Propelled by a growing appetite for Christmas music during the holiday season, the AC format surged to a 15.0 share (6+) in Nielsen’s Holiday 2023 survey, nearly doubling second ranked News/Talk, which fell to a two-year low of 8.7. AC’s total audience share was up 28% from December 2023’s 11.7 and grew 4% year-over-year from Holiday 2022’s 14.4, according to Inside Radio's monthly analysis of Nielsen's PPM cross-market average quarter-hour share data trends, covering Monday-Sunday 6am-midnight.

The catalyst for AC’s enormous year-end audience surge was, of course, scores of stations in the format flipping to all-Christmas music, including three that posted their highest shares over the past nine Holiday books. The universal appeal of the Christmas classics delivered monster share gains for AC across the demographic spectrum. Month-to-month, AC surged 27% among persons 18-34 to a 16.1 share in the Holiday 2023 survey, while growing 7% year-over year. The format’s performance in persons 25-54 was no less impressive, up 25% from December to a 14.5 share and +5% year-over-year.

Santacasters once again siphoned listening from multiple formats with Country and Classic Rock the hardest hit. Among persons 6+, Country fell for a second consecutive survey (6.1-5.7-5.0, Nov.-Dec.-Hol) for an 18% listening decline from the November survey, before Christmas music disrupted normal listening habits. As a result, Country slipped to fourth place from third in November and December. Classic rock trended 5.7-5.5-4.9 during the same time frame for a 14% + share decline.

Monthly PPM Format Share Trends 6+
Adult Contemporary8.5%8.4%8.4%8.4%8.4%8.2%8.1%8.2%8.1%8.0%8.3%11.7%15.0%
Classic Hits5.6%6.0%6.0%6.0%6.0%6.2%6.3%6.1%6.0%5.8%5.7%5.5%5.5%
Urban Adult Contemporary4.7%4.7%4.9%4.9%4.8%4.9%4.8%4.8%5.0%5.1%5.1%5.0%5.0%
Classic Rock5.3%5.3%5.4%5.5%5.7%5.9%5.8%5.6%5.7%5.7%5.7%5.5%4.9%
Hot AC4.4%4.4%4.4%4.5%4.6%4.7%4.5%4.5%4.5%4.1%4.2%4.2%3.8%
Contemporary Christian3.3%3.3%3.1%3.1%3.1%3.1%3.2%3.1%3.3%3.2%3.2%3.3%3.4%
Urban Contemporary2.9%3.0%3.2%2.9%2.9%3.0%3.0%3.0%2.9%2.8%2.9%2.8%2.8%
Adult Hits2.5%2.7%2.7%2.8%2.9%2.8%3.0%2.9%2.6%2.8%2.8%2.7%2.5%
Modern/Alternative Rock2.4%2.5%2.6%2.6%2.5%2.5%2.4%2.4%2.6%2.6%2.7%2.6%2.5%
Spanish Regional Mexican3.0%3.0%3.1%3.0%3.1%3.0%3.0%2.9%2.7%2.9%2.9%2.7%2.5%
Spanish Contemporary2.8%2.8%2.9%2.8%2.7%2.7%2.5%2.4%2.6%2.6%2.6%2.5%2.4%
Rhythmic CHR1.7%1.8%1.8%1.8%1.9%1.8%1.8%1.8%1.9%1.8%1.7%1.7%1.6%
Spanish Adult Hits1.2%1.2%1.3%1.2%1.2%1.3%1.3%1.2%1.3%1.3%1.2%1.4%1.2%
Rhythmic AC1.3%1.3%1.3%1.3%1.3%1.4%1.4%1.3%1.3%1.3%1.2%1.2%1.1%
Album Alternative1.3%1.3%1.2%1.3%1.3%1.3%1.3%1.2%1.2%1.1%1.2%1.2%1.1%
Spanish Tropical1.0%1.1%1.0%0.8%0.8%0.9%0.6%0.9%0.9%0.9%0.9%0.9%0.9%
Soft AC0.6%0.6%0.6%0.7%0.6%0.6%0.6%0.6%0.6%0.6%0.5%0.5%0.6%
Mainstream Rock0.6%0.6%0.4%0.5%0.5%0.5%0.4%0.5%0.5%0.5%0.5%0.5%0.5%
Source: Nielsen total week 6+ AQH Shares, PPM Markets

The Christmas format also put a dent in News/Talk’s performance. While the format typically turns in its lowest numbers during the Holiday survey, it ebbed to its lowest share in two years. News/Talk’s 8.7 share is down 14% from November 2023’s 10.1 and 4% lower than the Holiday 2022 book. In the 25-54 Money Demo, News/Talk finished fifth in the Holiday 2023 survey, down from fourth in December, and a third place tie in November.

After registering a fifth consecutive 6+ downtrend in December, Classic Hits levelled off at a 5.5 share in the Holiday 2023 survey, ranked third. Country and Urban AC tied for fourth at 5.0. That marked Urban AC’s fifth straight month at a 5.0 or better.

After that it’s Classic Rock in sixth place with a 4.9, the same share it delivered in Holiday 2022 and its only survey in 2023 below a 5-share. Sports ranked seventh (4.4, flat with one year ago). CHR finished eighth with a 4.2 (steady with one year ago). Hot AC is ninth at 3.8, down from 4.1 one year earlier for its lowest share in two years. And Contemporary Christian ranked tenth with 3.4, up from Holiday 2022’s 3.0.

Pulling back the camera to view full year format trends shows News/Talk remained radio’s most-listened-to format (6+) in 2023 with an average 6.1 share for the Jan.-Hol. 2023 period, down from its 13-survey average of 6.7 in 2022 and 7.0 in 2021. AC, meanwhile, grew steadily (4.7-4.9-5.1) during the three-year period, bringing it within striking position of News/Talk. Country, Classic Hits and Classic Rock, ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively, each padding their 2023 shares by two tenths of a point over their 2021 levels.

Apart from AC, the biggest gainer in raw numbers is sports, which trended 2.4-2.5-2.7. The largest decline belongs to CHR (3.2-3.1-3.0).

Yearly PPM Format Share Trends 6+
Adult Contemporary4.7%4.9%5.1%
Classic Hits3.5%3.6%3.7%
Classic Rock3.2%3.2%3.4%
Urban Adult Contemporary3.1%3.1%3.0%
Hot AC2.7%2.8%2.8%
Contemporary Christian1.9%1.8%1.9%
Spanish Regional Mexican1.9%1.9%1.9%
Urban Contemporary1.6%1.9%1.8%
Adult Hits1.5%1.6%1.7%
Spanish Contemporary1.8%1.7%1.7%
Modern/Alternative Rock1.6%1.5%1.5%
Rhythmic CHR1.1%1.1%1.1%
Rhythmic AC0.6%0.8%0.8%
Album Alternative0.6%0.7%0.8%
Spanish Adult Hits0.8%0.8%0.8%
Spanish Tropical 0.6%0.5%
Talk 0.5%0.5%
Soft AC 0.4%0.4%
Jazz 0.4%0.4%
Mainstream Rock0.6%0.5%0.3%
Source: Nielsen total week 6+ AQH Shares, PPM Markets