Getting to know your listeners and the audio market

Some new data will help you do a better job (6 minute reading time)

For something new to be successful, a number of things have to align. Of course there has to be a great idea, but you need to know where it fits in a market as well as have an understanding of your consumer.

The latter two aren’t as fun as coming up with the product or idea, but the research and knowledge helps you make better decisions.

For the radio sector, and for its audio competitors, there’s two releases of information that will definitely help shape current and future projects.

The first is the release of the government and industry’s Digital radio and audio review. It’s a really good and fascinating document. Firstly there is a ton of new research into audience behaviour, secondly there’s some examples of challenges that radio stations and operators have had and thirdly there’s lots of intelligence, and thought, about the new platforms. It’s worth a scan through, particularly the research reports at the top.

As it’s a government report there’s also some recommendations in there, for itself but also for industry as a whole. There’s 42 of them covering everything from diversity in broadcasting to smart speaker availability and from AM switch-off to digital coverage.

There’s some canny suggestions, like this one:

The government to consider introducing new legislation that makes clear that [online] platform operators must not limit or restrict access to services or charge for carriage of UK audio services. Any such regulations should clarify that platforms that carry UK radio and audio services cannot mandate their own ad-tech solutions and must not insert or overlay sponsorship and advertising around UK radio or audio content without the prior express consent of the provider.

This is a warning shot at TuneIn and some encouragement to Amazon, Spotify and Google to think carefully about their own audio plans. There’s further points about access to usage data - a bugbear of the BBC - which the government connect to their own broader, National Data Strategy.

The second bit of insight will land on radio stations’ desks on Wednesday, and then revealed to the public on Thursday. Yes, the first RAJAR data will be out since the beginning of 2020.

There's probably three core things that it’s likely to show. Firstly what’s been the impact of the Coronavirus lockdowns on people’s short and long term behaviour. Secondly, we’ll be able to see the impact of some structural changes to networks, like Greatest Hits Radio occupying the frequencies of many old radio stations. And finally we’ll get to see how some of the new stations have done, services like Times Radio or Boom Radio, who have yet to report any data.

This has been a bit of a long road for RAJAR, as I talked about last month. Since writing that, RAJAR have announced that the data collection for this next release is a bit different from usual.

First of all the period is slightly longer. RAJAR started collecting data in the regular way for a potential Q2/2021 release, but it seems like that was still pretty tough going, so that release was abandoned, but they've decided to merge in that data into this Q3/2021 release. They haven’t stopped there though.

I guess the data challenges they faced over the last 18 months meant a number of contingencies were planned - and two of these seem also to have been integrated into this release. RAJAR haven’t published a huge amount of detail about this, but it seems the first addition is the creation of a panel who have been feeding in their listening. I would guess these are some previous respondents who they’ve asked to carry on taking part. Useful for bumping up the numbers if they can’t do the volume of face to face interviews they wanted. I imagine this is likely to be a short term addition.

The other new methodology is a little more radical - the introduction of passive listening devices, sometimes called people meters (or PPM) in other markets. These are devices that listen out for audio someone can hear, and then it matches them to station broadcasts. There’s been wristwatches and pagers that have had this technology, but now it exists in a mobile phone app that’s already used for research by IPSOS, called MediaCell.

The introduction of a PPM device has been talked about for nearly 20 years in the UK. Indeed, Kelvin Mackenzie (then owner of talkSPORT) threatened to sue RAJAR for not introducing it in 2003. The problem back then was there were some very valid concerns about its reliability and how (and whether) people used the devices properly. A phone, which people definitely do carry around all the time, is a much safer bet than trying to get people to wear a pager or special watch. There’s some great background to the historic problems with PPM here.

But for me the real shift is that it does change what’s being measured. Historically RAJAR has measured recall. Individuals fill in an online or paper diary recording what they listened to, and when. Rightly or wrongly, it’s setting the bar high, a station has to have cut through enough so the respondent remembers to recall it. It really is measuring listening.

PPM (or passive apps) that listen out for audio from stations record what people are hearing.

If you’re in the fish and chip shop and the radio there is playing an ad break from a radio station that you don’t recognise, the PPM may capture it, but the diary probably wouldn’t. Is it the best of both worlds to include the two data sources, or does the tension between them measuring different things start to cause more problems?

What it will likely do, in time, is increase the reach of a number of less well recognised radio stations, but by adding lots of very light listeners.

I believe that the PPM additions will be a relatively small percentage of the total survey - less than 20% of respondents, but it does mean that radio analysts probably need to segregate their data more to take into account this change.

If the percentage of PPMs included in the survey gradually start to increase, it will definitely change the way stations operate. At the moment, some stations’ constant repetition of their name - “Station FM, I’m Matt Deegan, I’ve got the new Ed Sheeran on the way, plus you’ll never believe what’s happened to bananas, I’ll tell you more more on Station FM next” - is entirely designed for RAJAR respondents to trigger recall so they tick Station FM in their diary.

A transition to a hearing methodology may mean that suddenly it’s in a station’s interest to get their brands played out loud to capture more listening. Maybe Asda FM will start being measured by RAJAR, as in a passive listening world their weekly footfall could probably make it one of the biggest stations in the country.

As always there will be no shortage of data - it’s working out what it means is the difficult bit.