Commercial radio losing battle against the BBC

The commercial radio stations may be tussling with each other, but the real threat may be from the BBC, the latest Rajar figures suggest.

The July to September figures show BBC radio stations taking a record 54.4% share of all radio listening, versus commercial radio’s depleted share of 43.7%, suggesting that heavy promotion of BBC stations across the corporation’s television offering has renewed public interest.

The Radio 1 audience was back over 10 million and Radio 2’s dominance of the landscape hardly wavered, dropping from 16.2% of the radio market to 16.1%.

Jenny Abramsky, director of BBC Radio and Music, said: “All in all, this is a strong quarter for BBC Radio.”

The picture is just as grave across the crucial London battleground as the BBC’s share rocketed across the third quarter from 51.7% to 54.7% – a full three percentage points.

The City reacted less than positively to commercial radio’s drop in national audience share.

Simon Bumfrey, relationship director in the Barclays Media Team, said: “The Q3 figures are good news for the BBC – Chris Moyles has taken a significant slice of the London market from the commercial radio stations – and this strong BBC performance at the expense of the commercial sector is also reflected nationally.”

A Virgin Radio spokesman accused the BBC of taking advantage of their public service remit to promote their own radio assets. “BBC TV had a very strong summer of programmes and sporting events and continued to shamelessly cross promote and advertise its radio shows, especially Radio 1 and 5 Live. It is, therefore, no surprise to see these two networks do so well and commercial radio suffer.”

In the London market, the news was good for Capital, which must have been dreading having its breakfast share overtaken by Heart. Capital 95.8FM increased its share to 7.2%, up from 6.6% in the previous quarter. Rival Heart FM’s 6.5% market share was down from its Q2 figure of 6.6% that saw the Chrysalis-owned station come close to overtaking Capital.

Despite staying ahead of Heart, Capital’s star signing Johnny Vaughan needs time to find his audience, losing more listeners during the latest period.

The breakfast show on the station was down quarter on quarter from 1.19 million to 1.05 million.

Capital Radio chief executive David Mansfield insisted the station could weather the storm.

“The recent changes to the Capital FM line up, and the breakfast show in particular, were designed to attract new listeners. As anticipated, some listeners have tried other stations at breakfast.

“However, the station as a whole has seen growth across the rest of the day. Johnny Vaughan is proving to be a significant radio talent and we confidently predict he will win new listeners and build audiences over the next two years.”

The station also announced that Vaughan’s co-presenter Becky Jago will be leaving at Christmas.

Heart’s flagship show Jono and Harriet at Breakfast also lost listeners, down to 797,000 this quarter from 971,000 in Q2.

The surprise breakfast show winner was Magic 105.4 FM, whose morning presenter Graham Dene, cast a spell on an extra 42,000 listeners moving from fourth to third most popular breakfast show in London, overtaking Classic FM and increasing his audience across the quarter from 609,000 inQ2 to 651,000 inQ3.

Mark Story, managing director of radio programming at Magic’s parent company Emap Radio, said that for commercial radio to thrive, stations must have a point of difference when challenging each other and the BBC.

“As the markets become more developed, it is more important for commercial radio stations to have a differentiation,” he said.

“Capital and Heart’s offering has become blurred. We are lucky we’re not competing against Chris Moyle’s younger audience"

By Mark Banham & Kunal Dutta

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