Rajar Q4 2016: BBC strengthens audience lead over commercial radio

The BBC has increased its lead against commercial in the battle for weekly radio audience reach.

Christian O'Connell: presents Absolute Radio's breakfast show
Christian O'Connell: presents Absolute Radio's breakfast show

The latest Rajar listening figures reveal 240,000 more listeners tuned into BBC radio each week than listened to commercial stations in the fourth quarter of 2016.

The BBC attracted almost 35.2 million weekly listeners in the three months to 18 December 2016, compared to almost 34.96 million who listened to commercial stations.

The difference points to a widening of the gap between the BBC and commercial radio, which were separated by just 61,000 listeners last quarter.

It is a blow for commercial radio, which had managed to overtake the BBC by some 500,000 listeners in Q2.

Although the BBC has gained ground, Q4 has not been especially buoyant for any of its largest stations.

Radio 2 may still be tipping the scales at a mammoth size of more than 15 million listeners, but the station did shrink by 0.6% quarter on quarter, and by 2.7% year on year.

Radio 1 also saw a decline – 3.2% on Q3 and 7.4% on Q4 2015 – with listening figures down to 9.56 million.

However, there were areas of growth, with Radio 4 attracting an extra 0.9% of listeners on the previous quarter, and 3.7% year on year, taking its audience to 11.33 million.

Radio 5 Live was another winner, expanding its audience base by 3.8% on Q3 and 2.3% on the previous year, to 5.71 million.

The picture is worse for commercial radio, with only Global’s Classic FM seeing an upturn in its quarter-on-quarter results out of the five largest networks.

Meanwhile, all of the BBC’s breakfast shows experienced growth in the final quarter of 2016, although they were not alone.

Nationally, the largest commercial breakfast show was Bauer’s Kiss, with Rickie, Melvin and Charlie in the Morning, whose audience rocketed by more than 20% to 2.2 million listeners in Q4.

Sister network Absolute’s breakfast show with Christian O’Connell grew by 0.5% in Q4 to just less than 2 million, and by 9% year on year.

Dee Ford, group managing director radio, Bauer Media, said: "These are fantastic results: special recognition must go to Rickie, Melvin, Charlie and Christian O’Connell and their respective breakfast teams. Maintaining the number one and two national commercial breakfast shows reflects our powerful music and personality mix which entertains millions of listeners, week in, week out."

She added that Bauer hoped to build on its audience figures when presenter Dave Berry joins Absolute Radio later this year, after last week announcing his departure from the Capital Breakfast Show after five years.

The latest Rajar figures show that 48.7 million adults tuned into the radio each week in the final quarter of 2016, up by around 445,00 listeners on the same quarter last year, and by around 50,000 on Q3.

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