just about every ratings report leads to angry comments about TSN Radio 690, whose fans are ever emotional about everything. They look at the 2-3% market share and blame it squarely on whatever on-air personality they don’t like.
The trend for the station has been flat over seven years, and a bit lower in the past year and a half, which happens to coincide with the time the Canadiens have been underperforming in the NHL. Despite how low it is compared to the other stations in the market, its share is about the same as sports talk stations in the other metered markets, generally between 1.5 and 4% (except for TSN 1050 in Toronto, which hasn’t climbed above 1% in five years).
The news has been much better for 91,9 Sports, which launched its sports talk format in the fall of 2015. Since then, ratings have improved greatly, despite a big step back this summer. Unfortunately that station’s future isn’t looking good.
Another success story on the francophone side is Radio-Canada’s talk station ICI Première, which has been closing the gap with 98,5FM, particularly since 2016.
Here, I’ve charted total (anglo + franco) total average minute audience for all music stations since 2015 (when Numeris began including those figures in its top-line numbers). A few trends to note:
- Rythme FM has lost its dominance. Whether it’s because of Véronique Cloutier leaving for competitor Rouge, or some other programming or music change, it’s now in a tighter race with other stations.
- The Beat is #2. When you add both francophone and anglophone audiences together, the English music stations do quite well because of how many francophones listen to them. In summer 2017 The Beat almost became the most popular music station in Montreal. But otherwise it’s been #2 for two and a half years.
- CHOM has more than twice as many francophone listeners as anglophone ones. The lack of a rock music station in French has led many to franco rock fans to choose CHOM even though it doesn’t play a lot of French music. Recently Énergie has tried to respond to that by adding more rock to its mix, but its reward has been to fall behind CHOM among francophone audiences.
- Fewer people are listening overall. Add up the average minute audiences and you see a downward trend. Some stations, like CJAD and CKOI, are increasing their market share simply by holding onto their audiences as other stations decline. Is a 10% drop over three years something worth panicking about?
Let me know if there are other comparisons you’d like me to make. Note that the data I have doesn’t allow for breakdowns by time slot or demographic.
In the meantime, congrats once again to everyone for being #1!
The spin room
Le 98,5 est le grand gagnant de l'automne!
La station occupe la première place à Montréal en plus d'être la radio la plus écoutée au Québec et partout au Canada.
— 98,5 FM (@le985fm) December 5, 2018
As usual, here’s everyone spinning their ratings success this quarter:
- The Beat: Top-rated English music station, and top-rated station among anglophones 25-54 and anglo women 25-54 (video).
- CHOM (video): Most listened-to rock music station in all of Canada, top station among men 25-54 in Montreal
- CJAD: Top-rated radio station in Montreal among anglophones, with top eight shows
- Virgin: 1.9 million listeners
- 98.5: Most listened-to radio station in all of Canada, most listened-to morning show in all of Canada, all daytime shows #1 in the market, 52.2% share for overnight show with Jacques Fabi (video)
- Rythme FM: Top-rated music station in Montreal (video)
- Rouge: Ahead of Rythme FM among adults 25-54 (video)
- Énergie: Ahead of CKOI among men 25-54 and 75,000 new listeners (video).
- CKOI: Top-rated station in Montreal among 18-34 and 25-44, ahead of Énergie among all adults 25-54 (video).
- Radio-Canada: ICI Première’s average listening time of 5.8 hours is highest in the market
- Circulation 730: 1.1 million listeners
- TSN 690: Literally nothing highlighted about it in Bell’s press release
Diary ratings release
Numeris released its ratings for diary markets, including Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, Drummondville and Ottawa-Gatineau last week. You can see that report here.
Here are the top lines for market share by market in Quebec:
- ICI Première 106,3: 19.9%
- CHOI Radio X: 12.9%
- FM93: 11.7%
- WKND 91,9: 10.2%
- Rouge 107,5: 10.1%
- MFM 102.9: 7.6%
- Énergie 98,9: 7.1%
- Pop 100,9: 4.5%
- blvd 102,1: 3.9%
- ICI Musique 95,3: 3.1%
- CBC Radio One 104.7: 0.8%
- KYK Radio X 95,7: 25.7%
- Rouge 96,9: 23.1%
- Énergie 94,5: 12.8%
- ICI Première 93,7: 12.2%
- ICI Musique 100,9: 3.0%
- Rouge 102,7/94,5: 21.2%
- ICI Première 101,1: 16.8%
- Énergie 106,1: 15.4%
- 107,7fm: 11.9%
- Rythme 93,7/98,1: 7.3%
- ICI Musique 90,7: 3.8%
- Énergie 102,3: 17.3%
- Rouge 94,7: 14.7%
- Rythme 100,1: 12.3%
- ICI Première 96,5: 11.8%
- 106,9fm: 9.9%
- ICI Musique 104,3: 6.1%
- CKBN 90,5: 4.6%
- Énergie 92,1: 24.5%
- Rouge 105,3: 21.7%
- ICI Première: 17.6%
- Rouge 94,9: 12.8%
- Énergie 104,1: 9.7%
- 104,7 FM: 9.7%
- WOW 97,1: 7.3%
- ICI Musique: 6.3%
- Pop 96,5: 4.1%
- Hot 89.9: 3.5%
- Jump! 106.9: 2.8%