Who's up and who's down?
Another quarter, and another deluge of data. With both Radio Today and Adam Bowie taking a Summer break, you’re stuck with my analysis! Yes, it’s RAJAR day - the UK radio ratings are out. For overseas visitors there’s going to be some specifics about radio stations you’ve never heard of, but taken together it’s an interesting snapshot of changing listener behaviour and hopefully that’s useful wherever you are in the world.
And snapshot is the right word. This captures a moment in time. With stations either reporting on 3 months of data, half a year of it, or a full year, the insights roll together listener consumption. It’s always the thing to slag off RAJAR, where the majority of listeners record their listening 15 minutes by 15 minutes over a week - either on paper, on their phone or on the PC. However that data is now combined with apps that hear what you hear and some panels too. Taken together, they’ve included over 40,000 people this quarter - a survey bigger than the UK election exit poll. If you’re a national station, it’s pretty robust! And one of the ways you can see the robustness, is that though the vast majority of respondents change each quarter, the figures stay pretty similar.
This RAJAR there’s quite a few stations that have dropped down, now whilst this may be down to listeners' habits it could also be down to the big number at the top - that’s total UK radio listening. Since RAJAR returned after the pandemic, total UK listening has been pretty consistent - 49.4m, 49.4m, 49.7m people tuned in each week - but this time it’s dropped 750k to 48.9m. So everyone is sort of down before they’ve started. They’re playing in a smaller pool.
This drop isn’t massively demographically driven. Quarter on quarter 15-24s are down a bit, but 65 plusses are down some more.
Now, in RAJAR, trends are what you want to really look at, rather than snapshots. This drop in all listening might be a blip, or the start of a trend. We won’t know until we’ve got more data in the future.
Some other broad radio facts, that still surprise people.
Demographically there is no massive decline in the number of young people listening to the radio. Here’s radio reach across different demographics (bear in mind there was a methodology change in Q3/2021 and a pandemic sized gap before it).
It’s down a bit, but isn’t precipitous. Where there is more of a marked change is in the amount they listen to:
Three years ago, 15-24s listened to 85m hours, now it’s 65m. 25-34s listened to 126m hours, now it’s 115m. The charts would suggest that perhaps the drops may have levelled off.
As a country, we listen to radio predominantly digitally.
AM and FM radio is consumed by 30.6m people, DAB digital radio 32.4m people, and streamed radio by 20m. If you combine analogue vs all the digital platforms, analogue is the aforementioned 30.6m and digital has 40.7m listeners.
When we look at the volume of radio people listen to - it’s share - digital radio accounts for 67.6% of their hours listened to (broken-down DAB: 40.8%, Streaming: 22.3% and DTV: 4.5%) and analogue is the remainder - just 32.4%.
The Big Commercial Stations
The key change seems to have been the recovery and consolidation of Bauer’s Hits Radio network - this includes Hits Radio, the old Bauer ILRs, the ones they acquired and Gem. They’re now bigger than Capital in reach and hours, and Heart in hours too. A big success for them. Greatest Hits is also giving Smooth a run for its money. It’s closing in on reach and pretty neck and neck on hours. Sat between Heart and Smooth, GHR seems to have blown a bit of a hole in both.
Big Commercial Networks
Most of the stations above are part of broader brand networks which includes spin-off services. Heart includes Heart 90s etc, and Hits Radio Brand includes Hits Radio and Greatest Hits Radio networks. Historically the network effect has given all the networks growth, as digital listening has risen and new launches have appeared. As digital penetration is starting to max out though, this benefit is receding.
I would probably wager that Hits & Greatest Hits has enjoyed some success partly as they’ve stabilised relatively newly launched products, but also through introducing products with content as marketing (adding Simon Mayo to GHR) and spending some money on general marketing too. Meanwhile the digital spin offs have little in the way of talent or specific marketing. Their uniqueness and musical focus in the market was their selling point, but perhaps we’ve reached the limit of any growth that can deliver now.
Of course, the brand battle is important, but the big groups are mostly concentrating on their share of the commercial market and how many impacts they can deliver national advertisers. Over the last year Global’s added around 6m hours and Bauer’s added 8m, whilst Wireless has stayed broadly the same. For all three groups, they’re reaching a similar number of listeners they did 12 months ago.
Over at News UK, it’s interesting to look at their more recent station launches.
Times Radio’s really bounced around reach-wise, whilst pretty stable in hours. This probably suggests its found a core audience but isn’t really growing that fast. Talk Radio on the other hand is seeing steady growth quarter on quarter. After years of not really knowing what it was, it’s ideologically a pretty consistent product now and is definitely building an audience.
Talk made a big change to its evening programming when merging with Talk TV, which launched at the end of April. Now that’s not entirely shown in this data, as Talk rolls its data for six months, so we’re seeing average figures from Jan to June. However, having a sneaky look into the system suggests that the new evening shows are having a positive effect for Talk Radio - we’ll see the scale of that next quarter.
Virgin Radio’s decline will be disappointing after the talent investment that it has seen. I see very little marketing for the station and things that Chris Evans or Graham Norton do, don't seem to have much cut through to non-listeners. I think it’s predominantly a PR & Marketing problem, rather than a content issue - though some of that does go hand in hand.
Nationally the BBC’s stations are, in the most part, remarkably stable. Taking an ongoing hit has been Radio 1. Having a quick look at other youth stations, Capital is following a similar pattern, whilst the slightly more specialist stations are a little more consistent.
Pop music flow for younger audiences is very split at the moment. Research is tending to suggest people are part of more specific genre tribes. When you combine these different genre types, that’s annoying to listeners, they like one, but not the other. This poses more of a challenge for stations like Radio 1 or Capital which have previously been about mixing pop genres.
The other BBC station that faces challenges is Five Live. Its combination of news and sport has always been slightly annoying for people who are either in the news or sport camp, the other one is always seen to be interfering in what they like. I think this is more of an issue now, when there’s stations like Times, LBC or Talk Radio that can scratch the news itch, and a more consistent talkSPORT and talkSPORT2 seemingly with an ever increasing range of sports rights that can do sport pretty well too.
Internally the BBC have wanted to split Five Live into two stations but have been stymied by regulation (and pressure from competitors). With the upcoming switch off of Five Live’s AM service and its re-emergence as a digital only brand, is it time for Sports Extra to become a full time Five Live Sport, and the regular Five Live to becomes Five Live News?
We’re probably moving closer to some further deregulation of commercial radio. A reminder that it’s the government’s intention to remove most programme-related regulation, so networks would be free to network all programming, providing they have a commitment to localised news and travel. Of course the government is in flux at the moment, but we could see that legislation next year. Whether the radio groups that have local shows will remove them is still an unknown. Whilst the opportunities for costs savings are there, having regional shows to deliver more localised S&P is seen as valuable for the relative cost, particularly now many stations have been regionalised. I thought it might be interesting to look at the scale of some of these shows.
The London shows aren’t as strong as you would assume, though clearly they have more competition in those markets. The share figures in some of the regional markets are also pretty impressive for the localised shows. Now we don’t know what putting a ‘high quality national’ show in the regions could do to ratings - good or bad. But if you were looking at some of these you maybe wouldn’t want to mess too much with the big ones.
Rich Clarke’s Drive show in the South on Heart currently beats every regional drive and breakfast show across Capital, Smooth and Heart, other than Heart London (it’s even got a bigger reach than Capital London Drive). It’s also a reminder how strong the Smooth breakfast shows are around the country.
That’s it for my quick look through. If you’ve noticed something interesting, why not leave it in the comments.
I’m able to do all of this as a subscriber to Octagon, from Hallett Arendt, which is my invaluable RAJAR analysis tool.
If this is the first time you’ve dropped by the blog, I send out weekly newsletters about the audio sector, so why not sign-up. It’s all free to do.