For breakfast last week, Capital Radio was mostly eating ... a curate's egg. That's the one that's proverbially good in parts. The good news was that its flagship London station had increased its overall share of listening in the third-quarter Rajar figures; the bad news was that Johnny "maybe it's becoz I'm a Lahndoner" Vaughan (the flagship's flagship) had continued to lose listeners for the all-important breakfast show.
The even-worse news, from the broader advertising-industry perspective, was that many of 95.8 Capital FM's breakfast listeners seem to be defecting to the BBC and the laddish Northern charms of Chris Moyles. This isn't just a problem for Capital, either - Moyles has hijacked commercial audience from just about every radio station in London. And that, despite commercial radio's 55 per cent overall share of London audience, must be a concern for advertisers: every listener switching to the BBC is an opportunity to hear lost to the commercial market.
Capital's spin on all of this was relatively positive, focusing on the profile of the Vaughan listenership becoming younger and more female.
In general, both the advertising industry and the City seem to have bought it. "Capital will look at its overall third-quarter figures as a good basis for going forward, given it has retained its number-one position in London and increased its audience reach," Simon Bumfrey, the relationship director in the Barclays Media Team, says.
1. At Capital, Johnny Vaughan may have lost 24 per cent (322,000 listeners) of the audience he inherited from Chris Tarrant, but the rate of decline is slowing, and in younger age groups, especially the 24- to 34-year-old female demographic, listenership is increasing. Although Vaughan's reach fell from 1,190,000 to 1,050,000 quarter on quarter, that of arch rivals Jono Coleman and Harriet Scott at Heart 106.2 fell marginally more, offering a crumb or two of comfort. Overall, across the whole day, 95.8 Capital FM posted an increase in listening share of the London market from 6.6 per cent to 7.2 per cent, while Heart's slipped from 6.5 per cent to 5.4 per cent.
2. The agency view is that too much emphasis can be placed on the "breakfast wars". Tim McCabe, the head of radio at Vizeum, says: "There are always other times we might buy into. Through the day, when people aren't charging about so madly, might be better for, say, a direct-response campaign."
But on the breakfast battle, McCabe believes that it would have been a miracle if the post-Tarrant transition had been entirely seamless. He says: "I don't think Capital has too much to be worried about. The number-one station is always going to face the prospect of others nicking its audience. I think other London stations - Virgin, LBC, and Capital Gold - have more to worry about."
Helen Keable, the head of radio at Manning Gottlieb OMD, adds that the Johnny Vaughan situation is unfortunate. "I just hope it gives him however long it takes to settle in. There is an immense amount of goodwill towards the station and towards him. He has the right sort of profile and image and I believe he's good generally for commercial radio," she says.
3. The main worry for stations in London and for advertisers is the resurgence at breakfast of BBC channels across the board in the region: Radio 1 and Chris Moyles up 33 per cent, Radio 2's Terry Wogan up 9.4 per cent, and the Five Live show, led by Nicky Campbell, up 8 per cent on the back of the Olympics and Euro 2004. Keable agrees that few on the commercial side can take much encouragement from these figures. She comments: " You have to put this in context, of course. Radio 1 was previously doing so badly - it has merely bounced back and it will be interesting now to see whether it can hold that position. It's always disappointing to see commercial radio taking a knock across the board but the third quarter, for some reason, is often weak."
4. BBC cross-promotion is the real issue, argues Steve Parkinson, the managing director of Heart and Chrysalis' group marketing director. "When the BBC has a successful summer of sporting events, it cross-promotes heavily.
That has to be a factor. The airtime it uses costs it nothing and then, on top of that, it spends £53 million on domestic services. You'd have to agree that lately the BBC has been getting it right."
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- The decline in Johnny Vaughan's listening figures may have slowed, but Capital still has to fight a PR battle to convince sceptics that the corner has been turned - and all at a time when management will be distracted by the GWR merger.
- On the plus side, Capital will argue that Vaughan's audience demographic is moving the right way - younger, more female - and that, with its share in London increasing from 6.6 per cent to 7.2 per cent, its status as the largest commercial station in London looks secure.
- A year ago, Heart eclipsed Capital's London share for the first time but has since slipped back. The third quarter saw a sharp drop in its share from 6.5 per cent to 5.4 per cent.
- The sense that momentum has been lost needs to be reversed, especially on the flagship breakfast show, where Jono and Harriet's 6.8 per cent loss of reach means they are pulling in 54,000 fewer listeners than this time a year ago - ie pre-Vaughan.
- Commercial stations always tell advertisers that if they want to see a vision of the future, they should look to the London market. So it will be especially disappointing that the BBC's gains nationwide (its biggest leap in share for a decade) were also reflected in London.
- The excuse for this seeming blip was that the BBC had a strong summer due to a clutch of premium sporting events, relentlessly cross-promoted. Good theory, although tenuous in the case of Radio 1. Still, let's see in the next Rajar figures if there's any truth in it.