Commercial radio set for a promising future

Last month’s first quarter RAJAR results showed that listening to radio via a digital platform has increased to 44.1%. But Ben Hart, Head of Commercial Radio at Arqiva, explains why these results only paint half the picture.

“The major story from the first quarterly RAJAR results for 2016 was undoubtedly the continued growth of digital radio usage, with radio listening in the home through a digital platform surpassing 50% for the first time.

30 million people now tune in to radio via a digital-enabled receiver, and it’s a huge bonus for the radio industry to see more and more of its customers making the move to digital. But do these results tell the full story? And having analysed them, what can we expect for radio throughout the rest of 2016?

Stepping into a digital future

Certainly the Q1 results were incredibly pleasing – 4.5% growth from the corresponding period last year (39.6%) shows that listeners are ready to move with radio into the digital world, and that the future is looking bright for the industry.

But in truth, for broadcasters and multiplex operators such stats have only served to increase their existing confidence in digital radio’s success. The past twelve months have seen a number of significant industry developments, and there is great optimism that we are the closest we’ve ever been to seeing digital become the number one platform for radio in the UK.

The first development of note is the fact that more and more car manufacturers are implementing DAB radio technology as standard. Correspondingly, a less quoted stat within the RAJAR results is that digital listening in cars has grown by 32.5% to represent 21.2% of all listening. That’s a pretty hefty jump!

Undoubtedly, however, the event that caused the greatest stir was the launch of the second DAB digital radio multiplex network on the 29 th February this year.

The UK’s second commercial DAB multiplex

Launched by Sound Digital, a joint venture between Arqiva, Bauer Media and Wireless Group, the new multiplex gave listeners in the UK access to 18 national digital radio stations and kicked-off a national Big Retune campaign. It marked the biggest expansion of radio choice for consumers in a generation, and included the UK’s first national services delivered via the newer DAB+ standard.

To my earlier point, its existence alone – i.e. the fact that Ofcom and Sound Digital were ready to launch this new multiplex in the first place – is further reflective of the confidence those in the industry have in digital radio.

Given the launch timings, the RAJAR Q1 results do not include the new digital listeners that the second multiplex has inspired – potentially pointing to even stronger growth than the figures would have everyone believe.

We can expect the DAB multiplex to have an impact on the Q2 results, not least in terms of figures for commercial radio.

A bright future for commercial radio

The RAJAR results showed that commercial radio has fallen slightly behind the BBC since the last quarter of 2015, with 34.28 million weekly listeners, compared to the BBC’s 34.87 million. Despite this, when you analyse the results further and compare them to the same time last year, commercial radio has in- fact fared better than it would first appear, increasing its average weekly audience reach by more than 1%.

And that is a trend we expect to continue. The second national commercial DAB multiplex boasts an array of major UK commercial stations including, talkRADIO, talkSPORT 2, Virgin Radio, Mellow Magic, FunKids and leading Asian station Panjab Radio, to give consumers more content choice than ever before.

Last month Radiocentre hosted the 21 st Arqiva Commercial Radio Awards, and the sheer range of winners reflected just how diverse the industry has become and how strong it is looking. I left London’s Roundhouse feeling exhilarated. The range of talented teams and individuals that work across the industry will no doubt ensure a bright future for commercial radio.

Radio industry prospering

According to the RAJAR results, an average of 47.8 million adults or 89% of the adult UK population tuned in to radio each week during the last quarter, and the total average number of weekly hours listened to radio was 1.01 Billion.

Those certainly aren’t the statistics of an industry that is struggling – in fact I would argue that it’s the mark of an industry that is prospering in an age of technological advancement.

As the evidence shows, a vast proportion of those millions of listeners are joining us in the digital world, and those numbers continue to rise day-by- day. 25% of adults claim to be listening to radio via a mobile phone or tablet at least once a month, for example.

Sound Digital’s launch of a second commercial DAB multiplex promises to help fast-track that digital adoption, and the excitement from across the industry is intoxicating. Bring on Q2!

Ben Hart is Head of Commercial Radio at Arqiva. This article was first published on the weekly radio industry newsletter, eRADIO. Subscribe to future editions here.

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Posted on Thursday, June 30th, 2016 at 7:39 am by RadioToday UK

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