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Nielsen Reveals the Modernization of AC Radio

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If you’ve noticed some changes on your favorite “lite rock” station over the past few years, your ears have not deceived you. A recent Nielsen BDSradio study of Adult Contemporary stations in the top 10 U.S. markets shows that this format airs 40% more now than it did five years ago. In addition, stations have drastically reduced the amount of music being played from the ’70s and before, and traded once core like Rod Stewart and Celine Dion for Kelly Clarkson and Pink.

Nielsen BDSradio is a leading provider of monitored airplay services to the music and radio industries, as well as the company whose data powers the Billboard Hot 100, Billboard 200 Albums, and other Billboard charts. Nielsen BDSradio recently released a report on the modernization of Canadian AC radio, which found that the average era of AC stations in that country had become 12 years more recent over the course of five years. By comparison, the U.S. AC stations were only five years “newer” in five years time, but other significant changes had taken place.

Similar to the recent Nielsen BDSradio report on Canadian AC radio, prepared for the Canadian Music Week conference, American AC stations are also relying less on older core artists in favor of songs from younger, contemporary performers.
The Nielsen BDSradio report shows that in the U.S., nearly half of the Top 100 most-played AC artists from 2007 are no longer on the same list in 2012; 79% of 2007’s Top 100 AC artists have dropped in ranking over five years.
The format’s top-five most-played artists now include Katy Perry, P!nk, Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga.

The modernization of AC radio reflects the immense popularity of today’s hit music with adult audiences, and unwillingness to cede artists like Adele or Katy Perry to Top 40 radio stations. It also reflects the rise of Oldies/Greatest Hits stations which have become more centered on the ’70s in recent years. AC stations have cut more than 60% of “Boomer generation” songs – from the 60’s and 70’s – from their libraries. However, songs from the 80’s remained static showing that AC radio is relu ctant to forfeit the music of that just yet.

AC radio, both in Canada and America, is increasingly becoming a song-based, not artist-based, format. Five years ago it was not unusual for a station to play upwards of 28 titles by one artist. Today, only Madonna still sees an active library of more than 20 titles on AC Top 20 playlists.

Often criticized for having too many commercial interruptions, AC radio is spending more time today than it did five years ago. There is an average of 6:40 more minutes spent playing music , from 39:44 in 2007 to
46:24 in 2012 per hour.

Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems provides and monitoring services for the entertainment industry including Nielsen BDSradio, the only strategic tool designed for radio programmers. Nielsen BDS captures more than song detections annually on more than 1,900 radio stations, satellite and in 176 markets across North America. Nielsen’s data on airplay, sales, and On-Demand is featured weekly in Billboard’s charts and is widely cited by numerous publications and as the standard for music measurement.