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RAJAR Q2/2012 - Britain's getting bigger, but is radio shrinking?

Radio continues to change: and the new radio listening figures make this ever more clear...

If ever there was any doubt that radio's changing, it's the figures in today's RAJAR radio audience figures. (The figures are put together every quarter on behalf of the entire radio industry).

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. The number of radio listeners is down, quite markedly. When looking at raw numbers, around 800,000 people appear to have switched off the radio since this time last year. That should be cause for concern for the radio industry.

But this isn't as bad as it looks; because these figures are the result of some rather cruel coincidences. The adult population of the UK has actually increased by 1.1m in this survey: so the percentage of adults who tune into the radio has tumbled to a three-year low of 89.4%. This time last year, RAJAR were crowing about record-breaking figures: more people tuned into the radio than ever before this time last year, so a year-on-year comparison looks rather ugly. Actually, radio's actually added listeners in the past three months, with 106,000 more adults tuning in every week.

Total time spent listening to the radio, while that's fallen slightly (by 4% year-on-year), has only fallen to the levels that we enjoyed two years ago. The 800,000 that have apparently given up listening to the radio in the past twelve months appear to have been very light listeners. Don't go polishing that coffin just yet.

And, we should remind ourselves, 89.4% of the population is still massive. To put that into context, Google is the UK's most popular website and that has 33.9m monthly visitors. Facebook has 26.8m monthly visitors. Radio has 47.6m weekly listeners.

So, to the other news.

DAB Digital Radio listening has grown by 13% year-on-year, and now accounts for over a fifth - 20.1% - of all radio listening.

Listening through the television has remained steady. (In real terms it's dropped by 0.1%, but the amount of "don't know"s are still 7%, so it's well within the margin of error).

And the real success story? The internet. Tuning into radio over the internet has increased by a staggering 37% year-on-year. This figure is important, because this is the first RAJAR figure to be wholly produced after the launch of the Radioplayer, the UK's joint player project. (Many RAJAR'd stations use averages over the past six or twelve months). This points to Radioplayer having been a particular success - particularly against the backdrop of a 4% drop in radio listening.

Let's not forget that internet radio is still the least popular way of listening to radio in the UK. But an increase of 37% year-on-year is pretty impressive. It shows the power of working together and getting things right. Michael Hill and those at each station who contribute to the work should be congratulated.

Once more, this highlights that radio is now a multiplatform medium. Discussions about the AM/FM bands are getting more anachronistic as we continue watching this changing landscape.

Two asides:

First, Global Radio now command 19m listeners; GMG Radio ("Real and Smooth") have 5.4m. You can't add those figures together (since I might listen to Smooth and to Heart) but you can see what a difference joining those two companies up will make. Bauer, the next largest, has 13.3m. There's plenty of discussion about the potential merger here and here on Media UK.

And secondly - London. What's going on here? Almost everyone commercially is down here in terms of listening, and quite markedly: from Capital (-19%) to Smooth (-53%). Absolute Radio is up by 37% in the capital, so it's clearly doing something right, but London's commercial radio market looks to have had a pretty bad time, with an overall drop of 9%. That's bad news for the market as a whole, since London has an unfair share of advertising spend: and it couldn't have happened at a worse time - stations will start trading on these numbers within only a couple of weeks, and that could cause some potential issues around delivery for post-Olympics and Paralympics advertising campaigns.

As ever, Media UK contains full historical graphs of RAJAR figures, so you can decide on the truth, not the spin. Just find a station, click the audience figures button, and read the graphs for yourself.

Disclaimer: I count RAJAR, Radioplayer, Absolute and talkSPORT among my client list.

James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
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Recommendations: 0
Stewart Stevenson

DAB will not replace FM as long as it does support car radios properly.

I find I have to re-tune my in-car DAB radio as I drive across Scotland when leaving the area covered one transmitter to enter that covered by another. Only seems to be a problem affecting BBC Radio Scotland but does not affect, for example, BBC World Service.

But FM works perfectly for all the national stations such as Radio Scotland.

Recommendations: 0
James Cridland

Hi, Stewart. Odd that you’ve chosen this point to make, given DAB gets one line above and I don’t talk about FM switchoff at all.

BBC Radio Scotland is carried on local transmitters (unlike BBC World Service). I can confirm that, if you have a decent DAB in-car radio, it will switch between the same station carried on different transmitters just like it does for FM. (My DAB in-car radio did this for a number of stations carried on the Essex and London multiplexes). I don’t know whether BBC Radio Scotland’s broadcasts are configured in this way – can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be, but the BBC may have elected to turn this feature off for BBC Radio Scotland – in the same way as they’ve turned off DAB-FM following.

It’s very easy to make a sweeping generalisation on an entire technology based on your experience with one DAB receiver and one radio station. However, on the contrary, DAB does “support cars properly”. And please remember than only 20% of radio is actually listened-to in a car.

Recommendations: 0
Dick Stone

Good blog post James and some decent common sense, level headed points made- as expected from you to be honest. I love the cycling bit too.

Recommendations: 0
Calder Hughes

I find it interesting that you attribute the rise in listening online to The Radioplayer James. Can this be proven?

Recommendations: 0
James Cridland

Calder: Of course, Radioplayer is just one of the ways you can listen online – but for most stations it is the predominant way of listening.

Dick’s comments about the cycling, incidentally, refer to my piece on the BBC cycling coverage which were also in the same email that my blog subscribers get.

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