Notes from a digital island

Half of the UK’s radio listeners consume radio digitally at some point every week.

I’m just going to say that again. Because it’s important.

Half of the UK’s radio listeners consume radio digitally at some point every week.

Plus 29.1% of all listening in the UK is through digital radio.

The digital listening (hours) breaks down like this:

In attractive chart form:

Digital Reach:

Digital Hours:

In reach terms, the internet and digital television do a good job in expanding the universe of digital consumers. However in hours terms, it shows how much online/digital television is a minority sport. Internet is more the poorer as pretty much every UK station is on it and broadband penetration at home and work is huge. Digital TV suffers from (outside the big brands) a lack of radio content. DAB has the same issue – there’s still a fair few big local stations not on it yet, but its consumption is strong and growing faster than DTV/internet.

The internet often gets heralded as the future of radio. If you think that, some questions:

1. The vast majority of radio listening is at home/work (in-car’s only around 20%). If broadband is already in the places where most radio is consumed, there’s every UK station (plus all the ones around the world) on it, in great quality, for a long time, why are the figures still so low?

2. In the future we’ll get 4G and that will have loads of bandwidth, surely radio will be consumed that way? Well, 3G coverage doesn’t reach everyone, the 4G roll out will concentrate on the cities and then the towns. The people who have poor 3G now, are way down the list for 4G. How long will it take for coverage to reach 70 or 80% of the population, let alone 95%?

3. Unlimited data is available on some networks already – this is what will increase mobile internet usage. Ignoring the fact, of course, that even with more bandwidth you’ll still have to share it with other people in your cell. Oh, and unlimited costs. T-Mobile makes it available for £41/month. Should people have to pay £41/month to listen to the radio?

Some people say that DAB’s taken too long to take off, that it’s been superseded by other technology and that it should be killed off, that it’s a failure. Well, looking at the figures – internet radio’s bumbled around the 2% to 4% mark over four years – if we applied the same thinking to internet radio we’d have killed it off years ago!

Look, I think radio’s future is definitely multi-platform and that includes the internet and FM alongside DAB and DTV. No platform is going to ‘win’ – each has it’s pro’s and con’s and there’s money to be made and audiences to be reached through each of them. IP is great for return path and personalised services. DAB and DTV is great for broad, mass-market services.

The 50% digital reach number is a fantastic one in describing how the UK is becoming more multi-platform in their media consumption. In the commercial radio world though, it’s the hours that are important. That’s what helps it generate its money.

I thought it might be interesting to have a look at the biggest stations by hours in the analogue and digital world. I’ve made a chart:

The chart was quite hard to do as lots of stations have different versions. Heart for example has all of the ILRs, London, London plus the other Hearts in the London TSA, Heart ILR (a combo of all the ILRs), Heart Out of Area (Heart consumption outside of the analogue areas) and Heart UK (which is all Heart listening). I’ve tried to list the biggest of each and then discount any appearance by the others. It’s quite a manual job, so I may well have missed something.

So, what does it tell us? Well nothing for sure, but I think it does suggest something about the potential future of the radio market. The 50% who now listen digitally will grow their hours as they listen on more digital devices. A bit more on that Freeview box in the study, on the Radioplayer mobile app, that second DAB in the bathroom and the one in the new car. This means they could be listening more to the stations they’re only able to give a few hours to at the moment.

So, firstly, 2, 4 and 1 are still going to be pretty dominant. These are stations that have done a good job of promoting their multi-platform credentials and so they’re still owning consumers whether listening digitally or on analogue. Five Live is also doing well. It, of course, suffers on AM – in a digital world it becomes an easier radio station to listen to. The same is probably true for Absolute. Music radio is not so good on AM, so it clearly benefits. Gold though hasn’t. I think this could say something about the brand and also probably the (lack of) distribution. Gold also faces music competition from stations like Smooth, Magic, Absolute 60s and 70s – an AM upgrade is clearly not enough to fend that off.

Magic and talkSPORT are holding their own – though i’d expect that Magic with better distribution and marketing could push itself up the list. talkSPORT’s doing solidly, with around a quarter of its listening tuning in digitally – which is about the same as all radio. I think the interesting thing for Talk is whether digital has the ability to grow it some new listeners who’ve never discovered it on the analogue dial.

There are some new stations in the list that are clearly going to be players in the future – 6Music, 4 Extra, Planet Rock, 1Xtra and Absolute 80s. They’ve got great national coverage and great, unique, formats.

Heart and Capital do a pretty good job remaining high up the list. They also have a massive opportunity if they can drive their out of FM area listening. They have great products and nationwide marketing – that could really help them in areas they’re new to.


The other interesting thing that’s popped up in RAJAR are new types of figures for Absolute – each of their stations now has an additional report called Absolute Radio [Whatever] – Trading. These are the figures Absolute wants in the agency trading systems instead of their regular numbers. Why? Well, it’s their main figures but with internet listening removed.

Why? Well, it’s because they’re now going to be selling different ads on the internet streams of their stations. These will use the benefits of IP – the two way nature – to deliver demographically and geographically targeted ads alongside imagery. It’s a really good way to tackle one of radio’s problems – our ads are too cheap! Online they’ve created a premium product that, hopefully, commands a premium price.

It means they can start to get money that might be going to services like Spotify and We7. Absolute also has good internet listening figures – so they’ll have some decent impacts to sell – but with internet listening still their smallest digital platform – it’s not something that’s going to massively effect their traditional revenues.

One thought on “Notes from a digital island”

  1. Interesting stats… Thanks. Any thoughts on the World Service being in the all top 20, but not digital only? I assume Radio 4 overnights is part of the story, but why would people be marking that differently on analogue V digital?

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