How Many Digital Ads To Run By Andy Meadows

In 1896 Marconi was issued the very first patent for a wireless radio device in England. Four years later in 1900, Tesla’s patents were granted in the US, but it wasn’t until the late 1920s that radio broadcasting began to really take hold. So, essentially radio has been around for a hundred years now. In that time through trial and error, and tons of internal arguing, we’ve landed on roughly how many terrestrial ads we can get away with running per stopset and per hour. Because we learned a long time ago that even on a free service there’s a limit to how many ads people will tolerate. To get that balance right the volume of ads has to be in proportion to the amount of entertainment people expect to get in exchange for their time spent listening to those ads. That’s why even after a hundred years we’re still debating it. So, it makes sense that radio stations struggle to figure out how many digital ads to run on their digital assets as well. Here’s a few guidelines I suggest to clients.

Just like terrestrial advertising, the number of ads have to be in proportion to the content and the cost. Free services can get away with larger and slightly more obtrusive ads, but if they massively impact the user experience they’re going to do more harm than good because digital sales are based on very trackable digital stats and those go down if the user experience stinks. For instance, complicated ads that slow down the loading of a website or obtrusive ones that hide any of the content they’re coming to the site for. On station websites groups have a habit of using way too many banner ads in proportion to the amount of clickable, shareable content they create and upload. I get the rationale; it gives you more space to hand over to Google Ads so you’re at least billing something on the website while the local staff tries to sell it. The problem is it’s counter-intuitive because it makes each individual ad less valuable and it also impacts the aforementioned user experience hurting the stats. So, it weakens the very thing groups are trying to sell. Most stations struggle to load between 6 and 8 pieces of original content per week. So, the balance I suggest to my radio clients is never more than two ads per page, but bigger and more valuable ads. One way to supplement that is by doing a few pieces of sponsored content (also called advertorial content) that’s clickable, shareable but attached to or branded with a sponsor.

For station streams I strongly suggest that stations with longer terrestrial stopsets close the gap between themselves and digital competitors by covering some of those spots online with exclusive content (interesting podcast clip, morning show clip or a song). In my experience pre-rolls before a stream should be fifteen seconds or less and video pre-rolls, or mid-rolls, should again be in proportion to the content the viewer is getting. In other words don’t run a thirty second pre-roll going into a sixty second or less video. In-app ads on free station apps are also fine as long as they’re not interfering with the user experience. The same goes for podcasts, don’t get fooled listening to established podcasts front-loaded with lots of ads. New podcasts can’t get away with that, especially if they’re thirty minutes or less.

Currently, I’m doing an internal poll about terrestrial spots on the homepage you might’ve seen that hasn’t gotten a huge response because there’s no incentive and only radio nerds like myself are interested in the topic. In it I ask ‘If you started your station from scratch right now how many minutes per hour of spots would you run?’ So far I’ve had a little over a hundred responses and the most popular answer is 8 minutes, but the extremes are equally split with 29% saying 6 minutes or less and 27% saying 12 minutes or more. So, if we’re still this divided on the terrestrial ads question we’ll likely be debating the digital one for many more years to come, although hopefully not a hundred.

What do you think? How many ads are appropriate to run on a radio station’s digital assets? Comment below or email me at

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