Agree or disagree with the how RAJAR’s compiled, I think every three months is a good time to have a look at the radio market and think about changes and trends. Numbers are always a snapshot, but what lies behind them, and the direction of travel, can give a much clearer insight.
Stations figures rise and fall for a variety of reasons. Some are down to the station, some are because of what other stations are doing, sometimes its an external force – the weather, an election, and sometimes it’s bigger themes like platform shifts and new technology.
Nothing has ever existed in a vacuum, and today the word changes so fast that volatility is one of the only constants. Oh, and sometimes you just have a bad (or good) book.
To me, the one thing that’s highlighted how the radio world has changed is the arrival on RAJAR of Heart 80s with a stonking 852k reach and 3.8m hours.
It’s a new radio station with no station-specific marketing and little unique programming, but it is based on a very successful understood brand and it plays a type of music that’s in-demand for a large audience.
It’s only been around four months but it’s already got a greater audience reach than all of Celador Radio or UKRD.
I think this throws into stark relief the opportunities/threats that changing radio consumption has on the market.
Anoraks talk about which small stations or groups the big operators will buy next, but with a success like Heart80s why would they bother? The cost and complexity of running a multi-site operation vs a well-programmed centrally managed spin off using existing brand and resources. There’s really no question.
Well, there is a question for smaller operators. It isn’t “why bother?” but instead “how do you use what’s unique about your operation to grow?” Local advertising relationships, community relationships, how do you leverage that to create an interesting business. Why are you only doing radio?
Heart80s isn’t the only new national station to appear recently on RAJAR. Union Jack made it’s debut last time around at 71k and is now a little up at 80k.
Now, both stations are similar in that they’re national, they’ve had little above the line marketing and their programming is mostly clever, well-done automation. The audience difference is large though – 10x! Why is that? Well, ironically after the trail blazed by Union Jack’s management when they ran Absolute and launched Absolute 80s, Heart have jumped in a very popular and relatively underserved format – 80s – and they’ve aligned that with a complimentary, well-understood brand in Heart.
Union Jack has the potential to be a great brand, it has great personality, but brand-building without a large cash investment is a long-term burn. It’s name is clever (when you realise it plays only British music) but it lacks the Ronseal delivery of Heart 80s, Planet Rock or Magic Soul that allows listeners to instantly understand it.
What is good for Union Jack’s parent company is that they’re building a suite of products around their Jack brand and not being hemmed in by just being a local radio station. As well as three Jack brands in their local Oxford base (89k reach), they’ve got a new digital-only local version in Surrey (36k) and the 80k the national station delivers. Whilst Oxford is probably going to stick around a similar audience level +/- 10%, Surrey and national gives them a chance of real growth. They’re now already larger than what was the old Anglian Radio.
The challenge new stations face, is that in the old days there was somewhat a “if we build it, they will come” mentality with new station launches. The world is very different now. Brand cut through is hard as new entrants in London like Thames Radio (16k reach) or Mi-Soul (47k) have discovered to their cost.
Mi-Soul, around for a few years, now faces an onslaught from Magic Soul. Similar to Heart 80s – they’ve aligned a popular format with a well-understood brand. In London, Magic Soul has generated 112k reach from a standing start. With sporadic DAB distribution, nationally it’s now generating 244k.
Good programming is irrelevant if you aren’t able to generate awareness or trial.
Clearly much of this change is driven by the volume of digital listening. This quarter the data shows that 68% of listeners listen to some form of digital radio (DAB, internet and DTV) each week and 53% of UK listeners listen specifically through DAB each week.
In share terms, 48.7% of all listening is to digital platforms (up from 47.2% last quarter). We are rapidly approaching the magic 50% number.
Digital-only stations like 6Music (at 2.2m), 1Xtra (up 100k to 1.03m), Kisstory (up 200k to 1.7m), Absolute 80s (up 150k to 1.5m) as well as Heart80s at 852k are making a significant impact in how all stations are being listened to.
London is probably one of the most competitive radio markets in the world. It’s big and national stations like Radio 4 often seem like local station to many of the inhabitants. The top stations in the commercial share chart switch places because they all compete hard. This quarter, though, Global is very much top of the tree – taking the top four commercial spots.
LBC 97.3 – 7.6%
Capital London – 5.1%
Classic FM – 4.4%
Heart – 4.3%
Kiss – 4.1%
Magic – 3.2%
Smooth Radio – 2%
Absolute Radio – 1.9%
I imagine a sigh of relief on the top floor of Broadcasting House as Radio 1 recovers from its dreadful Q1 book of 9.1m reach to a more respectable 9.5m.
15-24s still remain difficult for it to nail down with another drop this time, albeit a small one to 2,725 from 2,767. I think more dangerous for R1 is Capital’s growing 15-24 strength. More robust results for its stations and the network’s growth through acquisition means that it’s on the verge of claiming more 15-24s than Radio 1.
A good book for our children’s radio station Fun Kids. We’re in an odd situation where whilst we’re national, we just measure London. RAJAR also only looks at 10+ whilst our core audience is under that! But it’s still nice to be able to benchmark ourselves against others.
So, 10+ in London we’re delivering 99k reach (up from 66k in Q1) and hours have increased to 292.6k (from 133k). When we measure 10+ reach against other digital stations in the London TSA it’s good to see we’re a bigger station than talkRADIO, talkSPORT2, Global’s The Arrow and Bauer’s Magic Chilled.
Though the success of Heart 80s, and the power of an aligned brand does make me think perhaps we should try a name change. I’m sure BBC Fun Kids would give us a nice sampling boost!