THINK TANK: Comparing The Formats Redux

A couple years ago we examined the published charts in an effort to see how much material was being shared across the various radio formats you can refresh yourself by re-reading that piece here:

At that time, the Hot A/C & A/C formats had started diverging a bit from CHR and were developing a slightly more distinctive sound, while the Rock formats were displaying a more defined level of ownership on the songs sitting on their respective playlists.

Fast-forward two years, how much has the situation changed?

Using the March 15, 2014 published Mediabase charts as our source material, we found that CHR, even more so than in recent history, continues to be the engine that powers all of the pop formats, with 76% of the material currently in the Top 30 at CHR also residing in the Top-30 at Hot A/C, while 50% of it occupies the Top-30 at A/C (not including recurrent tracks).

CHR songs not appearing on the Hot A/C chart include tracks from Beyonce, Karl Wolf, Classified and Sebell, while two songs (Mia Martina and Cash Cash) are on the verge of crossing over.

With the decline of the “Rhythmic” cycle that CHR had been in two years ago, the trend now is towards “Pop”, though there is a definite “Rock” influence, as seen with the current hits from OneRepublic, Bastille, Hedley, Passenger and American Authors. The Alternative format has become the go-to source for cross-over hits over the past 18-months, with Imagine Dragons, Capital Cities, Lumineers and Mumford & Sons all helping to change the texture of CHR.

Hot A/C
Because of the staggered timelines for when songs can be active at multiple formats, in order to accurately gauge the amount of crossover at Hot A/C we need to not only look at the material that is currently in the Top-30, but also at tracks that had peaked in the Top-30 and are now recurrent.

Taking into account the CHR recurrent status of Serena Ryder, Shakira, John Newman and Alyssa Reid means that 89% of the Hot A/C chart is composed of CHR material.

As for the Hot A/C chart’s relationship with A/C, there were 19 current & recurrent titles (63%) shared by the two formats. Material not appearing on the A/C chart include songs from Jason Derulo, Tegan & Sara, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Eminem, John Newman, Shakira, Avicii, Aloe Blacc and Kristina Maria, while Pitbull’s “Timber” has the potential to crack the A/C Top-30 very soon.

When radio was going through the recent “Rhythmic” music cycle, A/C worked to find material that could be considered more format-appropriate, resulting in a percentage of that chart being filled with unique titles not found at Hot A/C or CHR. The transition to the current “Pop” cycle is now providing a huge supply of hits filtering down from Hot A/C, resulting in the number of shared titles (including Hot A/C recurrents from Avicii, Imagine Dragons, Glenn Morrison, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry and Zedd) sitting at 24 songs, or nearly 80% of the chart. Factoring out the three French-language tracks charting at A/C leaves three songs (Colbie Caillat, Laurell and Daughtry), each of which had some traction at Hot A/C but failed to crack the Top-30 there.

Traditionally, A/C was slow to add material, with songs usually having gone recurrent at CHR and Hot A/C before starting to gain traction at the format. But much like the sonic changes that have transformed A/C during the past few years, the reaction time has also evolved dramatically. That the Top-10 at A/C has six songs that are currently Top-10 at Hot A/C and three songs that are currently Top-10 at CHR shows that programmers are actively trying to make their stations sound much more contemporary and up-to-date.

Active Rock
Compared to two years ago, the division between the Rock formats continues to widen. The Active chart shares 14 current & recurrent songs (46%) with Alternative Rock, leaving 16 titles (54%) unique to the Active realm, though the sound and image of many of them (Black Sabbath, One Bad Son, Bleeker Ridge, Avenged Sevenfold, Airbourne) means the tracks have virtually no potential to cross over to Alternative.

Incorporating a broader array of sonics and textures, the Alternative chart contains only 40% (12 current & recurrent) of the songs found on the Active Rock Top-30. Much like the situation at Active Rock, most of the remaining unique titles have a sound that is very format-specific (Lorde, Dear Rouge, Neighbourhood, Fitz & The Tantrums, Bastille, Phantogram), making it difficult for them to get widespread airplay at Active Rock.

Overall, it appears that the amount of crossover material has increased at the Pop formats, especially at A/C, which makes sense considering the current music cycle had a broader appeal. As for the Rock formats, the continuing sonic divergence can only be seen as a good thing, in that it helps to more accurately define the distinct nature of both Alternative and Active Rock.