Radio’s New Localness Rules

Ofcom’s announcement of their new localness guidelines is the staging post for the eventual removal of the majority of local programming rules for FM radio stations. It’s a tough subject to talk about as the implications for the jobs of people working in commercial radio are potentially pretty significant.

Of course all industries are affected by market forces and the changing natures of society, just ask the 4,000 people likely to lose their jobs from Debenhams. Mostly though, changes are subtle as companies evolve and change. Local radio, though, has always had government regulation, so any changes see a rush for radio groups to align with how they want to run their businesses.

But why is radio such a regulated business? Mostly history. The first commercial licences were awarded in the early 70s based on a beauty parade rather than a cash bid (something that has continued until today). The thinking was that spectrum was a public good and limited. You would be one of few people able to broadcast to an area, but in exchange you had to promise some public good – news, current affairs, specialist music etc – alongside the bits of programming where it was easier to make money. As an applicant you were happy to do that deal because what you were getting back was a scarce resource and massive barriers to any competition as there were few licences.

Over the years the scarcity of that public spectrum has reduced. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, the regulator advertised more and more licences. Secondly, radio consumption became multi-platform – with people listening on non/less regulated platforms like DAB/DTV and online. Thirdly, the rise of technology and the internet meant that becoming a new entrant into music, audio and any form of entertainment happened without any barriers to entry. The value of this scarce FM spectrum has been dropping and dropping, so the government has taken the view that the operators of this FM spectrum can reduce their local committments.

Indeed, the government has recently gone much further than what Ofcom have just announced. In their response to a radio consultation they stated that pretty much all localness requirements and music format rules would go. But to have that happen will need an Act of Parliament and Brexit has somewhat filled up available parliamentary time. They did say though:

In the meantime, the Government is open to and would support any moves by Ofcom to consider, in the light of the consultation responses received, whether there is scope for changes to its rules and guidance in lieu of longer-term reform.

In other words, the changes announced by Ofcom are them trying to achieve Government policy whilst legally fitting in with the current laws.

So, what have they come up with?

At the moment if you own any radio licences within any of the regions here then you’re allowed to treat them as a single radio station – that is, generally, you have to produce seven hours of local programming (between 6am and 7pm) and that must include the breakfast period. For example what used to be individual radio stations in Cornwall, Plymouth and Exeter could now be ‘Heart’ and share a single breakfast show, providing they provided local news reflecting each of the licences each hour in daytime.

The new rules see two changes. Firstly the regions get bigger, and now stations only have to broadcast three hours of local programming within that region. That local three hours can be at any time between 6am and 7pm, and doesn’t have to include Breakfast. So with our Heart example what was Cornwall, Plymouth and Exeter as well as Bristol, Gloucester, Bournemouth and Southampton could now share a single regional mid-morning show with the rest of the programming come from outside the region – say from Leicester Square, providing they provided local news reflecting each of the licences each hour in daytime.

The most common question I’ve been asked about this is “what do you think the big groups will do?”. I’m afraid I don’t know. These are big changes and it opens up lots of different scenarios. Firstly though it’s important to think about what prompts a change – and that’s generally money – this is commercial radio after all.

From a business perspective, the value of the local shows are that they can drive local audiences, that the teams can deliver local sponsorship and promotions as well as being a local face for the radio station. Now there’s some costs for delivering that – the local staff – but there’s the revenue you generate from it through things like local S&P and events. If the local revenue outweighs the costs then it makes sense to continue with local shows.

The other assumption is that the group’s always deliver the regulatory minimum – and that’s not always the case either. At the moment if you’re a regional radio station that also broadcasts the brand nationally on Digital One, then you can stop doing any local content on FM. Kiss has taken advantage of this, broadcasting their London programming on London FM as well as their regional FM licences in the East and West of England. Capital on the other hand, which has regional FM licences in the North East and Yorkshire, chooses to keep regional programming on those stations when broadcasting on Digital One means that they don’t need to.

When I look at the new regions, which are huge, I wouldn’t be surprised to see groups create their own combination of stations within the areas that better suit their businesses – I don’t think they’ll instantly create super regions with one daily show.

If they do decide that the local sponsorship and promotions money is not a fair exchange of the costs of delivering local programmes, then the other option is, of course, delivering up to eight local mid-morning programmes and the rest of the programmes coming from London, or the network centre.

These changes are also likely to have an affect on the attractiveness of independent groups and stations for acquisition by the bigger boys. We’ve seen some of it already with Bay and Juice Brighton being bought by Global and added to the Heart and Capital networks. They followed this up with 2BR, which is likely to become a Capital. The rule changes make it easier for them to deploy their brands onto more FM licences with minimal local commitments.

So is this the end of local radio and local breakfast shows? I thought I’d have a look at what the UK listens to at the moment and what is potentially under threat with these changes.

Within my RAJAR tool I’ve created some new combinations of stations – Nationals (Radio 1, Classic, Planet Rock etc), Networks (commercial brands like the Capitals, Hits Radio network etc that are likely to embrace the new opportunities), BBC Local Radio and Locals (stand alone commercial stations plus groups like Nation, UKRD and Lincs who are less likely than others to make significant changes). As people can of course listen to multiple types of stations in a week, I’m using the share of listening that these combinations have.

The thing that surprised me is how dominant national radio is at breakfast time. 68.3% of all breakfast listening is to the national stations. BBC Locals, something that isn’t affected by the changes, delivers an 8.4% share. The Networks account for 17.3% and the Locals accounts for 4.4%. So, collectively the local breakfast shows potentially under threat are consumed by just a fifth of available listeners.

Personally I’m a little torn by the changes. Fundamentally I’m a radio fan and I like that there’s a variety of presenters up and down the country delivering local and branded radio. I also lean to being a free-marketeer. It does seem crazy that in today’s world that when faced with unregulated competition from Facebook, digital television and digital radio, that local FM licences are forced to deliver specific output.

I think localness is an excellent way to win in a market. It’s a great difference that can serve audiences and the bottom line. There’s also a growing number of digital-only radio stations that have chosen to be local stations (without any regulatory encouragement) as they think that’s the way to build a business. But, of course, it’s not the only way to do it (as the success of national radio with listeners shows).

Like all great mediums, one size does not fit all and radio is no different. These new rules, taken on their own, are a big change for many. However, outside of FM, there have never been as many audio opportunities. I imagine there are more radio jobs now than there were in the peak of the local radio in the 90s. From the growth of new national digital radio stations to developments in podcasting, radio production skills have never been in demand by so many people (and listeners).

 

RAJAR Q3/2018

This is the Summer quarter – July, August, September – which tends to give bumpier results than usual, as listeners disrupt their regular patterns and behaviour. Whilst this can generate hiccups that get corrected later on, it can also be a quarter that accelerates change as the alterations in listeners’ lives (and their favourite presenters going on holls) mean they can tune around and sample new stations.

All of this crashes into the big structural shift in UK radio listening – the increasing number of stations people are listening to, driven by a larger and larger percentage of the population becoming multi-platform radio consumers. 65% of listeners have DAB Radios, the arrival of a new class of radios – the smart speaker – as well as the phone (powered by WiFi and 4G) teaching users through streaming services and podcast apps, that their device makes a pretty good radio too.

In reach terms, 71% of the UK population now listen to some form of digital radio (DAB, DTV and the Internet) each week, analogue isn’t that much higher at 76%. But when you look at the share of listening, digital has seen a bump to 52%.

This shift is starting to have a greater effect on what we think of as the traditional radio battles in different parts of the UK.

The chart below shows the reach of all the stations in London. Stations in blue are the digital stations, the black the analogue originals. The top part of the chart is as you would expect, Radio 4 and 2 sticking it out in front, Capital, Kiss and Radio 1 battling, Magic and Heart and so on. But the digital stations are starting to have more of an affect. Kisstory is bigger than stations with FM licences Absolute Radio and Capital Xtra.  Indeed for Capital Xtra who have always been hobbled by a poor FM signal, are starting to reap the benefits of their digital distribution. In London they’re in a better place than 1Xtra with nearly three times the reach and leaving Global stablemate Radio X in its wake. Nationally, the service is up to 1.8m (800k ahead of 1Xtra).

Also, on the right hand side of the chart we’re seeing that the AM coverage of specialist stations is now providing no real benefit now when compared to the digital onlys.

Also if BBC Radio London is trailing Radio 3, 4 Extra and is neck and neck with the World Service isn’t it time for some drastic changes? A station on all the platforms with significant BBC resources should be doing better than 20th.

Looking at commercial market share and the battle for number one in the capital – LBC rides high with 6.6%, Magic then at 4.4%, Kiss at 4.2%, Capital at 3.8% and Heart at 3.7%. So once again Capital can say it’s the number 1 hit music station based on reach and Kiss can say it’s bigger than Capital on market share.

In Manchester the changes aren’t as marked, but they’re coming…

Kiss as a strong digital brand is beating a local FM station XS Manchester with Kisstory, Absolute 80s and 6Music not far behind.

Manchester is an interesting market as a heritage leader in Key 103 has had its first full book as Hits Radio Manchester. This has seen its reach drop from 374k to 325k, its hours have fared worse dropping from 2.2m to 1.6m – its lowest RAJAR figures ever.

I’m not entirely surprised, RAJAR is a recall methodology, so there’s always been a certain bias to memorable stations, to heritage. You’re recalling what you’ve listened to when you fill in that diary on paper, computer or your phone, so old stations are going to be more front of mind. They’re now the challenger brand in the market with Capital and Smooth being the heritage stations. It doesn’t help that these brands are backed by strong marketing and well-programmed output. Finding a niche for Hits Radio will require more marketing and much noisier programming. I’m afraid though it’s only likely to get worse before it gets better, I don’t think we’ve seen the bottom yet.

What is interesting though is that the new format – music, networked shows and production – has been rolled out on many of the BCN/Hits Radio network FM stations. Success has been mixed. Some increases for TFM, Hallam and Radio Aire, Free Coventry, but others have seen strong declines – Viking FM dropping to 129k reach from 169k q on q and from 217 year on year, it’s also about halved its hours. Free Radio in Birmingham’s running at its lowest ever audience 254k (down from 308k q on q, 262 y on y) and losing about a quarter of its hours.

Radio City saw its audience fall back a little to 344k reach/1.9m hours, but what has been growing is its relatively new FM sister – the AC Radio City 2. It’s seen gradual growth over the past year, now with a reach of 218k and hours of 2.1m, which means Radio City 2 has a greater market share than Radio City. This strong duopoly is about to be replicated in the West Midlands as Bauer flip Absolute Radio on FM into a similarly formatted AM station.

Over at the BBC, Radio 1 has pulled back a little q on q, back up to 9.6m leaving it relatively flat year on year (9.7m). This book shows a little positive news for R1 Breakfast, which is a majority Grimmy quarter, with a few weeks of Greg – it’s now at 5.44m (up from 5.37 q on q and 5.02 y on y). The next book will see how Greg fares.

Over at Radio 2, this will be Chris Evans’ penultimate book before he moves to Virgin Radio.  He’s seen a marginal drop – 8.8m reach from 9.0m q on q (and 9.3, y on y) this change is reflected in Radio 2’s top line figure – 14.6m (down from 14.9 q on q and 15.3 y on y).

A lot’s been written about Jo and Simon on Radio 2 Drivetime, you’d assume it was bickering and tone based on the commentary. The numbers however shown some small changes. The times are slightly different for the new show (5pm to 8pm rather than 5pm to 7pm) so it’s not directly comparable. But if you compare this timeslot the current reach is 5.5m – down from 5.9m q on q and 5.8m y on y, but not something mortifying.

More to read:
Adam Bowie, Paul Easton and John Rosborough

The Audio Content Fund

I’m overjoyed that DCMS today announced the arrival of the Audio Content Fund. It’s £1m a year, from the Government, for radio stations of scale to broadcast great public service programmes from a variety of production companies.

It all came about when the Government announced they were working on a content fund for television perhaps concentrating on genres that were hard to fund in today’s society – particularly children’s programmes. As the discussions for that were happening I started talking to people about how it shouldn’t be a TV fund but a cross-media one. I felt that if you’re creating public service media for children, that just keeping it on broadcast television – especially today – seemed a little anachronistic, and that it should be open for radio and new media too. I also run a children’s radio station, so you can understand why I was quite keen that the scheme be expanded!

RIG (now AudioUK) were very supportive of this, so we worked together to start talking to more people about it. I even wrote this piece for Broadcast magazine.

As part of those discussions we started a conversation with the DCMS, who were positive, but felt that the TV fund wasn’t the vehicle to do it. So instead we started having some exploratory meetings about what an audio fund could look like. First of all I started to ask some big commercial broadcasters about whether they would be happy to run public service material funded this way on their networks – things they would like to do, but couldn’t commercial justify. They were all positive.

Me, Will Jackson from AudioUK, Phil Critchlow, Audio UK’s chair and their policy expert Tim Wilson then had an interesting meeting with some of the policy team at DCMS where we explained how radio was made (commercially and at the BBC) as well as how the commercial radio business model worked. It was definitely a light bulb meeting for them, as they realised the cost-effectiveness of making public service programmes and broadcasting them on radio stations of scale, like commercial radio, would be.

AudioUK then started working with RadioCentre and doing the hard work with the Government which has resulted in what’s been announced today. The short version – £1m per year for radio stations of scale – to commission and broadcast public service programmes. It’s the cousin project to the £20m a year TV fund for children’s content administered by the BFI. The Audio Content Fund will be managed by a new company operated by RadioCentre and AudioUK – they’ll award the money to programme makers under the guidelines set by DCMS.

I think this really is a win-win for everybody. Commercial radio gets to commission quality programmes that they want to have on their networks, but can’t afford to do day-to-day. Production companies get an outlet for public service ideas that isn’t the BBC. This means more commissions for them (and new income), but it also means some competition for the BBC for these ideas.

At the moment many of the inefficiencies in the BBC’s radio commissioning structure stem from the fact that there’s no competition for great radio ideas. In television, the commissioning process has changed for the better because the influx of competition from Netflix and Amazon has meant the BBC now needs to be faster and more flexible. From discussions with BBC colleagues, the podcast commissioning rounds have also generated very different responses than radio, because there are a far broader range of outlets and business models for great podcast ideas – the BBC is just one. Again – it’ll change how the BBC works, for the better. Whilst £1m is perhaps only around 5% of what the BBC spend on outside commissions, it’s certainly a good start and will help invigorate radio commissioning.

More good programmes on a variety of commercial radio stations will also be good for ‘radio as a product’. If you consider all of the stations on broadcast radio (BBC and commercial) and our cross-platform delivery of them as a single product that we’re presenting to consumers – something I think is essential for radios continued relevance – then the addition of great shows can only enhance our offer. More great programmes can only ever be a good thing.

I’m excited to see what this new £1m a year delivers for commercial radio and listeners.

More information about the fund: audiocontentfund.org.uk

Chris Evans Leaves Radio 2 for Virgin Radio

Chris Evans announced he was leaving Europe’s biggest breakfast show at 8.15am, and by 10am NewsCorp’s the Wireless Group had announced that he was taking over the Virgin Radio breakfast show.

To say this is a coup for Virgin Radio would be a massive understatement. There is absolutely no reason for Evans to take a job on a digital-only station that’s currently only reaching around 400k listeners when his current show reaches nearly 10million. He’s already a rich man and scoops over £1m a year for the Radio 2 breakfast show. Talking to people at Radio 2 it seemed there was a worry that he was getting a bit bored (a recurring Evans trope) but there was no desire for him to leave.

On deciding to move, he would have had the pick of any radio station in the country. Especially as we approach a point where the big groups can network breakfast, there would have been no one to turn him down.

Chris, though, has always been a master of reinvention, grasping the media narrative and doing the unexpected. And surely there’s nothing more front page worthy than a seeking ‘return’ to Virgin Radio.

For younger readers, the 90s and early 00s saw a tsunami of stories as Chris abandoned the Radio 1 Breakfast show for not giving him Fridays off, decamped to Virgin Radio for a ten week contract, stuck around by buying the radio station, parlayed that into a £225m sale to SMG, fell out with SMG, quit the show and was sued by them and pretty much lost all the money. Rehabilitated by Radio 2 he eventually took on the breakfast show, grew Wogan’s audience and helped the station get its highest ever ratings.

So returning to Virgin has a very much unfinished business feeling about it. The station itself was rebranded to Absolute Radio ten years ago, but the brand was re-licenced by the Wireless Group three years ago when they won the 2nd national multiplex.

It’s ownership by NewsCorp is probably central to Evans’s return. Chris’s tabloid heyday meant that I’m sure he’s always had a relationship with Rebecca and co. Additionally NewsCorp’s ambitions in radio are aggressive. Currently trailing behind Global and Bauer in a far off third place and with very few stations of scale left to buy, a strategy to grow the national digital stations is the right one, and who best to achieve that than the biggest presenter in the country.

For Chris though, what a gamble, a challenge that is very Evans-esque. Can you take a, to many, unheard of radio station and push it to the top of the charts? In some ways there’s already been a dry-run of this with Chris Moyles helming the launch of Radio X. It’s been a success for Global, though a slower one than many at Leicester Square hoped and also one that only happened three years after he left Radio 1.

I’m sure Chris’s appearance on Virgin won’t be be taking that long.

New BBC Local Radio Evening Shows

Radio Today is starting to list the new shows that local BBC radio stations are launching at 7pm to replace their previously networked programmes.

It stems from a speech last year from BBC Director General Tony Hall where he said:

“Local Radio should be for everybody. It’s there to serve the Facebook generation every bit as much as the rest of us. My ambition for BBC Local Radio is for it to have more creative freedom, to celebrate local life, to be the place where we report local news but also the place we reflect local identity, nurture local talent and engage local audiences through digital platforms. I want to see a renaissance in Local Radio.”

It’s a great sentiment but it, and the announced shows, demonstrate the inherent conflict between building successful radio stations and delivering public purposes.

Let’s look at BBC WM’s new shows

BBC WM 95.6 has a different show each night on offer.

Samantha Meah, back on-air at the station after 20 years will host a Monday Night Party, and chatting about how it feels to be 50 in Birmingham and the Black Country.

DJ Vital, the grime, rap, and dancehall specialist from Wolverhampton, is launching his Tuesday evening show tonight (28th August), with arts and entertainment features.

Wednesday and Thursday evenings now play to the sound of Sasha Simone, The Voice finalist and former Brummie and bricky. WM says Sasha will tackle the issues that young people are facing and brings her own selection of music to the station.

The new schedule also sees BBC WM producer Lisa Smith debut her new Friday night music show, Lady Lisa’s Kitchen Disco, featuring the biggest songs from the seventies, eighties and nineties ‘to make a quiet night in feel like a big night out’.

At the moment 66% of WM’s audience at 7pm is over 55. I’m sure they’ll enjoy the new show on the Monday. I think Tuesday will perhaps be tough going. Rap and Dancehall fans will probably not entirely be on board with a speech show around young issues on Weds and Thurs, and those teenagers are unlikely to be into club classics on a Friday.

Across the whole station, 76% of WM’s audience is over 45 (and 59% is over 55). Over time their programming and brand values has led to local listeners understanding what it does. The closest thing they have to a youth programme – BBC Introducing on Saturday nights at 8pm to 10pm – already has no listeners under 45. Young people do not see BBC WM as a home for their ears.

Indeed, younger audiences on the whole, are not the appointment to listen generation. Their media consumption is driven by easy to understand branded environments – using channel choice as a tap to deliver something specific or a la carte on-demand consumption through services like Netflix, podcasts and Spotify.

It’s a similar story for ethnic groups and specialist music fans. A single show a week on a station that’s built no brand association with a topic has an almost zero chance of any ratings success. And when I talk about ratings, in this context I’m talking about something that demonstrates a target audience is consuming the programmes made for them.

The only thing that give these programmes any chance of success is through above the line marketing. Advertising the shows to existing listeners isn’t particularly helpful because as we know (for WM)  it’s predominantly 45+ (and 84% white). Promos after the local TV opt-outs is also not particularly helpful as TV and local news has an older average audience. So to tell people that these exist they’ll need to be investment in outdoor, direct mail, digital etc.

Now do I believe that the BBC should be creating local programmes for diverse audiences and should they be catering for a broad selection of local licence fee payers – including those under 45? Yes, absolutely – the problem is that the existing local radio station is not an effective delivery mechanism for this. Indeed it’s probably counter-productive as existing listeners will find their station is less relevant for them and it will promote the sampling of other stations.

It’s also not as if the BBC hasn’t realised ghettoising programmes on networks doesn’t work. Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra ran children’s programmes on those channels. What was the result? No children listened and it interrupted the flow for the regular listeners. They knew there was public value in kids shows, but hoping this audience would magically find and turn up for them was naive. The shows were axed and they now provide an online channel in the form of Cbeebies Radio.

So in a modern media environment what should the BBC do to launch programmes for broader demographics?

Firstly they need to establish a local brand and products that they can use to communicate to different audiences. They also need to integrate this into the BBC’s existing output.

Firstly I would re-imagine bbc.co.uk/derby or similar as a true local aggregation of content and information for broad audiences. At the moment it’s very local news-driven, instead it should be a bit more love of local life. It should be picking up a local band who’s performing on the BBC Introducing stage at Reading, referencing that a local stately home is hosting the Antiques Roadshow and featuring interviews with big names from the local area. It should be a digital product that can then highlight local content across all of the BBC’s output.

I also wouldn’t limit this to BBC platforms. A Derby YouTube page, Twitter and Facebook should exist, reaching the audiences where they are, and not being limited to local news and instead tuned to the demographics of each of those platforms. The BBC is perfectly placed to launch a local podcast for each area, again reaching out to people who have an interest in their area.

Secondly, new shows can’t just be one three-hour programme on the radio. If you’re trying to launch output that reaches particular communities, randomly choosing a single platform – the radio – to reach them is basically a gamble. Once again these shows should be mini-brands in all of the relevant places. The content should be platform agnostic. If your response to that is that we haven’t got the resources to do it – THEN YOU SHOULDN’T BE LAUNCHING THEM ANYWAY!

Thirdly, these shows should be able to be promoted programmatically throughout the rest of the BBC’s digital output. It would clearly be a non-starter to promote a local show nationally after Eastenders, but promoting the WM Asian show as a pre-roll to logged in Asian audiences in the West Midlands before catching up on Eastenders in iPlayer? A much better option.

Similarly all of the BBC’s digital output should be designed so local content can be traffic’d to reach the right audiences.

Fourthly, if you want local radio to reach new audiences, don’t mess up your existing channel, launch a new one. Spin offs, be it Absolute80s or 1Xtra have demonstrable success. With DAB, local Freeview and online there would be decent enough distribution to reach local audiences. Modern production techniques, voice tracking, re-using material and introducing new voices, all made by existing local radio production staff is entirely deliverable today.

A new channel would also be easier to promote to new people without complicating the existing, successful brands.

Launching a wave of one-off shows on local radio as a way of trying to grow reach and deliver to new audiences is based on outdated thinking about how modern audiences consume media. More crucially its a waste of the time and effort that all the teams will be putting into their content. If the BBC truly wants to reach new, local audiences, it’s got to think about platforms, marketing and the right content not just shoving 60-odd new shows on the radio, one day a week, at 7pm.

RAJAR: Q2/2018

This RAJAR seems to be the prologue for lots of changes to come. It doesn’t give us the full picture on the new Hits Radio network, Radio 1’s updated schedule or what’s really happening with Radio 2 drive. It does, however, continue to track the ever-changing nature of our sector and how some new entrants can make quite the impact, whilst others seem to make none at all.

The Jack family of stations (Jack, Jack 2 and Jack 3) in Oxfordshire now has a bigger share than Heart’s family of stations (and indeed just the local Heart too) in its own TSA. It’s also bigger than Heart in Heart’s Oxford TSA too.

On a Jack-a-tip, it’s interesting to look at Sam FM Bristol and South Coast when compared to the days they were branded Jack. In the South Coast they’ve halved the hours they had in Q2 2012-15 and in Bristol it’s similar, halving their share from the 2013 to 2015 period. On the face of it similar formats, but the marketing and brand execution is very different and delivers very different results.

Not a great book for Radio 1. It’s their 2nd lowest ever total reach, down to 9.2m and their 2nd lowest 15-24 reach too – down to 2.5m. Capital, across the UK (but with worse distribution) manages nearly that, with 2.2m 15-24s. The gap is certainly narrowing.

Radio 1 will be changing up the schedule, swapping Greg and Grimmy at the beginning of Q4 – but is it enough to reverse this trend? To me, right now, Radio 1 seems an odd listen. When I tune in it can be in a Kisstory-style Greatest Hits hour (playing songs that were released when an 18 year old wasn’t even born), a single link music sweep in the Summer Mix or different presenters depending on whether it’s Thursday or Friday. It’s a lucky dip when I tune in and seems to lack the familiarity and consistency that delivers audience for successful radio stations.

Capital’s 2.2m 15-24s seem a good figure when compared to Radio 1, but that’s alongside a relatively bad result for Capital in London where it’s slipped to number 4 in the commercial share table (3.6%), being beaten by LBC (6.4%), Kiss (4.3%) and Magic (4.2%). As well as share, Kiss has also beaten Capital on total reach – 2,087m vs 2,063m. An amazing success for Kiss which means I’m not sure how Capital will be able to say that they’re London’s Number 1 Hit Music Station any more. Well, at least it’ll mean an update to this page on the website.

What is weird is there wasn’t even a mention of this London success for Kiss in Bauer’s RAJAR press release. You’d think going number 1 in London would be worthy of a mention!

It’s somewhat early days for Bauer on the Hits Radio front. The re-branded Key 103 only existed for one month of the six months that this quarter’s figures cover. So it’s Manchester reach of 374k is marginally down on last q’s 382k and marginally up on a year ago’s 369k.

The new Hits Radio network (the national Hits Radio plus what was the Big City Network) reaches 6.7m people, making it the third biggest commercial network after Heart (8.6m) and Capital (7.4m). Following it are Classic FM (5.1m), Smooth (4.9m), Kiss (4.5m), Magic (3.2m), talkSPORT (2.8m) and Absolute Radio (2.5m). Kisstory isn’t far behind as the highest performing commercial digital only station, racking up an impressive 2m listeners.

Radio 2 maintains its dominant position scooping up nearly 1 in 5 of every hour listened to on UK Radio. Its reach dropped a fair chunk quarter on quarter to 14.9m (from 15.4m), but that’s still up year on year (from 14.8m). The new Simon Mayo and Jo Whiley Drivetime show hasn’t had a full quarter yet so it’s hard to discern if the change has had as much as an effect that a vocal bunch would have you believe. I think there was about 6 weeks of the old and 6 weeks of the new show in this quarter, and so far it’s still delivering around the same audience that slot has had for the last year. It’s now at 6.4m vs last quarter’s 6.3m and last year’s 6.4m. However, only time will tell.

At our gaff, we had quite a good book for our children’s radio station Fun Kids. We only measure our London audience, but for 15+ our reach is 64k and 10+ its at 99k. Sadly RAJAR doesn’t measure our core audience – under 10s. However 10+ in London makes us bigger than talkRADIO, talkSPORT2, Absolute Radio 70s, The Arrow, Union Jack and lots more. Which we’re very happy about.

That’s it for RAJAR fun this quarter, but if you’re the kind of person that reads the blog, you need to come along to mine and James Cridland’s radio ideas conference – Next Radio. It’s on the 17th September and we’ve just announced the vast majority of the line-up. Ask your boss to send you. And if they say no, then it’s probably the excuse you need to look for a new job.

More to read:
Adam Bowie, Paul Easton and John Rosborough

RAJAR Q1/2018: Analogue Radio Falls

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.

Switchover

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.

London

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).

More to read:
Adam Bowie, Paul Easton and John Rosborough

Alexa, are you radio’s saviour?

When you have a problem there’s always a bit of you that hopes something will magically happen that won’t make it a problem any more. Of course, wish-based solutions aren’t the most reliable.

For radio stations that don’t have a well-thought out distribution strategy, there seems to be a hope that ‘the internet’ will solve any problems. IN THE FUTURE, these people often say, you won’t have to worry about FM or DAB (or whatever), THE INTERNET will make all that irrelevant.

The current adjunct to all of that is that SMART SPEAKERS are radio’s future.

But first, let’s rewind. What are radio’s problems?

Radio listening is pretty steady – 90% of the population consuming around a billion hours a week of radio – and it’s been like that for a long time. I think the key thing to be concerned about has been around young audiences – 15 to 24s.

Clearly there’s been a decline for both, though I think reach has held up pretty well – radio in the last 12 months reaches 80% to 84% of youngsters whereas 10 years ago it did 87% to 89%.

Hours have seen a much greater decline. It’s now 90m vs 10 years ago when it was 130m. However, though we’ll see what the next lot of data says in the coming weeks, if anything (looking at the last two years) I think that decline is slowing.

Why’s it been dropping though? Well, I think that’s two things.

Firstly radio, up until the beginning of the naughties has a lock on free music and entertainment. In 2000 – little broadband, no data on mobiles, we’d only had Sky Digital and Channel 5 for three years. Radio existed in a lucky monopoly. Limited new radio entrants, no real digital products and limited mass media competition. I think we have to look at 1973-2000 as the ‘we didn’t know we had it so good’ years. If anything youth consumption (and what will follow as that group age) is really just a true market correction.

I think our second issue is a lack of radio product development for teenagers.

Of course there’s stations like Radio 1, Capital and Kiss but they’re not really designed for teenagers. They need to have broader 15-34 appeal. Capital delivers more 35+ hours than it does 15 to 34s and for Radio 1 and Kiss around 40% of their hours are 35+ too.

Bauer’s in the process of closing The Hits, it closed Smash Hits quite a while ago and Kerrang has less distribution than its had in the past. Radio 1 itself is now playing significant ‘greatest hits’ content.

I find it difficult to listen to the radio sector prattling on about it being really important how we get young people to listen to the radio when they don’t really provide that much to grow the next generation of radio listeners.

Anyway, I digress, so if we hold demographic changes as a threat – some decline today with the young (and a potential for that to grow across other demos in the future) what else have we got?

Well, I think the big threat isn’t to the medium, I think its to prior business models. As mentioned before, in the ‘never had it so good years’ the market was entirely invented – a planned economy. The regulator decided where radio stations should be, what content they should provide and whether they got any competition.

The radio sector now, with 50% listening through digital platforms, is a market-led economy. Many small stations are still trying to operate the same business models they operated in the 90s without understanding that their competitive environment has changed. And that’s not just audiences with a choice of what station to consume. That car dealer who used to only be able to advertise with you? Now they can use Google AdSense and appear on local computers and mobiles with targeted messaging.

For decent sized local radio stations there used to be a nice national revenue cheque appearing each month. The inventory was sold at a lower price than local and it was a bit annoying around Christmas, but fundamentally it was free money. Now though, Global and Bauer’s share deals means that spot revenue isn’t as easy to come by.

This is why I get confused when people say that the internet as the delivery mechanism of the future will put everyone on the same playing field. Why? Let me get this straight, you want to gamble the way people listen to you at the moment (primarily for devices designed for that purpose) and you want to swap it to a device where you face untold more competition AND on a device that makes it harder to find you?

If a radio person says to you that the internet is the future for radio, the question to always ask them is “what’s your station’s website like and how does it do financially?”. If the answer is “it’s not very good or doesn’t make much money” then ask why you think they’ll be able to do any better in an internet-delivered audio world.

There are lots of companies that have made a fortune on the internet, where it has truly transformed what they do. It’s usually because they’ve smashed a monopoly, or the barriers of entry to a sector. It hasn’t tended to have come from the people who’s monopoly has been smashed.

If anything, Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo, only exacerbate the problem for small or new stations. Why? Because you need to know the name of the radio station to get it to play for you. New station discovery on those devices will be non-existent – there’s no channel guide or EPG to look at. The only people who will be successful in that space are those with brands and/or non-radio marketing spend.

So is it all doom and gloom? No, not at all.

I think there are a number of things that radio as a platform and radio stations themselves need to do to secure a strong future for their businesses.

1. Radio as product. Think about the radio ‘offer’. What is it that radio provides audiences? And can we make all of the UK get that product? That’s about content, being free-to-air, on any platform, but on those platforms always easy to use and easy to find. It’s the BBC and commercial radio nationally – 40-odd stations that cover the vast majority of interests and it’s local stations and those with local content too.

Yes there’s probably some build-out still to do, but the vast majority of people can get this radio product today. Rather than battling against each other shouldn’t we be selling these bundle of stations like Sky or Virgin do?

2. Primary radio platforms. We shouldn’t forget our biggest positive is that loads of consumers have these cheap boxes, that they like, that does ‘playing free audio’ really easily. FM is pretty good, but DAB is better. It’s better because it improves the radio offer. We deliver a better (and larger) bunch of stations, to more people in an easy to use device. Consumers have a better radio experience – a better experience of our platform through that device. A better radio product in that device means that Spotify and Bluetooth’d podcasts and all the rest has a harder fight to unseat us.

I’m absolutely not saying that we shouldn’t be in other places – of course we need to be everywhere. BUT we need to re-enforce our core broadcast platform. Right now we overwhelmingly own the audio space – we should defend it mercilessly, whilst attacking other platforms and colonising them with our great radio product.

The best thing I’ve learned from the Norway analogue switch-off is that they’ve upgraded the radio product. Everywhere gets more radio stations, some are new digital only others were the old analogue stations that just didn’t go to all parts of the country. Strikingly some of the ‘new’ stations have overnight become the most popular stations in the country. It turns out that analogue radio wasn’t delivering the services that consumers wanted, so when it went all digital their listening reflected their true desires, rather than relying on the planned economy of the 80s!

Getting people off FM is important. As digital listeners they get a better radio product. They will consume more radio and listen to more radio stations when they’ve been converted. The faster we move people across, the longer they’ll be exposed to our radio brands – and the deeper connection we’ll make with them. We don’t want people to think ‘there’s nothing on the radio’ if they’ve only got an FM radio and live outside of a big city.

I wouldn’t switch off FM tomorrow and I’d much rather consumers switched themselves – but it’s in our best interest to be more aggressive. Let’s send a clear message from stations and government that analogue will be ending (that doesn’t even necessary mean a date), let’s stop analogue only radios being sold, let’s turn off some more AM stations. At the same time we should be better promoting the content offer and reasons to switch.

3. The non-linear offer. Stations have to be delivering audio and multi-media that isn’t just re-hashed versions of what’s on their linear stream. I hate to break it to you, but the mobile phone is never going to be a successful linear radio. A phone is all about choice, interactivity and personalisation. Growth is not going to come from linear radio. Yes – of course – have an app that streams your station and be on Radioplayer etc – but it will, at best, replace some existing listening from a different linear device.

If you want to be successful digitally you need new products. You need to use the money you make from, and the talent that makes your linear broadcast to build out new products. What’s your podcast strategy? If it’s ‘Best of the Breakfast Show’ go into the iTunes chart and see how many of those do well. Where is your expertise – local, music, comedy, news – whatever it is to build out a suite of audio products and use your linear channels to kick start them and grow your scale. Podcasts, flash briefings, short-form clips – it could be anything.

What are you doing differently on video? I’m sorry you spent all of that money fixing cameras (with generally poor lines of sight) in your buildings, but clips from studios rarely work on YouTube. You are trying to impose your media style on a platform that has devised its own. Learn from the vloggers they build relationships and audiences with content – we should be great at that!

Have you got a content management system that allows you to distribute your content to new devices that may pop up? If you do good local news is it formatted for Google Assistant, Facebook Instant Stories, Apple News, AMP etc? Is it in a CMS that can easily cope with new places that might appear. Have you got someone who can mangle the XML to get it to spit it out to these new places? BTW, good local news isn’t just pasting your radio bulletin cue into the CMS and attaching a 12-second bit of audio.

4. Devote less time to social. Is your social media activity resulting in listening, web traffic or money? I’ve worked with stations where the answer is an emphatic yes and others where it’s a no. Post like counts or number of shares are addictive to see. But are we feeding that monster with content for our own gratification or does it do anything for our core business? Are you building content that benefits you? Are you creating audiences on platforms that you can monetise directly? Audiences that you control the relationship with rather than an algorithm?

5. Use your skills away from the live stream. I think radio has some great special skills. Entertaining DJs, local knowledge, access to guests, strong relationships with listeners, a news team, a sales team well-connected in the community, studio gear, events expertise, and much more. Why do we apply almost all that effort into just the linear stream? What a waste!

6. The only constant is change. Doing what you’ve done in the past, when there was less competition for ears and cash and hoping that everything will sort itself out will not work now, let alone in the futre.

Radio will maintain its relevance and grow by being focused on consumers and delivering them the best product we can on as many devices as possible, but also providing great reasons to get them and keep them on the platforms where we have a better chance of winning.

Radio stations will only maintain their relevance and grow their businesses by using their amazing skills to build and deliver great audio and consumer products to their listeners.

The Hits-ification of Bauer’s Big City Network

Interesting news today from Bauer about Key 103 and the new Hits Radio.

One of the results of there being lots of multi-platform listening in the UK is that there’s been a large increase in national radio listening. Some of this is from new stations like 6Music and another chunk is from stations that used to be in one part of the country but are now national, for example LBC went from being a London station to a nationwide one. The other thing we’ve seen is the rise of the network – so stations previously called Galaxy (and other names) have taken on the moniker of another station – as is the case with Capital. For Heart, Capital and Smooth they try and balance the best of both worlds – a tight national format but localised FM and DAB distribution so they’re able to sell local as well as national ads. Kiss went the other way taking three regional FM stations and just running one service (including ads) everywhere.

Over the past few years Bauer and Global have been very busy re-arranging their portfolio and launching new stations. Indeed they’ve probably pushed each other on quite a bit.

Bauer’s had a lot of success with its national strategy with successful extensions for Kiss and Magic following the Absolute spin-off formula and good national DAB distribution.

The locals – your Key 103s and Hallam FMs have perhaps fared less well. A combination of an explosion in new national choice and then Capital and Heart either side of you on local FM puts you in a difficult spot. Do you go young, old, do you do the same thing etc. There’s probably no perfect answer. Defence is always difficult. The other difficulty is historically those FMs were very profitable too.  Any big changes might affect that income, but no change may mean your storing up even more problems for the future.

Bauer’s had two strategies for this locally. The first was the creation of 1, 2, 3 stations (I wrote about this when it was announced). The FM would be 1, the AM would be 2 and what was The Hits became 3. They’d all share the local branding so Hallam FM, Hallam 2 and Hallam 3. The benefits of this were that you’d double down on a local position and have three differentiated outlets for local advertising. Programming on all of them could be a mixture of local and national to taste. I didn’t think this was too bad an idea, but it hasn’t seemed to work. 2 has been kept whilst 3 has returned to being The Hits. As very much an outsider it didn’t seem that they really went for it. To make that sort of change you need a lot of marketing money to explain to non-listeners what you’re doing and what’s now available. All the stations should have heavily cross-promoted and web and social should have been aligned around the local name and always demonstrating the options listeners have. In the end it didn’t seem that there was loads of local buy in and ownership of all three stations and alongside little marketing, it all fell away.

Bauer’s other strategy has been around profit. They have successfully kept the contribution up by increasing the ad minutage, launching more premium rate contesting, promoting their own gigs and pushing their offers platform – often resulting in 16mins of ads per hour. At one station they were even putting up physical banners around their building. Gotta hit those targets!

Now the point of commercial radio is the first part of the phrase – commercial. If it’s generating the money you want, then good luck to you. Now clearly this has an affect on audiences – but local ad money is less reliant on the RAJAR figures – so if the audience drop doesn’t really affect your bottom line does the ad volume really matter?

I think the real question is whether there’s a point of no return? At some point do the figures drop to somewhere where they can’t be defended and your local commercial radio competitors can chip away at your high value commercial clients leaving you with lower value, and declining, national revenue matching your declining hours. Maybe. Perhaps in some places rather than others? I genuinely don’t have the answer.

Key 103, in particular, has had a bad time.

This will be a combination of new competition – national digital and more focussed FM, a squeezed programme proposition, a changing diverse area and that high ad load.

Their announcement today is that Key 103 is being replaced by Hits Radio a new hybrid radio station with two versions – one tailored specifically for Manchester and another for the whole of the UK. The stations will share the same talent including Gethin Jones, Gemma Atkinson and (Comedy) Dave Vitty on Breakfast and the services will come from the Manchester team.

This is a gamble for Bauer – Key 103 has a lot of heritage, but that heritage will be baggage for some and I’ll guarantee that their research will include statements like “it’s the station my Mum listens too”. Declaring brand bankruptcy is HARD but it’s probably the right thing to do.

Also a national mainstream 25-44 station with decent presenters and production support is also a good new national radio station to have. It also takes a bit of the fight to the competitors too.

Now the bits I find confusing:

There’s no announcement that it’ll be on national DAB. It’s instead on the same rag-bag bunch of local multiplexes, and no mention of it being even on London, so it’s difficult to do any clear marketing. This is especially weird as the press release talks about bringing the station “55% of the UK not currently targeted by Bauer City Network, with our clear ambition to become the largest radio network in the UK”. Yes, Freeview and Online make you ‘national’, but DAB is where all the listening is.

In the release Bauer make reference to it being the flagship of the new Hits Network (which is what was BC1) so I’m guessing that the network shows on Hits Radio will go on the local stations (like Hallam), it seems that some taglines have recently changed to be more Hits-y. I’d also imagine there’s the option of re-branding each/some locals as Hits [Area] at some point.

But it also seems that Hits Radio is to be replacing The Hits (a 15-24 youth service) on the local multiplexes, particularly the northern ones where there are other Bauer BC1 services like Hallam, Radio Aire etc. So now on DAB in Sheffield they’ll be Hallam FM, Hallam 2 and Hits Radio (playing similar music to Hallam (same log?) with some of the same shows and then some other different, more well known presenters). Oh and probably less commercial reads. Even more great news if your a local PC!

I’m excited for the new station, I’m interested in the re-brand of Manchester and how it’s supported (and whether that could be a good, positive, plan for some other under-performing Bauer areas). I’m also keen to see whether they tackle the ad load issue.

However, the distribution seems a bit, er, sub-optimal, it’s a confusing proposition for the London agencies who don’t pay that much attention at the best of times and perhaps wastes what seems like good effort put into a new station’s programming. I don’t see if they start down this path how the end-point can be anything other than a re-brand of at least the English stations and national DAB coverage.

I know it’s the first announcement and more details will follow but nearly 10 years on from the Heart re-brand, if Bauer’s aim really is to bring the Hits Radio brand to the 55% of the country that can’t get BC1, shouldn’t they just get on with it?

UPDATE: News from the boss…

RAJAR Q4/2018 – The Trend’s Your Friend

Looking through the final book of 2017 there’s few big changes, but perhaps more evidence of noticeable trends for radio as a medium and for some stations in particular.

BBC

At the BBC, Radio 1 has grown reach every quarter this year. A good sign for the team there, who have had a tough few years. Whilst not a trend, Breakfast had its best book in quite a while, with reach up to 5.7m (up from 4.9m quarter on quarter and up from 5.3m year on year). Live Lounge month and the 50th birthday being good tent pole moments for the station. 1Xtra’s following a similar pattern with growth over the year and a 25% increase in hours year on year.

BBC Radio 2 has generally been going in the right direction all through 2017, finishing on 15.4m – a year on year and quarter on quarter increase. Its hours have also grown year on year, now to a stonking (best ever!) 190m. Nearly one in five of every hour listened to on the radio, is to Radio 2.

When people talk about radio’s apparent decline, point to Radio 1 and Radio 2. They’re growing reach and hours, not shrinking.

6Music has pretty much plateaued with a reach of around the 2.3m mark all year. Is there more growth left in it? Does the very stable schedule need a little re-invention to take it higher?

Global

The main Capital, Heart and Smooth networks have not been so rosy. They peaked in Q2 where they were looking very strong, but they’ve fallen back over the past few quarters. On a brand level (taking into account spin offs like Heart 80s, Smooth Extra, Capital Xtra etc) the decline’s been blunted, but have these networks reached peak audience?

Definitely in growth has been Radio X which has had five straight books of reach and hours increases. Weekly reach of 1.58m and now 11m hours is good news for Global. Moyles too has done well. 7 straight quarters of growth, taking his national audience to 909k reach. Moyles’ breakfast reach is now bigger than the XFM network’s reach total in their final all-XFM book before the re-brand.

Bauer

Kiss has been going in the right direction for a little while, now with its best book in 18 months with 4.6m reach. Its sister brands Kiss Fresh (578k reach) and Kisstory (1.7m) have remained at similar levels for the past few books.

It’s the same story for the Magics (the main one, Soul, Chilled, Mellow) who have all been pretty stable. It’s early days for Ronan and Harriet on Breakfast, but they’re now at the slot’s 2nd highest ever figures at 1.4m, it’ll be interesting to see if their evolution and growth has a positive impact on Magic in 2018.

Absolute Radio had a good book, with 2.6m reach – the best in over a year. The spin-offs are all pretty stable with 80s at 1.4m, 90s at 744k. With 90s move to national last week (well cross-promoted by the main brand) I think it’s got a good chance to grow. Also with Absolute 80s now in a bit of a bun fight with Heart 80s and the arrival of the Wireless Group’s 80s stations, will 90s be the new 80s?

The Hits (562k), Kerrang! (607k) and Heat (598k) seem to have run out of steam a little, down almost a third from their heyday and pretty flat all through 2017. All three are good, well programmed stations, but now face much more radio competition, whilst TV listening, which drove a lot of their audience, has also fallen significantly.

All three lack any marketing spend or significant programming investment. Though I bet their cost per listener is still significantly less than a Key 103 or Metro, though the locals – right now – I’m sure do well from the local advertising. It would be interesting to see if these digital stations had the same investment in marketing and talent that some of the Bauer locals get, whether their audience acceleration would be significantly greater, and even with lower national yields, generated faster profit growth.

One Bauer local that has had a great few years is Gem 106. Now at its highest ever audience for the 106 licence – a reach of 561k. The next quarter will be their first without breakfast hosts Sam and Amy who’ve disappeared off to Virgin Radio.

Wireless Group

Speaking of which, Virgin Radio, though having a great book in Q3 – 555k reach – it did look a bit of an outlier. They’ve eased back this quarter to 483k, but that’s still their 2nd highest reach. They’ve got a long journey ahead of them, but at least it’s going in the right direction.

Stablemate at Wireless is talkRADIO. Its figures have been flat since launch and the latest quarter has its second lowest ever reach at 242k. The new talent they’ve brought in and the right sort of new afternoon show will give them a new platform on which to promote. It’ll be interesting to see where they are this time next year.

Platforms

As the blog post shows, the UK radio industry is now a real mix of analogue and digital radio stations. Indeed, the latest breakdown tells us that a record 49.9% of all radio listening is digital. This means the Government will soon be starting a review of plans for digital radio switchover. I wouldn’t expect FM to be going anywhere anytime soon, but I think it will bring to the horizon the dates when stations will start to leave the FM band.

The hours split today are: AM/FM (50.1%), DAB (36.3%), Internet (8.5%) and DTV (5.1%). Looking at reach, AM/FM now reaches just 79.1% of listeners, DAB reaches 54.9% of listeners, Internet reaches 21.1% of listeners and DTV’s reach is 15.7%.

Over at Fun Kids (where we just measure London and RAJAR just measures our non-core age group of 10 plusses), we went down a little from 92k to 84.5k. This quarter had 6 weeks of us being DAB+ only in London, so it’ll be interesting to see if that affects our numbers next quarter. Sadly my go to comparison to talkRADIO and Magic Chilled in London looks less good, as they’re both a little ahead on 87.6k and 86.7k respectively. We’ll have to just take being better than The Arrow (73.3k) and The Hits (83.6k). But who’s really counting!

More to read:
Adam Bowie, Paul Easton and John Rosborough