Predicting satellite radio adoption via listening motives, activity, and format preference.

Author:Lin, Carolyn A.

As the 21st century begins, the radio industry remains largely unchanged in its content offerings. Radio's economic structure has been greatly transformed, however, by the liberation of license ownership restrictions stemming from 1996 Telecommunications Act. Large-scale ownership consolidation has allowed companies such as Clear Channel Communications to own over 10% of all commercial radio licenses. This has resulted in fewer choices of local programs and increased homogenization in programming. Audience dissatisfaction with the current state of radio programming has manifested itself in the declining stock values for radio companies in recent quarters (Flint & McBride, 2004).

The introduction of satellite-radio broadcasting offers an alternative receiver technology and delivery channel for drawing audiences and revenues. As a subscription medium, satellite radio diffusion remains stagnant. Nonetheless, with the recent signing of Howard Stern by the Sirius satellite radio network, satellite radio may be poised for growth (Flint & McBride, 2004). According to one industry estimate, the two proprietors of satellite radio services--XM and Sirius--reached over 3.3 million and nearly 1 million subscribers by the end of 2004, respectively (SkyWaves Research Associates, 2004). In 2005, subscriber numbers rose quickly to reach 4.4 million and 1.5 million for XM and Sirius, respectively, and these figures were expected to approach 5.5 million and 2.7 million by the year's end (Heine, 2005).

To compete effectively against their terrestrial and online counterparts, the satellite radio industry needs to understand their audiences' listening needs and wants. As little is known about the audiences for these emerging services, this study explores the potential cognitive, behavioral, and demographic factors associated with satellite radio adoption. In particular, it examines listener affinity, motives, and activity as well as format preferences to help assess listener interest in adopting satellite radio.

Literature Review

Because an examination of the literature on satellite radio research uncovered a dearth of sources, it is useful to review the literature addressing radio research in general. Early studies conducted by Cantril (1940) as well as by Cantril and Allport (1935) took a "direct effects" approach before and after Orson Welles's War of the Worlds broadcast. Since that time, the limited literature base has by and large investigated radio use via the uses and gratifications perspective. Similarly, because there is a scarcity of literature on listener "interaction" with the listening process, a review of the "audience activity construct" in the television-viewing literature will be used to discuss how audiences "behave" during radio listening.

Listening Motives

The uses and gratifications paradigm conceptualizes the audience member as a goal-oriented individual who is motivated by a set of cognitive and affective needs when consuming media (e.g., Blumler & Gurevitch, 1974). In essence, the audience sets gratification expectations for their media use experience; it is the gratifications that they receive from media use that entice them to become repeat patrons of the same media offerings.

Herzog's (1940, 1954) research found that listening to soap operas on radio was perceived as an escape from mundane daily household duties as well as an information source for helping to solve the daily problems in life for many women. Twenty years later, Mendelsohn (1964) theorized about radio-listening behavior and identified "utilitarian/news," "active mood accompaniment," "psychological release," and "friendly companionship" as the functions of radio listening. A decade later, when AM radio found new popularity with its talk program format, interest in radio-listening research surged again.

Turow (1974) interviewed callers to four different talk shows aired during different time periods and concluded that talk radio was a form of "interpersonal communication," in which the audience drew gratifications from interacting with the talk show host live. Tramer and Jeffres (1983) likewise found that the main reason for call-ins remains "companionship seeking," in which the audiences called to chat or to give/receive information. By contrast, Armstrong and Rubin (1989) reported that entertainment, information seeking, and relaxation were the primary motives for talk radio listening (in contrast to pass time/habit, companionship, and escape). Rubin and Step (2000) further revealed that parasocial interaction between the listener and the talk show host--who is perceived as a credible information source and socially influential agent--is predictive of listening-planning frequency.

Talk radio was also studied as a counseling and political information source. For example, Raviv, Raviv, and Arnon (1991) surveyed callers to a psychological counseling show and identified social comparison (i.e., curiosity, closeness, and comparison with others) and instrumental utility (i.e., seeking psychological knowledge and help) as key listening motivations. Hollander (1996) contended that political talk radio listening was related to such motives as political involvement, information, and participation. Hofstetter and Gianos (1997) discovered that political talk radio listeners tended to be a more active audience about what they had heard than were nonlisteners, as they engaged in more social interaction with either the talk show hosts or others.

The one listening-motives study involving nontalk radio formats came from Edwards and Singletary (1980). They found a strong relationship between music format selection and personal identity, in addition to finding a connection between different lifestyles and music format preferences. In terms of listening motives associated with radio in general, Houghton-Larsen (1982) found that music, companionship, and informational content (e.g., weather and news) motivate listening among college students. Lichtenstein and Rosenfeld (1984) discovered that killing time was the only listening motive identified in a survey of college students. The nonrandom samples and different data collection techniques (i.e., Q-sort vs. a survey) may explain these distinctly different study outcomes. Towers's (1985) study, on the other hand, produced two motivational dimensions--diversion and surveillance/interaction--for radio listening. In a subsequent replication study, Towers (1987) confirmed the two motivational dimensions from his past findings and noted the significance of radio listening as it related to its immediacy and lifestyle enhancing functions for heavy listeners.

The nascent literature on new radio technologies also underscores the importance of listener motivations as predictors of adoption, alongside social locators (e.g., see Klopfenstein & Sedman, 1990; Reagan, 2002). This also mirrors work on HDTV adoption, which finds that adoption is driven by social locators (e.g., social status) as well as audience need for stimulation (e.g., Atkin, Neuendorf, Jeffres, & Skalski, 2003; Dupagne, 2002).

Based on this body of theory and empirical work, it is presumed that radio-listening motives will be the psychological basis for satellite radio adoption. To help validate these theoretical assumptions, the following research hypothesis will be tested:

[H.sub.1]: Listening motivation will be a positive predictor of satellite radio adoption interest.

Except for the limited literature on music and political talk program format preference, there was no empirical evidence that could help explain the relations between different types of radio program formats and radio-listening behavior. Lacking a solid theoretical basis to make an empirical assertion about such relations, a research question is posited to explore them.

[RQ.sub.1]: Which program format listening interests will be predictive of satellite radio adoption?

Listening Activity

In the media-use process, audience activities involving cognitive and behavioral factors that may occur before, during, and after media use are said to help dictate the media use selection and gratification outcome (Blumler, 1979). Levy (1983) framed these audience activities in three temporal dimensions--selectivity (program selection before exposure), involvement (attention during exposure), and use (discussion post exposure)--and found inconsistent "activeness" levels across the three.

Other researchers have also explored the audience activity construct. These include Heeter's (1985) "choice process" model, in which "planning" prior to viewing encompasses television-guide use; "orienting search," which involves channel surfing when the set is on; and "reevaluation" during viewing, which encompasses viewing option reselection, multichannel viewing, and/or commercial zapping. Perse (1990), building on her past work (Rubin & Perse, 1987), linked ritualistic and instrumental gratifications of TV viewing to an audience activity construct that was operationalized with two temporal dimensions: (a) "selectivity" via the use of eight information sources before exposure, and channel changing during exposure; and (b) involvement via intentionality (or viewing planning) before exposure, and elaboration (thinking about program content) and distractions during exposure.

Lin (1990) proposed a typology to study VCR audience activity that contains three phases--preexposure (viewing planning), during-exposure involvement (via channel-switching activity and interpersonal communication utility), and postexposure utility (interpersonal communication of program content and modeling activities seen on TV). Her findings indicate that viewers often planned ahead for viewing, engaged in channel switching for commercial avoidance, and modeled activities resulting in product purchases. These findings were further supported by a later study of cable-TV audience activity (Lin, 1994).

Even though the audience...

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