Rajar Q1 2017: No new dawn for national stations in 2017

After a bleak end to 2016, the major national commercial radio stations have not seen much in the way of a new dawn in the first quarter of this year.

Dave Berry: former Capital presenter is joining Absolute
Dave Berry: former Capital presenter is joining Absolute

The latest Rajar listening figures cast a murky light over the largest national networks, with a further downturn on the declining audiences of the previous quarter.

Global-owned Heart and Capital, and Bauer’s Kiss FM all experienced a dip in their average weekly audience reach when compared to the previous quarter’s figures.

Although Heart stayed at the top of the UK commercial radio pile, with an average weekly audience of 8.8 million, this did represent a 2.6% fall on Q4 2016, and a year-on-year drop of 3.3%.

The decline is despite the network announcing a line-up of new presenters at the beginning of 2017 – including ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 TV presenter Sian Welby.

Similarly, Capital network dipped by 0.4% between the last quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of the new year, as its audience contracted from 7.79 million to 7.76 million – although it was up 2.8% year on year.

And Bauer’s Kiss network attracted just under 5.07 million listeners, a 3.2% decline on the previous quarter and 6% slide on the same time last year.

National breakfast shows also saw a slump, with the biggest three – Kiss, Absolute and Classic FM – all down.

Bauer Media’s group commercial director Simon Kilby said that while he considered Q1 to be "steady", it showed a "continuation of commercial radio being in really good shape".

"At first glance the figures don’t look huge, but we think there’s a lot of positive news," he said.

Bauer is set to welcome former Capital Breakfast presenter Dave Berry to its Absolute team later in the year, along with pop star Ronan Keating on Magic.

"We are certainly investing in talent to extend our performance later in the year," added Kilby. 

Havas Media publishing manager Rich Hall agreed that the flat start to 2017 "isn’t a disaster".

"I think the outlook for the rest of the year is hugely positive when you consider that we often see a dip in Q1 versus Q4," he pointed out.

"People are engaging with audio more than ever before, especially when you consider the rise of activity such as podcasting and streaming. People are still converting to radio, and networks are maintaining the coverage of the population."

However, despite the generally dampened figures, Global’s Smooth radio managed to buck the trend with quarterly growth of 2.9%, leading to a weekly audience of 4.89 million, which was also up 1.9% year on year.

And Classic FM – the third largest station nationally – had 4.7% growth on last year, while its figures remained virtually unchanged on the previous quarter, at 5.36 million listeners.

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