I was disappointed to read this article in The Guardian today. I was disappointed not because of their argument and position – which is one they’re perfectly within their right to argue.
What was a shame is that they’re choosing to skew the debate by making assumptions on behalf of “their” listeners. In the piece Scott Taunton says as part of the justification to not have a radio switchover says: “The bulk of people are quite happy with the radio services they already have.”
I, personally, as someone who’s created a new radio station, find that particularly disappointing. Having talked to other digital-only operators on multiplexes up and down the country, I know that I’m not the only one. I also think it underestimates listeners. If there’s one thing that’s surely arguable over the last twenty years it’s that consumers are after more choice!
So rather than emotion or assumption, I thought it would be useful to look at some data.
In the article, it states the coalition of the unwilling have the 6m listeners of UKRD, TLRC, CN Radio, Anglian Radio, Quidem, Celador, UTV stations (I think there’s Media Sound and Q alongside them too).
All radio stations are guilty of thinking because people listen to them that they are ‘their listeners’. Actually these 6.4m people tend to listen to quite a few radio stations. I therefore thought it was useful to look at these people’s broader listening habits.
Firstly, these 6.4m people listen to 152m hour of radio – 50.2m of which they spend with one or more of the ‘Unwilling’ stations – which is quite a lot – a third share is impressive.
However, they also give a little more – 51.9m of their total hours – to digital radio listening too.
Indeed, 3.9m of them (60.9%) listen to some form of digital radio each week – higher than the national average which is 56.7%.
1.3m of them also listen to one of the main digital-only stations – the Absolute 80s/Kisstory-esque ones (this even excludes listening to big stations like Capital, Kiss, Heart etc out of their analogue area).
That’s 1.3m who I would wager aren’t 100% happy with the analogue stations that they get.
Digital radio switchover is definitely going to be difficult, just as digital television was. Here are some choice cuts from the Daily Mail on that process: “Digital TV No Way Says One in Five” and “More than half of TV’s Can’t Get A Digital Signal“.
I do believe that there should be a digital route for the vast majority of analogue radio stations, not however at any cost. However, an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of switchover is for a much longer blog post.
What I would say is that these 1.3m people I talk about above (and the 8.7m in that category across the UK) have already decided that analogue-only stations are not the only choice for them.