Everything appeared rosy for Steve Penk and his new breakfast show
on Virgin Radio after last week's Rajar results came in. Against
industry expectations, it seems that he has received the approval of
many new listeners, as his audience size is substantially up on that of
his predecessor, Chris Evans.
However, before we get carried away with what looks like an excellent
result, I recommend having a closer look at the figures.
Penk seems to have achieved rises but, in reality, it has mainly
happened because he broadcasts for longer than Evans did. Comparing like
with like, competitive stations are at pains to show that Penk actually
lost share against the national audience during the key 6.30am to 9.00am
time slot that Evans occupied. Even in London there isn't much cause for
celebration with share static across this time, but reach is up, as it
is across all London commercial stations. There may be concerns that
this debut from a recognisable radio personality hasn't been strong
Penk, though, is offering something slightly different at breakfast time
- although it may not be to everyone's taste. An initial promotion
called "Tossers" left people in no doubt about his style but, in truth,
there is little here that we haven't seen from his days at Capital and,
earlier, in Manchester. This style will doubtless excite some and turn
off others but a strong breakfast personality can help focus an entire
station's output, as long as they can get it right.
Apparently, McDonald's, the sponsor of Virgin Radio's breakfast slot,
has decided to renew its deal for 12 months. And maybe Penk will attract
an even tighter and more appealing demographic for advertisers - let's
hope so. Certainly, brands such as Walkers are still running breakfast
promotions. But a quick chat with media planners and buyers confirmed
that Virgin no longer seems to be their personal number-one station of
choice at breakfast.
Penk has also entered one of the most competitive breakfast markets we
have ever seen in London. Substantial programming improvements have come
from a string of competitive commercial stations including Xfm, Magic
and Heart, which all cluster around Virgin's frequency at the top end of
the dial. Yet there is no doubt that the Penk product can stand up and
fight. The challenge for Virgin is to hang on to the trialists and
convert them into loyalists.
We need a strong Virgin station. Commercial radio still has much to
offer us as it grows and improves and we need strong national brands
that can really challenge the BBC, as well as continue pushing each
other to improve. For advertisers this will ensure access to innovative
and impactful opportunities.
Broadcaster: Virgin Radio
Frequency: Monday-Friday, 6-10am
Average audience: 1.95 million
Advertisers include: McDonald's (sponsor), Exchange & Mart, Kellogg's,
One2One, Vauxhall, Autocar.