Commercial radio boosted by 33% rise in online listening

Rajar figures also show growth in speech radio, with LBC up 23.3%.

Capital breakfast show: Hope, Kemp and Jay
Capital breakfast show: Hope, Kemp and Jay

A rise in the number of people tuning in to radio online, including through smart speakers, has helped commercial stations increase their audience share by 0.5 percentage point year on year to 46.6%.

Online listening is the fastest-growing area for radio, up 33% on the same period the previous year, according to the latest quarterly Rajar figures released today (Thursday). The data showed that 58.5% of all listening is now on digital platforms, of which DAB is the largest at 41%.

Commercial radio, which has 35.1 million weekly listeners, is made up of 68.1% of digital listeners, of which 42.8% is on DAB and 13.1% online – something that Radiocentre said reflects the "wealth of new brand offerings and services that are available digitally".

Siobhan Kenny, chief executive of Radiocentre, said: "We are experiencing an audio revolution, with radio at its heart. That is clearer than ever, as we see commercial radio’s expansion of offerings pay dividends in digital growth.

"Radio is not a box in the corner of the room, it’s everywhere – a smart speaker is in your house, on your phone and across a multitude of platforms."

Growth in speech radio

Global’s LBC has been one of the biggest risers among the commercial stations, growing its weekly listeners by 23.3% year on year to 2.7 million – its highest-ever reach. This is underpinned by its breakfast show hosted by Nick Ferrari, which attracted more than 1.5 million people.

Although a lot smaller, Wireless’ TalkRadio had a 43.4% boost in listeners to 433,000.

It was a similar picture for BBC stations, with Radio 5 Live up 8% to 5.5 million and Radio 4 up 5.2% to 11.4 million. Radio 4's breakfast show attracted 7.2 million people, a 5% rise year on year.

The popularity in speech radio will be music to the ears of Wireless owner News UK, which is planning to launch an advertising-free national digital radio station for The Times and The Sunday Times that will have a daily schedule of news, analysis and commentary.

Other commercial radio risers include Bauer Media Group’s Kisstory, which increased by 22.1% to 2.2 million and its Absolute network – made up of seven stations – grew 3.3% to 4.9 million.

Heart continues to lead commercial breakfast shows

Among the highly competitive breakfast shows, Heart remains the commercial leader after it launched nationally in June 2019. The programme, hosted by Amanda Holden and Jamie Theakston, pulled in 4.3 million listeners, down slightly quarter on quarter.

Sister station Capital's breakfast show, hosted by Roman Kemp alongside Vick Hope and Sonny Jay, is the second-biggest with 3.4 million listeners, although this has fallen year on year by 8%.

Zoe Ball’s BBC Radio 2 programme pulled in 8.2 million listeners and stays in the top spot, but this figure has dropped year on year by 9% after Chris Evans left the BBC to host News UK’s Virgin Radio breakfast show in January 2019.

Evans continues to attract more people than Chris Moyles on Radio X, Planet Rock and Hits Radio with 1.2 million listeners.

Overall radio market

The total number of people who listened to the radio over the fourth quarter of 2019 equalled 48.1 million, down by 0.5% from 48.4 million in the same period in 2018.

Commercial radio continued to outperform BBC channels. BBC listening dropped 1.1% to 33.6 million and the commercial sector saw a 1.2% decline to 35.1 million.

Craig Eastwood, head of planning at RadioWorks, said: "Despite the slight dip in overall reach, the upward swing in digital listening continues to show great promise for radio. Nearly 62% of the UK listen to commercial digital radio each week and 58.5% of all listening is now digital – so it’s no surprise why radio groups are champing at the bit to launch digital spin-off stations."

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