Britain's getting bigger, but is radio shrinking?

02 Aug 2012  |  James Cridland 

James Cridland, managing director of Media UK and a radio futurologist, says radio continues to change and the new 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 1.1 million 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 33.9 million monthly visitors. Facebook has 26.8 million monthly visitors. Radio has 47.6 million 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 19 million listeners; GMG Radio ("Real and Smooth") have 5.4 million. 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 13.3 million. 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.

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