Audience Dialogue

Findings about media audiences in general

In a place with several radio or TV stations, the station with the largest audience share will also have the greatest average duration of use. This is known as the double jeopardy effect.


Stations with small audiences often like to think "though our audience is small, itıs very loyal ­ our audience members spend most of their time with our station." Sadly, this is hardly ever true. The audience to a less popular station nearly always spends more time with a more popular station.
To understand this section, it will help you to know the mathematical relationship between average audience, cumulative audience, and duration. The average audience over any time period is the cumulative audience, times the average duration, divided by the length of the time period. If you know two of these three figures, you can easily calculate the other. For example, a TV station has 1 million viewers in the course of a week (cumulative audience), and these watch the station for an average of 10 hours during the week. If the station is always on air (168 hours a week) the average viewer is watching for 10/168ths of the week, so the average audience is 10/168ths of 1 million, or 59,500.
When an average audience changes, the cumulative audience usually changes with it. In other words, when a stationıs audience increases, two things happen together: new people start viewing, and previous viewers stay for longer. When the audience falls, the opposite happens. This is another aspect of the double jeopardy effect.
Stations often want to survey their potential audience so that these people can be converted into an actual audience. However, a current audience and a potential audience are one group of people, not two. Think of them all standing in a line. At one end are the people who listen to your station as often as they can, and never to another station. At the other end are people who listen to your station perhaps once in a few months, and perhaps not willingly. My surveys in Australia have shown that when a stationıs audience grows, this is usually because occasional listeners have begun to listen more often. It is rare for a non-listener to suddenly become a constant listener, except when another station in a market closes down or totally changesits programming.

Therefore, the best way to increase your audience is to get occasional listeners to tune in more often, and for longer periods.


When people take some action, there are usually several reasons. (So, when you ask a question beginning "Why...", donıt accept a single answer. Always add: "Are there any other reasons?")
Every station has competitors, even if it doesnıt think so. The competitors are not only other radio or TV stations, but anything which competes for peopleıs time.
Most people are either lethargic or loyal in their radio listening, spending most of their listening time on just one station. This is not true for TV, where most people watch most of the available channels.
The penetration (also called saturation) of a product is the percentage of households that have the product ­ such as a TV, a radio, or a telephone. Penetration levels rise slowly at first, accelerate as the figure approaches 50%, and slow down as the penetration rises. If you make a graph showing how penetration increases over time, you find that itıs an s-curve, which looks something like this:
S-shaped curve
Another example of an s-curve is the Pareto Principle, sometimes called the 80-20 law. This is expressed by statements such as "the keenest 20% of our listeners do 80% of the listening to our station." (The word "listening" here refers to person-hoursı time spent.) Therefore, the least keen 80% of the listeners would do only 20% of the listening. These figures are often close to 80 and 20, but to call this ratio a "law" overstates its accuracy. However, 80% of the activity (almost any activity) is usually done by between 10% to 25% of the people who do that activity. One exception is newspapers sold mainly by subscription, where the spread of readership is much more even.
Most people prefer the status quo. If the status quo changes, preferences change to match it ­ after a while. Often itıs better to survey reaction to a change after the status quo has had time to settle down, around three to six months after the program change.
Questions about what times people prefer specific programs to be broadcast always produce messy answers. Most people donıt care what type of program they hear at what time, as long as they like that type of program. The status quo problem (above) also applies: if theyıre unsure about when theyıd like to hear or see a program, many people will choose the status quo ­ not because they strongly prefer it, but because they have no complaint.
For many people, radio is a small and unimportant part of their lives ­ even though they may spend several hours a day "listening" to it. But theyıre usually doing something else while they listen to radio. Most of them place more importance on television. If you ask people who have both radio and TV "If you had to do without radio or TV, which one would you choose to keep?" most people choose TV. But if you ask "Which is more important to you, radio or television?" the numbers are about equally divided between radio and TV.
The users of a media service (whether broadcast or printed) have usually been around for much longer than most of the staff who work there. Therefore, what seems new to the staff may not be so for the audience.
Some media have seasonal trends in their use, and others donıt. TV viewing is often much higher in winter than in summer, but radio listening is much more stable through the year.
Units of thinking: people think of themselves as watching individual programs on TV, but whole stations on radio. Attempts to transfer the other way of thinking to the other medium have generally been unsuccessful: thus radio stations have larger audiences when they don't have a sequence of unrelated programs, while TV stations that have the same sort of program most of the time also get small audiences.