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Does a Programming Clock Matter?

Jason Barrett

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I’m often asked by fellow colleagues in the broadcasting industry for my thoughts on what makes an effective programming clock. I usually offer my feedback and go over strategies that I feel confident in but truth be told, there really is no magical clock that is going to help a station deliver ratings. Are there certain games to play in the ratings game to give your brand an advantage? Absolutely. But let’s not lose sight of what really makes an audience respond, great content from great talent.

Recently I had a discussion with someone who does research about the differences in setting up an hourly clock. When I explained how I have some shows operate with a 4-break per hour system and some manage with a 3-break per hour system, I was asked immediately if I’d consider changing my setup to reflect a 3-breaks per hour system on all shows. I wasn’t asked who the shows were hosted by, when the breaks were happening or how long each break was, instead it was the typical analysis “less commercial breaks means better ratings”.

arbnielsenToo many times I have heard the same exact thing “Nielsen (much like Arbitron) highly recommends to take as few breaks as possible“. I’ve heard this in multiple markets, various sports radio conferences and I do believe that there’s some merit to it however what researchers don’t take into account during these conversations are how it actually works on the programming end. You can play math equations all day long if you want but listeners (even those with meters) don’t listen based on quarter hour measurements and there’s much more to keeping people interested in consuming your product than just eliminating commercials.

I can argue that a show has much better pace, energy and stronger focus on delivering content inside of a 10-minute window than it does when offering up a 20-25 minute segment. Listen around the country to numerous talk shows on various stations who deliver longer segments and find me the program that is consistently fast paced, energetic, content rich and moving from Point A to Point B to Point C inside of a 20-25 minute window. It doesn’t happen often.

howgoodWhy might you ask? Because when hosts are delivering content for that length of time, most lose focus and ramble. They don’t view their 20-25 minute segment as a combination of four 5-minute segments and they don’t stay aware of timing. Usually phone calls flood the segment or a guest who’s great for 5-6 minutes gets stretched out to 10-15 minutes and it becomes more about filling time than maximizing content time.

I like to look at a 20-25 minute segment as an opportunity to deliver four to five mini-segments. When you approach it that way, you continue moving forward with good momentum. In a perfect world, your host is coming out of the gate with strong opinions on the most popular local topic for anywhere between 5-10 minutes. If it’s well crafted, it’ll be a captivating 10-minute ride. If not, 5-minutes can still be accomplished and if it’s emotionally charged from your host, the audience should respond by wanting to engage in discussion on it.

After the opinion and supporting facts are offered, you have the option to either include a guest who can add further insight and/or opinion on the story or you can utilize the audience to weigh in on the topic too. There’s also the possibility of adding sound, a feature or production to paint the story. Having different ways to make the story sound fresh and interesting is important.

compellingcontentIf you deliver 5-10 minutes of opinion, 5-10 minutes of a guest and 5-minutes of audience reaction, you’ve now presented three different ways to keep that one particular topic interesting. That’s how a 20-25 minute segment stays compelling. It takes multiple layers, multiple voices, multiple sounds and multiple twists and turns inside the content to keep it interesting to the audience.

Search the country and find any show that has longer content segments and see if you remember how the segment started and whether or not you could stay mentally excited and engaged in the content for longer than 5 minutes. Remember, Nielsen ratings are about securing 5-minutes of listening inside each quarter hour and if you’re going to offer 20-25 minutes of straight content with no focused destination, people’s attention spans will become smaller and they will tune you out faster.

lessmoreI bring up this example for a reason. If you take fewer breaks per hour inside of a show, you’re going to end up with at least one real long stretch of content at some point and I find that most shows and hosts don’t own those opportunities as much as those who perform shorter segments. While someone from Nielsen or a research company can suggest breaking as little as possible, they don’t take into account who your talent is, how you strategically match up against your in-market competitor and if your station’s style of content is geared for longer or shorter stretches.

For stations on FM, one of the reasons why radio operators starting moving to the frequency is to attract younger people and build tomorrow’s way of doing sports radio. Do younger people listen for 30 minutes straight to content or do they like faster impressions that they can digest in 5-10 minutes? You know as well as I do, they want it quickly and they’re not staying with you for long periods of time. They are more likely to tune in 5-6 times per show than they are to give you 2 straight quarter hours of listening time.

As it applies to breaks, based on Nielsen’s recommendations, your ratings should go thru the roof if you only break 1x per hour since after all, it’s mostly about eliminating interruptions. As I once told a former host at one of my previous stations, unless your name is Chris Rock, I don’t want to hear you talk for 30-40 minutes straight without a break. Here’s why, most people can’t be highly entertaining consistently for 30-40 minutes straight.

chrisrockRemember this too, when Chris Rock does a standup show, he’s got his act in place to entertain for 60-minutes. He knows the start, the middle and the end of his routine. But what if he was doing a radio show? Could he do that for 3-4 hours per day? Maybe he could but I think you’d find more holes in the presentation.

On the other hand, give a host 10-12 minutes and ask them to stay crisp, focused and in control of the pace and it absolutely can be done. When a researcher explains to me how 3-breaks per hour is better than 4-breaks, I remind him that my station’s best ratings are during the two shows that deliver 4-breaks, not the ones that do 3-breaks. Does that mean they wouldn’t be successful going with 3-breaks? No. But when people are good at certain styles of execution and the audience is responding to the way it’s laid out, isn’t that what’s supposed to matter?

clockIn the grand scheme of things, some hosts can be great for 5-minutes, some for 10, some for 15 and even a select few for 20-25. You can give them 2 commercial breaks, 3 commercial breaks or 4-5 commercial breaks and some shows will stand out and perform strongly and others won’t. It still comes down to talent, selecting the right content, delivering it in an entertaining way and making sure the momentum keeps going forward and the pace feels fast.

I’m not going to suggest that Nielsen’s ideas of breaking less don’t make sense. They do. In a perfect world we’d take 1-2 breaks and have talent execute amazing content for 20-30 minutes straight every time but the reality is that it’s not as easy as some may think. To be outstanding for that period of time is difficult and I want personalities on the air making sure that every minute they spend talking is leading somewhere, not just filling up air space to avoid an extra break.

The other part not being considered is the business side of the operation. Face it, we’re in the business of selling ad time, content association and branding partnerships. Like it or not, commercials are going to be a part of our system. We can try to limit break times and unit counts all we want but our business requires buy in from advertisers too. You sit there and tell a client who wants to spend six figures on your radio station that you’re not going to sell them a fifteen second commercial because you only want sixty second spots since you’re trying to keep unit counts low.

radiobreakHere’s the deal, I’ve gained great ratings in my career with shows that have taken breaks 4-5x per hour and I’ve gained the same from shows who have broken 3x per hour. The bottom line, there’s no perfect way to do it and commercials need to be in place to assure that we have a profitable business. All you can do is focus on maximizing your content time while making your interruptions as short as possible. Under both scenarios, the companies I worked for made money.

When I program a 4-break per hour clock I try to keep breaks to 3 minutes or less so our shows have a chance to deliver 11-12 minutes for content inside of a 15-minute window. If I’m going with a 3-breaks per hour system, we’re likely going to run 4-4:30 of ads so we fulfill our business obligations and still give our talent a chance to spend 45-48 minutes per hour delivering content. I believe in delivering a content rich experience and don’t want hours cluttered with a plethora of ads and pointless benchmarks which encourage listeners to leave. Striking a happy balance though is the key.

successIf quarter hours are :00-:15, :15-:30, :30-:45 and :45-60 and you need 5-minutes of listening spent in those windows, your goal as a PD, Host and Producer is to play the percentages and try to offer as much content time as possible. That doesn’t mean you’ll get ratings credit, it just means you’re giving yourself the best chance to gain credit.

All of this comes down to one thing – content! If the personality is not informative and entertaining and talking about the topics with the broadest appeal to the local audience, then I don’t care if you’ve done 60-minutes straight with no interruptions. People only listen to stations and hosts that mentally distract them or emotionally excite or frustrate them. If the content isn’t great, neither will be your ratings. It doesn’t take a whole lot of research to figure that out.

Barrett Blogs

Rachel Nichols and Baron Davis Headline Final Speaker Announcements For the 2023 BSM Summit

“I’m sure Baron and Rachel will have all eyes and ears focused on them when they take the stage together next Tuesday at 2:45pm PT.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit schedule is set. After months of planning and talking to everyone across the industry, I’m ecstatic to roll out next week’s agenda including making one final announcement involving seven great additions to our conference.

For starters, it is a pleasure to welcome Showtime’s Rachel Nichols to the BSM Summit. I’ve admired her work on television for years, and am thrilled to have her guiding a session which I think many in the room are going to really enjoy.

Rachel’s guest will be former NBA star Baron Davis. Baron runs his own company, Baron Davis Enterprises, and he has been active in investing in media brands, and exploring ways to evolve the industry. Among his areas of passion, athletes taking more control of their brands, and the media industry needing to improve its track record with diversity. I’m sure Baron and Rachel will have all eyes and ears focused on them when they take the stage together next Tuesday at 2:45pm PT.

Also joining the Summit are a few longtime industry friends. For starters, VSiN’s program director Jon Goulet is someone who I’ve known and worked with, and he understands the sports betting audio space extremely well. Jon and BetQL VP of Programming Mitch Rosen will spend time with another industry friend, Bryan Curtis of The Ringer. Collectively they’ll examine the state of sports betting audio on Tuesday March 21st from 3:35p-4:10p, and what they look for when it comes to sports betting talent, and how they determine what is and isn’t success in the sports gambling content world.

With Mitch taking part in the sports betting panel, Jeff Rickard of WFNZ in Charlotte steps into The Programmer’s Panel alongside Jimmy Powers, John Mamola and Raj Sharan. The session is scheduled for Wednesday March 22nd from 9:10a-9:45a PT. Ironically, all four of these programmers work for different companies, so it’ll be interesting to hear how they differ and where they align while navigating through a few sports radio programming topics.

Next, I’m excited to introduce a social media session with Karlo Sy Su of ESPN Los Angeles and Matthew Demeke of AM 570 LA Sports. If you look at the performance of their brands on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook, they’ve each delivered strong audiences and engagement. I’m looking forward to hosting this one and learning about their processes, how they decide which platforms to focus on most, what they consider a social media win when analyzing social statistics, and how they develop their content process. Given our location, we’re calling the session ‘Social Media Goes Hollywood‘. It’s scheduled for Wednesday March 22nd from 3:35-4:10 PT.

I realize you’re not going to remember all of these session speakers and times off the top of your head, so to make it easier, log on to BSMSummit.com and scroll down past our speakers. That’s where you’ll find our detailed list of sessions/times and activities planned each day. We have eighteen sessions, two awards ceremonies, and two parties. Our kickoff party is presented by the WWE and takes place Monday March 20th from 7p-9p at the 1880 Founders Room. The ESPN Radio After Party takes place Tuesday March 21st from 6p-8p at the Lab Gastropub. Both party locations are in walking distance of the USC Hotel and our conference venue.

As an added bonus, thanks to the generosity of our friends at WWE, we will be giving away a pair of tickets to the first night of WrestleMania, and a WWE title at our kickoff party. WrestleMania takes place this year in Los Angeles at Sofi Stadium on March 25-26. You must be present at the kickoff party to win either prize.

We’ll have more to share next week including providing an ongoing blog with session news and notes for our readers. We’ll also have a ton of content available on our social media channels so if you’re not following @BSMStaff on Twitter, @BarrettSportsMedia on Facebook or @BarrettMedia on LinkedIn, what are you waiting for?

The focus now shifts to finishing our creative for next week’s show, sending information to our speakers for their sessions, and finalizing our attendees list. For those who are attending, we’ll be sending out an email on Friday or Saturday with a complete list of names of who’s coming so you can plan meetings in advance.

If you forgot to buy your ticket after seeing months of promotion about the event and meant to do so, you can still do that, but it costs more. Students on the other hand can take advantage of a low rate established for college kids at https://bsmsummit.com/registration.

Putting this event together isn’t easy, but I’m extremely pleased with how it’s come together. We have a lot of smart, talented, and accomplished people making time to be part of this, and I appreciate each and every one of them for doing so. Now, it’s all about the execution. Hope to see you next week in LA.

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Sports Broadcasting Icon Al Michaels To Be Honored at the 2023 BSM Summit

“This is a man who has spent more than five decades on your television screen calling the biggest games, and producing some of the most iconic moments sports has to offer.”

Jason Barrett

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If you work in the sports media industry you’ve likely heard someone along the way utter the phrase “don’t bury the lead“. I’m usually good about following that advice but I didn’t do that at our 2022 BSM Summit.

We introduced the greatest tandem in sports radio history, Mike Francesa and Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo and it was a special half hour. Mike and the Mad Dog were reunited after seven years apart and every individual at the event knew they were witnessing something magical on stage. I created a Mike and the Mad Dog Award for the event, which went to Felger and Mazz, who were the absolute right choice to win it. Even Chris remarked ‘that’s the right call‘.

But I learned quickly that although the intention was right in honoring the industry’s current top performing show, when you have legends in the room and they’re in their element, the last thing you want to do is overcrowd them. The connection Mike and Chris had on the air became the gold standard by which we measure successful sports talk shows, and they didn’t need an award created to deliver a special moment, just two mics and 20-30 minutes of stage time.

As I began thinking about the 2023 BSM Summit, I knew there was an opportunity to build on what we started last year with Mike and Chris, and after talking to a few people who I trust and respect, the decision of who we would recognize became crystal clear. I believe it’s important to honor the greats in our business because those who leave a permanent mark on our industry deserve it. The man we’ve selected has spent more than five decades on your television screen calling the biggest games, and producing some of the most iconic moments sports has to offer. He’s worked with the best of the best inside the booth, has helped elevate the presentation and execution of in-game content for ABC, NBC and Amazon, and his call of the Miracle on Ice, the US Olympic hockey team’s 1980 gold medal win over Russia remains one of the best calls in the history of sports.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honored and privileged to share that Al Michaels will join us on Wednesday March 22nd at the 2023 BSM Summit for our awards presentation, where we will present him with BSM’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Michaels is one of America’s most respected sports broadcasting voices, known for his exceptional work on Monday Night Football (1986-2005), Sunday Night Football (2006-2022) and Thursday Night Football (2022-Present). He’s called the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, Hagler-Hearns, the Olympics, the Indy 500, Horse Racing’s Triple Crown races, College Football and Basketball games, Golf, and more. He’s even held roles as the voice of the University of Hawaii, the Cincinnati Reds, and the San Francisco Giants, and was in the booth in 1989 when an earthquake rocked the Bay Area during Game 3 of the A’s-Giants world series.

The Brooklyn native turned Los Angeles resident has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and owns a ton of hardware including five sports Emmy’s, three NSMA Sportscaster of the Year honors, the 2013 Pete Rozelle Radio & Television Award distributed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the 2021 Ford C. Frick Award given out by the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Though his trophy case may be full, we’re excited to add another to his collection to show our appreciation and respect for the impact he’s made on the sports media business.

A quick reminder, the BSM Summit takes place on Tuesday March 21st and Wednesday March 22nd at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California. Tickets are on-sale at BSMSummit.com.

Be advised, we have started adding sessions and times on the website. As always, the schedule is subject to change. Our final agenda will be posted by the end of next week. In addition, attendees will receive an email by next Friday with details of who will be in attendance. We hope to see you there.

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Rob Parker, Brian Long, Sean Thompson and Matt Fishman Join The BSM Summit Speaker Lineup

“I’m excited to welcome a few folks who have enjoyed success in different parts of the country, and in different areas of the business.”

Jason Barrett

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As we gear up for our 5th annual BSM Summit on March 21-22, 2023, I’m starting to get a better feel for how the final puzzle may look. When this process starts I have no idea how it’s going to turn out because so much depends on who says yes and no. Many who’ve attended over the years have complimented our lineups, and I appreciate it because I put a lot of time and effort into featuring a strong mix of professionals from different areas of the industry. Though I’m proud of the work we do and the schedule we deliver, there are so many things pursued leading up to the event that I can’t help but wonder ‘what if this or that had worked out?’

One thing that some folks don’t understand if they haven’t been to the show before is that this is not a talent conference. It’s a sports media business conference. That means we feature radio, TV and digital executives, programmers, researchers, sales professionals, and yes, talent. I believe on-air performers are vital to the industry’s success and I want the best of the best sharing their wisdom with everyone in the room, but we’re also not going to do two full days of on-air conversations. Being successful in sports media requires understanding the on-air side and the business side, and we do our best to offer a blend of both.

For today’s announcement, I’m excited to welcome a few sports media pros who have enjoyed success in different parts of the country, and in different areas of the business.

First, Rob Parker is someone who has made a name for himself as a radio host, writer, TV commentator, and teacher. He’s currently heard weeknights on FOX Sports Radio, teaches students at USC Annenberg, writes for Deadspin, and is helping MLBBro gain awareness and a bigger mainstream media presence covering Major League Baseball. He’s experienced, smart, and never short on opinion. I’m looking forward to having him join Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score/BetQL, and Scott Shapiro of FOX Sports Radio for a session titled “Aircheck On Campus“. They’ll take the stage together on Wednesday March 22nd from 2:10-2:45.

My next three speakers, all come from the sports radio programming department.

Matt Fishman is the Director of Content for ESPN 850 Cleveland. Fishman has been with the brand since January 2020 following stints at SiriusXM, 610 Sports in Kansas City, and 670 The Score in Chicago. He even wrote for BSM for a few years.

Sean Thompson is responsible for programming decisions at Arizona Sports and ESPN 620 AM. He joined the well respected Phoenix brand after more than a decade in Atlanta at 92.9 The Game. Sean has also worked in affiliate relations for Westwood One, and on the air and as a programmer in music radio for Good Karma Brands in Madison, WI.

Brian Long is the program director of both San Diego Sports 760 and KOGO 600 in San Diego. In addition to guiding two of the top talk brands in his market, he has also managed Seattle Sports 710, and served as the Assistant Program Director for ESPN LA 710.

Matt, Sean, and Brian will be part of one of our final sessions on day two of the Summit. The Last Call which yours truly is hosting, will explore unique revenue opportunities created by local brands, and examine a few new ideas and missed opportunities that brands and managers may want to take advantage of in the future.

As of today, the Summit has more than forty accomplished professionals taking the stage at the Founders Club at USC’s Galen Center on March 21-22, 2023. I’ve got a few others still to announce as well, including a few cool giveaways planned for the WWE’s Kickoff party.

If you haven’t bought a ticket and wish to be in the room, visit BSMSummit.com. The last day for ticket sales will be Monday March 13th. I’m hoping to release our final schedule of sessions on Tuesday March 14th. Hopefully I’ll see you in the city of angels.

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