RAJAR Q3/2012 - the digital revolution beginsFollow @jamescridland
RAJAR this time around is a tale of two halves - overall radio is down, but digital, on whatever platform, is up. What can radio learn from this?
It was, if you remember, no ordinary summer - particularly for Londoners. The Olympic Games and Paralympic Games caused significant changes to the way we lived and worked.
Many people worked from home during the two weeks, or staggered their journeys. Cab drivers saw their figures down by 20-40%; store traffic in London fell, too, by 4.5% in central London. All of Ofcom, for example, worked from home during the two weeks. As I sat outside a Dean Street restaurant in the middle of the Olympics, my companion and I wondered aloud where everyone was. (He then went to do a radio programme about it.)
The Olympic Games caused significant changes to the way we consumed media, too. We were glued to the television, and the computer, and the tablet, and the iPhone. Indeed, sometimes we enjoyed the iPhone rather too much, and broke the TV commentary with the thing. The 24 channels of additional BBC Olympics coverage, the Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah excitement... what does all this mean to radio?
Today's the day we find out, as RAJAR - the body tasked with measuring all of radio listening - report on the July/August/September radio figures. Or do they? Look carefully at the latest figures, and you'll see "Q", "H" or even "Y" in the figures. Many stations report on half-yearly ('H') or even yearly ('Y') figures: smoothing out any bounces or short-term Olympics-related dips.
Hardly a surprise, then, when the highly experienced radio boss John Myers tweets sage advice: "A word to all those having a RAJAR moment today. Remember, the only figure that really matters is year on year. Not quarter on quarter!"
With that in mind, RAJAR is, once more, a tale of two platforms.
Radio listening overall continues to decrease. Total time spent listening is down 5% year-on-year; and the total amount of people listening is down by 500,000. There is no way around it: radio, overall, is slowly eroding. Half a million people have stopped listening on a weekly basis in twelve months. This should be a concern and a worry to the radio industry. But nobody appears to care, as far as I can tell. Perhaps I'm looking the wrong way. Perhaps there is some evidence of people wanting to stem the rot.
Digital radio listening (on all digital platforms) continues to increase - up 6% year-on-year to 31%. DAB, once more, is the clear market leader, with almost two-thirds (65.2%) of all listening to radio on a digital platform. The internet continues to be a tiny proportion of radio listening. Importantly, the latest figures show internet is growing at the same rate as DAB, 7.6% (vs 7.7%) year-on-year.
So, if radio overall is shrinking, but digital radio is growing, it comes as no surprise that stations that really make the most of the medium are succeeding.
In spite of all radio being down, the Absolute Radio Network - the collection of stations under the Absolute Radio brand operated by TIML Radio - continue to show good increases year-on-year, adding 103,000 listeners. The BBC's digital stations also show good growth: BBC Asian Network, BBC Radio 4 Extra and BBC 6music posting record figures. talkSPORT, again benefitting from digital, has also posted record figures. Smooth 70s posts a strong debut figure of 749,000 listeners.
And, looking back to the Olympics, the BBC's 5 Live Olympics Extra radio station, a temporary service on digital for only two weeks, posted a total reach of 1.9 million listeners. The three Radio 5 Live stations, over the Olympics, posted 7.7 million listeners (significantly above the 6.3m it achieved across the whole quarter). Who said the Olympics would kill radio listening?
However, those stations that lumber on by ignoring the possibilities of digital - whether BBC Local Radio (which lost 500,000 listeners year-on-year), or XFM (which is significantly down year-on-year) - are not sharing in digital's success.
So - it's clear that radio has a multiplatform future, and that digital radio is a good thing for radio.
And it's becoming increasingly evident that radio needs digital - on whatever platform - for the medium to survive.
Over the past year, the author has worked for Absolute Radio, talkSPORT, the BBC, RAJAR and the Radioplayer. This is a personal opinion piece and does not reflect the views of any organisation.
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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Can you elaborate on what you see as the omissions of BBC Local radio and the digital possibilities and in particular how they would get substantially more listeners?
I presume you are saying that they ned to more than simply be present (eg 28 are on DAB and all are on-line).
At a time when they are about to cut back on shows I assume it is very unlikely that they will be adding new side channels.
I don’t think it’s a simple platform play; more an understanding of all the possibilities that digital has to offer across the piece – platforms, social, and promotion.
Nice to see the BBC’s first “pop up” digital station, Olympics Extra, do so well. Considering it only existed for the duration of the Olympics so didn’t have much time to build an audience I’m proud of the audience it delivered. The Power of the Pop-Up is clear.
“social, and promotion” however could (and should) be used with old-fashioned FM (and even FM only) stations as well – felt like a bit of a stretch to imply that as related to digital radio.
Would be an interesting exercise for someone to help one BBC Local radio station with 3 months of social engineering (in a nice way!) to see if it generates a significant difference to their listening figures compared to the cost of doing it.
Didn’t the nights begin to draw-in on the 22nd of June? #pedantry