Rajar Q3 2015: How commercial radio has closed digital gap with BBC

Commercial channels have invested in digital opportunities, becoming particularly good at being receptive to listeners’ more eclectic tastes and diversifying by creating sister stations, say Carat's AV planning managers.

Rajar Q3 2015: How commercial radio has closed digital gap with BBC

As with almost every Rajar release, one of the main talking points is the on-going increase in digital listening. Stations are once again showing record reach levels, while digital listening itself has shown an increase in hours of 48 million in a year. 

Total analogue listening has now dropped by 34 million hours in the last year with digital listening seeing a growth of 48 million in the same period, with analogue presence no longer a pre-requisite to be one of the biggest stations. In fact, over half of total listening for national stations is via digital methods.

Many commercial stations have reported their highest ever reach including Heart (9.1 million), Capital (7.4 million), Kiss (5.5 million), BBC Radio 5 (6 million) and Absolute (4.2 million).

Even though the BBC has also had a record-breaking quarter  Radio 4 Extra is now the highest reaching digital station (2.2 million) the gap between the BBC and commercial is slowly closing.

Over the years, the BBC has jumped onto new digital opportunities. Its digital stations have increased hours by 95 per cent in five years and have gone from representing 5 per cent of the total BBC listening in 2010 to 10 per cent this quarter.

But more recently commercial channels have turned a corner, also investing in these opportunities, becoming particularly good at being receptive to listeners’ more eclectic tastes, and diversifying by creating sister stations. This means that they have been able to close the gap on the BBC. 

The gap between BBC radio and commercial stations is ever-decreasing with commercial stations catering to evolving listening by providing a wider range of choice than ever before. All commercial share has increased from 43.7 per cent to 44 per cent in the last year. 

Every Rajar now brings news of a digital station achieving record reach figures and it’s the same this time round with Radio 4 Extra, 5 Live Sports Extra, 6 Music and Absolute 70s all achieving record levels. 

Next year sees the launch of a raft of new commercial stations via Digital 2 which we anticipate will encourage a growth spurt of commercial digital listening to close the gap further between the BBC and commercial.

Existing stations will invest into programming to retain their listeners, and new stations will invest in marketing, which will increase their awareness and listenership. 

There will be more digital choice, which will lead to more listening hours. There will be a natural increase in digital is being pushed up by car listening as new cars have DAB fitted as standard (Digital listening in cars grew 41 per cent year-on-year which is now 19 per cent of all listening in cars): 

  • Existing stations will invest into programming to retain their listeners 
  • New stations will invest in marketing, which will increase their awareness and listenership
  • There will be more digital choice, which will lead to more listening hours
  • There will be a natural increase in digital, pushed up by car listening as new cars have DAB fitted as standard (Digital listening in cars grew 41 per cent year-on-year which is now 19 per cent of all listening in cars)

At 41.9 per cent digital in the UK, we are creeping toward the 50 per cent tipping point when AM will be turned off. All of the above will create a surge in digital share and bring us a step closer, and it will be a landmark moment for radio when this switchover does happen, levelling the playing field for stations.

Away from pure digital, it has been a very positive quarter for commercial radio with both the top two sales houses showing growth: 

  • Global’s stations achieved record reach of 22.06 million, with highest-ever figures for Heart, Capital and Smooth. Bearing in mind that this doesn’t account for the performance of the relaunched Radio X, there is potential for this to go even higher next quarter.
  • Bauer has also seen improved figures with Absolute increasing its reach to over 2 million for the first time since its rebrand from Virgin Radio (which is being relaunched in 2016).
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