THINK TANK: Market Focus – Toronto

With so many people set to descend on Toronto for Canadian Music Week, we thought it would be a good time to examine the Hogtown radio scene again. It’s been a while since we last drilled down on some of the specifics in the market (July 2012 to be exact), and with so many changes happening in the intervening years, a refresher seemed apropos about now.

Like the rest of the country, commercial media in Toronto has been dealing with a challenging advertising environment, as online experienced an increase in the share of the available dollars. Radio in the city attracted $270-million worth of business in 2012, with that number falling to $264-million in 2013 (down 2.27%). The CRTC Financial Summaries for 2014 won’t be out for another month or so, but simply judging by the stats presented in the quarterly & year-end financials of the big media companies, we’ll probably see a similar degree of decline was experienced last year.

Regardless, even with this softening in the overall radio revenue available in Toronto, the industry still generates a monstrous pile of money, and it’s the chase for those dollars that makes Program Directors, Brand Managers, Sales Managers, GM’s and Group Consultants pour over the ratings, analyzing virtually every minute of the day in an effort to find out how they can squeeze another share-point (or even a fraction of a point) away from the competition.

Instead of just looking at the results of the most-recent book, we dug up a pile of numbers from the past three-plus years in an effort to understand some of the long-term trending that’s been happening in the 416 / 905 region.

Keep in mind that while there are several dozen signals available across the GTA, not all of them participate in the ratings conducted by Numeris – some of the signals originate out-of-market (though some spill stations do participate in the Toronto ratings), or the stations may be campus / community / multilingual outlets that are focused on a very defined audience, one that may not be accurately represented by the sampling methodology employed by Numeris to recruit PPM participants.

As a general rule, the Adult 12+ data is good for describing the overall market rankings, but it’s not something radio is generally concerned with itself, as the numbers are too broad for the sales departments to use when selling advertising. (The graphic starts with PPM data from the November 28, 2011 – February 26, 2012 capture period, through to the recently-released December 1, 2014 – March 30, 2015 ratings).


As far as trending goes, most stations have been pretty consistent over the past 13 books, though there are a few things that stand out:

— When deciding their top music choice, Torontonians tend to favour stations that lean more towards the AC / Hot AC portion of the spectrum, with CHFI and CHUM pulling in a combined 23.8-share in the recent book.

— The spike from CHFI‘s “All Christmas” stunting is easy to spot on an annual basis, though it wasn’t as apparent in the latest PPM’s, leading one to wonder if the over-commercialization of Christmas is taking a toll on listeners.

— There’s not much difference between a Spotify playlist and the music “Classic Hits” Boom 97.3 plays, but the station has continued to grow their listener base because of the one key element missing from any streaming service – personality, something the on-air staff consistently deliver through every daypart.

Corus‘ rock properties (Q107, The Edge) look like they’ve both experienced long-term declines, though these A12+ numbers are deceiving, as they don’t accurately represent the target demographics both stations are chasing. Still, there has been some erosion in the key male demos, which has led both stations to tweak their formats over the past year.

— The fight for Top 40 listeners continues, with KiSS 92.5 remaining relatively stable while Virgin has seen some downtrending. Also in the fight are Z103.5 & the now “classic-leaning” Flow 93.5, both of which have undergone a bit of an upswing as of late

— If you lump all the Talk programming together (CBC Radio 1, 680 News, NewsTalk 1010, AM640, Sportsnet 590 & TSN 1050), you get a combined 28.6-share (of which more than 67% is delivered via the AM band).

— Focusing on Toronto’s diverse Caribbean & African communities, G98.7 has become the go-to destination for anybody looking to satisfy their reggae / soul / soca / R&B / gospel cravings.

So that’s the A12+, but what about the actual money demos, the numbers that help drive revenue? Here are the breakdowns for the 25-54’s — both Women and Men — that’ll give you a much better idea of who’s making bank.


— No surprise that CHFI and CHUM control female ears, but what’s the deal with the guys? When you consider scenarios like when a PPM-participating couple are in a car and the woman selects the station, the male is exposed to the signal and is considered a “listener,” even if the station is one he would never personally choose. And therein is the major complaint about PPM — the meter collects all the encoded signals the wearer is exposed to, both those actively chosen and those passively playing in the background. Still, PPM is a much more comprehensive collection system than the diaries (which are still used across the country), so while the “passive” argument is valid, it’s a minor issue when viewing PPM as a whole.

— Remember how we mentioned that The Edge‘s A12+ weren’t exactly accurate? Well, the 25-54’s are a little closer to reality but to get the best snapshot of how the station is doing, we’d need to examine the station’s key demos of 18-24 & 18-34. Sadly, access to that data (and all the other narrowly-defined demos) is controlled tightly by Numeris

Indie 88 has seen an almost progressive growth curve since launching July 31, 2013, though on paper it would appear that they drew these gains from The Edge. The Edge have been gradually retooling the station over the past year and it will be interesting to see how this market battle plays out. Given that Alternative’s slice of the pie is fairly small in the grand scheme there is currently a ceiling as to how much either can gain.

Had enough numbers yet? Let’s explore the music that’s getting played in Toronto.

For all the following examples, we used Mediabase to see what the top-spinning songs were for the first-quarter, as well as to figure out who the core Gold acts were on each station, those acts that had the most overall spins in the quarter (though Gold is something not really valid at CHR, as the format generally plays very little of it).

The image makeover at AC radio continues, as the format sheds more and more of the music that used to be its foundation. Where they used to play Elton John, Billy Joel and Celine Dion, those slots are now filled with the likes of Bruno Mars, Enrique Iglesias and Pink. About 56% of CHFI’s day is comprised of Gold, with the average year it’s from dating to around 2007 or so.



As a Hot AC station, CHUM fills that void between CHFI and KiSS 92.5 – a little more “today” sounding than CHFI (only about 30% of CHUM’s day is Gold), while the current rotation counts kinda fall in the middle (a Heavy at KiSS runs around 80-spins, CHUM goes about 40-spins, while CHFI is 15-spins).



As the market-leading CHR, Virgin has the quickest rotation turnover in Toronto – their top-spinner rests for an average of an hour-&-forty-minutes between plays.



Aggressively contemporary (92% of the music is Current or Recurrent), KiSS 92.5 is pretty much exactly what a CHR should be, all-the-top-hits all-the-time.



Perhaps the most rhythmic of Toronto’s CHR’s, Z103.5 continues to embrace its dance heritage with “Live to Air” club programming going four nights a week. In the overall market rankings, KiSS has a slight lead over Z103.5, but things become almost a dead-heat in the 25-54 demos.


Flow 93.5 is still classified at CHR, but sonically they’ve morphed into more of an Urban Hot AC direction. Rotation counts for Currents have been reduced considerably and the station’s sound is now dominated by Gold material, which account for approximately 84% of their total airtime.


Not as musically adventurous as they were, say, a dozen years ago, The Edge continues to focus on playing the biggest Alternative hits, with a generous portion of RHCP, Green Day & OLP served up into the mix.



They weren’t around back in 2012, so there’s no “historic” data to work with, but we thought it’d be interesting to see how Indie shapes up against The Edge in 2015. Positioning themselves as more of a leader when it comes to breaking acts, the current playlist is quite divergent from The Edge, but as for the Gold, there’s a sizable amount of shared material between the two stations.