In the UK, and in many markets, radio has developed from predominantly local stations into nationally executed brands and products. We’ve also seen lots of consolidation, so four operators - the BBC, Global, Bauer and News - dominate the majority of listening.
These groups have done a mixture of combining stations into national brands, launching spin-offs and launching new radio brands too.
For the commercial outfits, getting a larger share of commercial impacts is the focus, as that generates more £££. For the BBC, they’re dealing with far more competition than they have ever had before, losing their monopoly of broadcast spectrum, and being limited by what they can do on linear and non-linear by competitors and available budgets. However they are all still trying to demonstrate broad reach - so they can be seen to be delivering for all licence fee payers.
All of this taken together, I think, means the operators need to think more strategically about the stations they run and where these ‘products’ are in their life cycle. The old days of working to be number 1 makes less sense when you are running a portfolio of products.
Whilst true believers in local radio may be aghast, Global and Bauer are more akin to being a Unilever than a 1980s ILR operator. If you’re a radio anorak, maybe turn away now.
I say all of this because when I was looking at this quarter’s RAJAR figures, some product life cycle things struck me. If you are unaware, the historic product lifecycle talks about Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Saturation and Decline. Boston Consulting Group built on this creating a matrix that looked at growth stage and profits, splitting products into Stars, Cash Cows, Question Marks and Dogs. There’s a great primer on all of this here.
For radio there are lots of historic brands - your Capitals, Radio 2s etc - and then there’s been a lot of digital spin-offs - Absolute 80s, Capital Dance, talkSPORT 2 etc. In addition there’s been new brand launches - Times Radio, Scala, Boom Radio. These stations all do different jobs for the owners. Spin-offs require very little investment other than transmission. They piggy-back a brand, occupy a niche and plug into existing advertising network revenue. Agencies are buying Heart - all of it, rather than Heart and Heart 90s separately. Therefore it’s (relatively) easy money.
New brands require investment, but potentially take an owner into a new territory - it requires a lot more investment and the returns can be more of a gamble. But if it works and resonates strongly with listeners, you’re creating something with real ongoing value.
Legacy stations are difficult, they were Stars and can be long-term cash cows, but it requires owners to think about where they invest their money.
This is a very long introduction to this quarter’s RAJAR update, but keep all of this in mind when thinking about individual station ratings. I would also say that I’m able to write this post so quickly because I use Hallett Arendt’s Octagon software to analyse the data.
If we look at Absolute Radio it’s seen a, main station, decline quarter on quarter to 2,124 (from 2,487) but this is more a realignment back to its more recent figures. Its spin-offs see a variety of results. 70s falls to 294k (vs q-on-q 312k and y-o-y 420k). Is it competition from Heart 70s? Not really, it’s a recent launch but perhaps peaked last quarter at 630k, it’s now at 591k.
Over in the 80s battle, it’s been relatively flat for Absolute 80s over the last year - around 1.5m - and Heart 80s has seen a drop to 1,265k (vs q-on-q 1,407k and 1,325k y-o-y). Perhaps interest in 70s/80s has now peaked?
Absolute 00s and 10s are starting to see some growth, with 00s nearly doubling y-o-y to 305k and 10s up to 143k.
Dance and Pop
Heart Dance sees a drop from last quarter’s 1m reach back to a more regular 741k (Q2 was 752k). Capital Dance has seen good growth to nearly a million - 916k (up from 819k q-on-q and 593k y-on-y)
Kiss meanwhile sees a decline to 2,348k (vs 2,702k q-on-q and 2,772 y-on-y). Kiss Fresh is trying hard to hold its ground now at 241k (vs 254k q-on-q and 306 y-on-y). Kisstory’s in a similar position with a 2,264k reach (vs 2,299k q-on-q and 2,300k y-on-y). Kiss is still a very big station - the 17th biggest by reach (and Kisstory the 16th) - even maintaining its audience should be regarded as a big success, but with new entrants it’s going to be hard to grow - and defending it is likely to become even harder.
Similarly Capital was up q-on-q to 5,913k (from 5,730k) though down year on year from 6,348.
Radio 1 is down again - back into the 7s of Q1 and Q2 - now at 7,795k (vs 8,144k q-on-q and 8,166k y-on-y). A lot of big schedule changes in 2022, including Scott moving in the last quarter from Radio 1 to Radio 2.
It’s still early days for Scott’s move to replace Steve Wright. Looking at the R2 numbers for Steve's slot (2pm to 5pm) there’s a month of deps (Steve left at the end of Sept) and then two months of Scott in Q4 data (though doing two hours rather than three). There’s been no particular cratering to the slot, he’s very marginally down to 7,118k (vs 7,286 q-on-q and 7,443 y-on-y). But probably holding up better than the station as a whole, where R2’s reach figure is now 14,286k (vs 14,461 and year-on-year 14,865). Looking at Scott’s 2-hour time-slot, the results are similar.
Also, again it’s early, but Scott’s appearance on Radio 2 between 2pm and 4pm hasn’t really affected Radio 1 - where you would expect some side-switching to follow him. R1’s reach for that slot is now 2,659k vs last quarter’s 2,686k. The real test will come from looking at a year’s worth of quarters - but no instant crumbling so far.
Similar to Kiss, Magic has a stable quarter, hitting 2,849 vs q-on-q’s 2,847 - but it is significantly down on where it was last year - 3,253k. Magic Chilled has seen good growth to 448k (its previous four quarters were 263k, 323k, 376k and 409k). Magic Soul lacks nationwide distribution, but while it is down on the quarter to 418k (vs 455k), it’s up on the year significantly from 286k. Mellow Magic has seen growth to a high water mark for the last couple of years - 555k
Greatest Hits Radio has been marching on over the past few years, gobbling up FM stations, and adding talent like Simon Mayo. Its recent announcements include the snaffling of Ken Bruce and some re-brands of Scottish stations. I think we may see some more of that in England before Ken starts at the beginning of April. Its figures have been steadily growing with reach now at 3,978k (vs 3,721k q-on-q and 3,026k y-on-y). In London it’s now at 936k (vs 873k q-on-q and 818k y-on-y). Looking at audience share in London, it’s now at 2.1% vs Smooth Radio’s 2.2%.
One interesting GHR aside, is that the brand-licensing deal with Nation for their large South Coast FM regional expired just before this quarter. This meant the station rebranding from GHR to Nation Radio on the 19th September. It’s Q4/2022 figures include half from Q3 and half from Q4, but it has seen a drop to 136k from 245k last time around. I would imagine it will drop further in Q1/2023. What’s not helpful for Nation is that GHR continues on the digital platforms.
We’ll definitely see more growth for GHR when we get the Q2 and Q3 figures later in the year. It will be interesting to see the effect on Heart, Magic and Smooth.
Speaking of Heart its had a good quarter, one of its best for around five years - with an 8.6m reach. Its broader network, including the spin-offs has generated its best ever performance with 10.8m reach and a whopping 73m hours.
The Ken Bruce shift is definitely going to generate some churn from Radio 2. As we’ve seen with the previous departures of Chris Evans and Simon Mayo, R2’s figures aren’t really that affected. When you have 14.5m listeners, losing 500k after all, is in the margin of error for a quarter. It is clearly good news for GHR as Ken will keep his slot, just further up the dial - but for older listeners who may be looking at the Radio 2 daytime schedule and thinking there’s not a lot for me - many may well be on the hunt for a new home - or at least auditioning one.
This churn is great news for GHR and Smooth - and perhaps suggest why Smooth’s music position has changed from ‘relaxing’ to ‘always the best music’.
It’s also good news at the top end for Boom Radio; the start-up for those slowing down. They had another great book up to 530k reach (vs 443k q-on-q and 241 y-on-y). They’re also up there with Radio 4, Radio 2 and LBC for average hours - 11! This gives them a great total hours of 5.8m - making them bigger than Heart 80s, Hits Radio, Capital Xtra, Talk Radio and Times Radio.
Boom is targeted at 55+, though its core 5-year demo is 70 to 75 - where it has a 131k reach. Radio 2 on the other hand has 1.4m of them tuning in. These are great targets for Boom, who have very few other radio options - it will be interesting to keep track of both stations’ reach within this audience over the coming quarters post-Ken!
LBC remains dominant in commercial speech with a reach of 2.5m (vs 2,453k q-on-q and 2,611k y-on-y). But it’s also interesting to look at the younger upstarts.
GB News had a good book last quarter (414k), but this has dropped back to 306k. Over at Talk Radio they’ve dropped back to 608k from 637k Q3 and 685k in Q2. These are the quarters when it’s been simulcasting with Talk TV.
TalkTV is mainly Talk Radio during the day and then it’s the shiny TV shows with Piers Morgan et al after 7pm. Whilst the telly figures haven’t set the world alight, the radio figures are even more disappointing. 7pm to 11pm on Talk Radio is now reaching 86.1k (down from Q3’s 117k and Q2’s 123k). A year ago it’s radio-only output was giving them 107k during that time-slot.
Radio 4 meanwhile pops back over the 10million mark, and a football-infused Five Live goes to 5,564 (up from 4,873k q-on-q and down from 5,887 y-o-y).
Often unreported is the competition between Asian radio stations, particularly in London. So well done to Panjab Radio whose London numbers are up to 110k reach (vs 92k q-on-q and 58.7k y-o-y). Its total hours has also seen a big jump - to nearly 1.2m (which is nearly as many as Sunrise Radio and the two Lyca stations in London, combined). Whilst that may be a short-term big bump, the reach growth across the different platforms certainly means there’s some audience movement in that market. The historic big player in that market continues to be Sunrise Radio, with a London reach of 164k
I’ll leave it up to you to decide which stations you think are Stars, Cash Cows and Dogs - but I think we’re definitely over the more scatter-gun approach to spin-offs. I think groups perhaps need to be a bit freer with evolving/killing under-performers off, to give room for other low-cost stations to appear and try their luck.
I think we can also see what a challenge launching a new brand is. Times Radio and Talk Radio have lots of investment and are doing a good job content-wise for their respective audiences, but lack the audience success of Boom who are delivering significantly more hours on a fraction of the budget, but to an under-served group. I think Boom is likely to hit profitability faster than Times or Talk.
There should be a new Media Podcast out imminently, where I talk about RAJARs with Adam Bowie, plus all the other media headlines with Scott Bryan and the Press Gazette’s Charlotte Tobitt.
There’s a few quotes from me in the Telegraph’s piece about Spotify’s podcast talent changes.
I mentioned last week that I’m speaking at Adwanted’s The Future of Audio Europe event on March 1st. They’ve kindly given me a code to knock off 10% a ticket. It’s SPEAKERVIP.
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Wot about BBC local radio Matt..? Thoughts, while it's still 'local' ?
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