In 2018, the UK listens to more radio digitally (through DAB, Digital Television and the internet) than they do through their AM and FM radio. Digital now accounts for 50.9% of listening and analogue the remainder. And it’s only going to grow.
If your business was built on being granted scarce spectrum and a local monopoly, your time is running out. Or if you’re successful because of the spectrum you’re on, rather than the programmes you make, then you are in trouble.
It’s not all going to fall apart tomorrow. There isn’t going to be a analogue switch-off in the next few years. But quarter by quarter it will get harder and harder to succeed.
The latest RAJAR figures show that unlike many countries around the world, our listeners aren’t disappearing, they’re just listening to other stuff.
Through a mixture of dumb luck and canny judgement we’ve managed to create a parallel radio product – digital radio – that for many people is better radio. Planet Rock, 6Music, Kisstory, 4 Extra, LBC outside of London, the return of Jazz FM, Fun Kids… 50 stations for everyone, rather than 15. Radios that are easy to use, car radios with more choice, less interference and crackle, better reception. We’ve upgraded the plane while keeping it flying.
All the investment in content has also meant that our internet products are much better and more interesting. We haven’t chucked up a load of jukeboxes, we’ve created well-programmed stations with presenters and content. Apps, Alexa, catch-up have all been enhanced because we created great, broadcast brands.
Taken together it has worked. This combination of new platforms and new content has replaced, in listeners minds, what radio is.
In the last year Absolute 80s is up to 1.5m listeners from 1.3m, Kisstory’s 1.8m (from 1.5m), 6Music’s at 2.5m (up from 2.3m), 1Xtra’s over a million, Heart 80s didn’t exist a year ago and now has 1.4m. Planet Rock’s kept it’s million, Jazz FM has hit 591k (up from 469k) and talkRADIO’s hit a high at 316k.
talkSPORT’s analogue audience has remained static over the past year – 1.6m. It’s digital audience has increased from 1.5m to 2m. Five Live’s analogue audience has dropped from 3m to 2.5m, whilst its digital audience is the one that’s holding steady at 3.5m. Absolute Radio now has more listeners on just DAB than it does on analogue, and that’s combining their AM network and the two big FM licences that they have in London and the West Midlands.
At home, digital listening now accounts for 58% of hours, at work it’s 55%. In car listening lags behind – but it’s still 33% digital. I don’t even think we’ve seen the impact of connected speakers in the home yet – that home digital number will be growing fast. And it won’t be from people’s first digital radio – it’ll be for their 2nd, 3rd and 4th device.
Now we’ve hit 50% it’s not surprise that people with analogue licences are starting to panic a little as suddenly it’s all. Very. Real.
But just returning to 5 Live and talkSPORT, they’re in an interesting position. AM is crap. It’s also getting worse, as more and more electrical things are interfering with the signal. For these brands, both of which have this great, premium football content, is AM really the best platform when positioning their brand? What’s interesting is if you look at average hours – for AM on talkSPORT it’s 4.9 and DAB is 6. For 5 Live it’s 4.5 on AM and 5.9 on DAB. If listeners convert to digital radio they listen longer to these radio stations. To me though, the people who are remaining on AM are probably the die-hards. I mean they have to love you if they’re taking that trouble to listen on AM. Just think what their average hours would be if it was a pleasant experience to listen to those radio stations.
The worry though, is stations always think “if we switch off AM (or any platform) will they find us on another one, or just stop listening”. If I was 5 Live or talkSPORT I think now’s the time to do a test. Turn off a region on AM and see what happens. My hunch would be that the net effect would see an hours increase (even if you lose a few listeners in the short term). I also think in the medium term it would be better for their brands to lose the AM association.
In London the regular battle for audience carries on, digital radio or not. The top 10 commercial stations, this time around (based on market share) are:
- LBC (5.4%)
- Heart (4.9%)
- Kiss (4.6%)
- Capital (4.4%)
- Magic (3.7%)
- Absolute Radio (3.1%)
- Smooth (2.1%)
- Radio X (1.8%)
- Capital Xtra (1.0%)
- Gold (0.9%)
LBC stays atop the chart through a combination of solid reach – 1.2m, but a stonking 8.9 average hours. That’s the key to its success. Heart London has more listeners – 1.49 million, but it’s average hour of 6.7 keep it number 2. Capital are 4th even though they have 2.1m listeners but average hours of just 4.2. Kiss’ listeners listen longer with 4.9 hours each meaning that even though they have less reach than Capital – at 1.9m – its the hours that drive them up the market share chart.
When you break down the demos, Kiss leads Capital in 15-24s, 15-34s and 15-44s in both reach and share. Capital’s 2.1m reach number really does reflect its broad heritage position, as 627k listeners of its listeners are over the age of 45.
The big battle in London, though, is over breakfast. There’s relatively new shows at Capital with Roman and Vick and at Magic with Ronan and Harriet. Over at Kiss, Rickie, Melvin and Charlie are now the heritage show in the market. Last quarter they managed to wrestle the number one breakfast show off of Capital, but they’ve lost it again as Roman increases a little to 1.023m vs RM&C at 968k.
Magic Breakfast has not fared so well down to 544k (vs 779k in the last quarter). They’ll definitely be disappointed and is probably the reason every London bus seems covered with a Ronan and Harriet poster and there’s heavy promotion in other dayparts.
In other news…
Radio 1 are going to be a bit disappointed. They had a good 2017, but the first quarter has seen reach drop to 9.4m, down from 9.8m in the last quarter, though up from 9.1m year on year. They’ve also been hit by a breakfast drop with Grimmy a smidge over 5m (down from 5.7m last quarter and 5.1m a year ago).
Key 103, soon to become Hits Radio saw reach drop a little to 382k (vs 385 quarter on quarter and 399k year on year). The Breakfast show follows the same pattern a little down q on q and y on y. The station’s figures have been pretty flat for the past 12 months – though a decade of decline seems to have bottomed out, so it’s probably a good time to make the change.
Most importantly, at our gaff we continue to RAJAR Fun Kids even though it only measures 10 plusses and so misses out our main audience! For this reason we just measure London rather than our full UK coverage. This allows us to benchmark ourselves against other stations when we talk about our audience to advertisers. And also means I can mention it in these blog posts of course.
Our 15+ audience in London has gone up from 50.9k to 58.7k (which means we’re bigger than talkRADIO, Union Jack and The Arrow in the capital) and our complete 10+ audience has increased from 89.7 to 91.2k (which is bigger in London than Magic Chilled and talkSPORT2).