digital radio

RAJAR Q2 2017

RAJAR

As ever, this post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 9 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I am delighted that I continue to be able to bring you this RAJAR analysis in association with RALF. For more details on the product, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

RAJAR is upon us once more, and so this will be something of a canter through the results. However, I’ll also throw in a few pieces from the most recent RAJAR MIDAS survey that was also recently published, and is very illuminating.

I think I will start with digital listening, since we’re now incredibly close to half of all radio listening being on a digital platform. In this quarter it reached a high of 48.7% of all listening being digital, up from 47.2% last quarter and 45.3% a year ago.

You can see from this chart that progress has been constant over that time. And of course DAB radio is the largest part of that listening. But it’s always worth having a look at internet listening, because that seems to be growing much faster. Apps improve, and data packages increase. You may even have seen improved 4G coverage!

Internet listening is now up to 8.8% of all radio listening. Also a new high.

If you just look at 15-44s, then internet listening goes up to 14.6%. This is becoming an important platform.

Overall 49.2m people listen to the radio each week – an all time high. Although we should be careful to note that RAJAR updates its population estimates in Q2 each year, and as the UK’s population continues to rise, you would expect listening to rise – even if radio listening is actually “flat.” And so it is that 90% of the population listen to the radio, which is in line with previous quarters.

Each radio listens for 21.0 hours a week, which actually represents – just – a record low under the current RAJAR methodology. This isn’t necessarily surprising, since as I’ve said here before, it’s not so much reach and listening hours that are challenging radio the most, particularly in younger demos. But average hours are worth keeping an eye on.

National and Digital Services

Radio 1 will be pleased to have bounced back from some awful results last time around. They are back up to nearly 9.6m listeners, representing an increase of 5.3% on the quarter and a 1.4% increase on the year. In terms of listening hours, they’ve done very well this time with 64.3m hours which is the best they’ve had for nearly two years now. Last quarter does look much more like a “blip”, but this audience remains challenging and other metrics undoubtedly come into play as far as the station goes.

Radio 2 saw a small decrease across the board in its listening figures, with a fall below 15m for the first time in a few quarters. Notably hours fell too, down 6.0% on the quarter and down 3.0% on the year. But with 14.8m listeners tuning in for an average of 11.7 hours a week, they’re not exactly struggling. Obviously we do now know that their presenters are generally fairly well remunerated!

Radio 3 saw its reach breach 2m again, up 9.4% on the quarter, yet down 6.3% on the year in reach terms. There was a similar trend with hours.

Radio 4 had a stronger quarter in reach terms, rising to 11.6m. By the skin of its teeth, that’s a new record reach for the station, breaking the previous reach set in Q2 last year. Obviously there continue to be one or two things in the news which may well be helping. Hours were down a bit on the quarter, however, while being up on the year.

Five Live had a second successive disappointing quarter, being fractionally down in reach on the quarter, but more substantially down on the year. They’ll be keeping an eye on hours too, with 35.0m down 14.5% on the 41.0m they had a year ago. Obviously there’s no major football tournament this year, and the end of the football season wasn’t quite the story it was a year ago.

In a massive shock, 6 Music has somehow not achieved a record audience this quarter! Reach is down 4.9% to 2.2m, while hours dip below 20m. The latter in particular feels a bit like a blip and will be worth returning to next quarter.

I’ll note that the World Service is up 19.4% in reach terms this quarter, and 28.5% up on the quarter in terms of hours.

LBC has had another exceptional quarter, up 14.5% to 2.0m, and up 11.8% to 21.6m listening hours. These are both records in terms of the station in modern times, since it went national. The station really is going from strength to strength.

Absolute Radio was down 3.0% on the quarter and a little more on the year to 2.1m, while hours were down 1.8% on the quarter, but up 15.8% on the year. Absolute obviously has Dave Berry beginning his new drivetime show from this October, while this quarter (just) saw the departure of longtime presenters Geoff Lloyd and Annabel Port from that slot. We won’t truly be able to see the outcome of that change until the Q4 figures come out early in 2018.

Classic FM had a strong quarter with reach up 7.8% to 5.8m, while hours were up nearly 16% to 40.3m. Those both represent the best numbers the station has had since the first half of 2011, so a really great set of results for the team in Leicester Square.

Talksport on the other hand, has not had a good set of numbers this quarter. They’re down 3.9% in reach on the quarter, and down 20.3% in reach on the year. Hours are worse, down 16.6% on the quarter, and down 28.2% on the year. As with Five Live, there’s been no major football tournament this summer, and the end of the season wasn’t perhaps as exciting as in some other years. However, the reach is the worst since 2010, and hours the worst since the end of 2003. You must think that News UK can help the station with some solid marketing, but also wonder if we’ll see some significant programme changes. Some of those audience losses can be balanced against some growth in Talksport 2, which achieved its best results so far, with 336,000 reach and just short of 1m hours.

Talkradio has also seen some positive shifts, with its reach and hours both healthily up in percentage terms. It now has 275,000 reach with 1.1m hours. Those results put the station about on a par with Virgin Radio which was down in reach but up in hours on the quarter. It has 364,000 listeners spending 1.1m hours with it. The challenge for Wireless Group (and owners News UK) was always supporting all these new brands over the early part of their existence. Speech radio in particular is not necessarily a cheap format.

The Capital Network jumps back up 3.8% in reach and 3.1% in hours this quarter, with the overall brand (including Capital XTRA) similarly improving. Overall they have a reach of 8.6m reach with 48.4m hours. Does Global have Radio 1 in its sights?

Sister Heart Network is basically flat in reach, and down 3.6% in hours on the previous quarter. The overall Heart Brand is up 2.8% in reach but down 0.9% in hours. It reaches 9.2m a week with 67.0m hours. A recent trip to the cinema suggest that they’re spending on the brand currently (although the cheery ad perhaps felt at odds with Dunkirk, which we were about to see).

Over at Kiss, reach is up 4.6% to nearly 4.4m, while hours are down slightly 2.8% on the quarter. The overall Kiss Network (including the very successful Kisstory which itself achieved record figures of 1.7m reach and 7.5m hours) is up 6.4% in reach although down 2.0% in hours.

The Magic Network has seen its audience grow 2.0% to 3.6m this quarter (down a little on the year), while hours have slipped 3.5% on the quarter and about the same on the year.

Finally let’s enter the battle of the 80s. Absolute 80s has increased its reach this quarter by 11.3% to 1.5m, although it’s slightly down on the year, and hours have fallen 9.4% to 7.4m. They’re the lowest they’ve been since Q3 2014.

So what’s happened, and why did I call this a battle? Well Heart 80s has happened. They’ve come in with a reach of 852,000, which is slightly over half the reach of Absolute 80s. Meanwhile they’ve got 3.9m listening hours – again just over half what Absolute 80s achieved.

I would imagine that Global will be delighted with those numbers, while Bauer is disappointed. I’ve mentioned previously that Bauer moved from the Digital One DAB multiplex to the presumably cheaper D2 multiplex. However, that multiplex covers significantly less of the population, and that move in itself saw a decrease in listening almost certainly as a direct consequence. In the meantime. Global saw an opportunity to put a new 80s service on Digital One, and Heart 80s is the result. You can assume that some listeners who lost access to Absolute 80s on DAB have now started listening to Heart 80s. While Absolute 80s is comfortably ahead as things stand, that has got to be a mini-battle worth watching in the future.

London

As ever, the biggest station in London in reach is… Radio 4. It’s up 7.4% in reach. But nobody ever wants to hear that. They want to know about the music stations.

The next biggest station in reach terms is Capital, who’ve had another great result, up 3.3% in reach 2.3m. Hours are up a bit too.

Kiss has had a good result this quarter, and is just behind (if we exclude Radio 2) with 2.0m listeners up 13.8% on the quarter, although down on the year. That’s quite a bounce back for Kiss. Hours are up a little too.

Then it’s Heart with 1.7m listeners, up an astonishing 21.9% after a couple of really poor quarters. Again, listening is down a little.

Skipping past Radio 1, we get to LBC with 1.4m listeners, up 31.6% this quarter, and up 9.2% on the year. But of course it’s the hours of LBC that really do well with 15.7m hours, it can rightly claim to be London’s most listened to commercial station (Radio 4 has more).

Absolute Radio is struggling in London right now with 637,000 listeners, down 17.6% on the quarter and more than 25% on the year.

But I’d finally just note that BBC London is up a colossal 88.8% on the quarter in reach terms and 156% in hours to 621,000 and 3.3m hours. Now while I’m dubious about massive jumps either up or down, 621,000 represents an all time record reach for the station under the current RAJAR methodology!

MIDAS

Finally, I thought that it was worth having a little look at the recently published RAJAR MIDAS survey. This examines listening against other types of audio listening, including on demand music streaming (OMS) services such as Spotify, mp3s, vinyl and so on. It’s important to note that the research is carried out separately to the main RAJAR survey, and as such, isn’t directly comparable. Nonetheless, the most recent set of data was published last week, and it seems as good a time as any to check out some numbers.

It’s always worth looking at the Share of Audio % which shows what radio is “up against.” Some might think that radio’s very retro, and that nobody listens to anything other than Spotify and podcasts, because that’s what they do as a cutting edge media-type. Of course this isn’t true as the chart below shows.

Share of Audio - Summer 2017

That chart shows that live radio dominates listening with 76% of (non-visual) audio. That’s down very slightly from 77% in the last spring release. Other facts that come out of the survey include:

  • 26m people, or 49% of the population haved downloaded a radio app for their phone, with on average users have 2 apps.
  • 5.6m adults listen to a podcast in any week, with smartphones being the most popular device. That’s up from 5.5m in the spring MIDAS survey.
  • 4.2m adults use listen again or catch-up services.

Obviously listening trends change substantially by age group.

You can instantly see that OMS listening is the most significant difference between age groups. Amongst 15-24s, this listening accounts for 23% of all listening, while only accounting for 1% of listening amongst 55+’s.

The growth in listening to OMS amongst 15-24s is quite alarming. There’s no other way to put it, since in Winter 2016 it was 21%. How big will this slice of the pie continue to grow to?

What devices are people using? Well analogue and digital radios are at the top of the list in terms of share, but it really depends on how old you are. For 15-24s, the smartphone is key – and there’s often not a radio built into these (or if there is, it’s pretty bad). But computers are also really important for this group. Only 36% of their time is spend with traditional radios compared with 62% overall.

One final thing worth looking at is what people are listening to by device. I wanted to highlight this, because the Amazon Echo is included. Now, although I don’t have the full data tables for MIDAS research, I suspect that the Amazon data will be on very small sample sizes, so should be treated with caution. However, if it’s in any way indicative, it shows that Voice User Interface devices like the Echo could be very important ways of listening to the radio in the future. Ahead of any other internet connected device that MIDAS measured, more live radio was consumed on the Echo.

As someone who owns two Echos, I can attest to the fact that it’s easily the most painless way of listening to the radio full-stop. You just bark your order at the device and it starts!

(I will note that “digital tracks” don’t seem to show up in the Echo’s results, and since you can listen to services like Spotify and Amazon Music on the devices, I would be very wary of the absolute numbers here. Something to watch in future. [UPDATE: Actually, I was misreading the chart. The “On Demand” represents On Demand Music Services including Spotify. It’s actually personally owned Digital Tracks that you can’t really play via an Echo and is therefore missing – well you can but it’s very fiddly and limited. Thanks to Mike for pointing this out. I still suspect the sample is small, so would be wary of absolute numbers, but the fact remains that Live Radio is crucial part of the Echo audio experience.])

The full publicly available summary is available here on the RAJAR website.

Further Reading

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Mediatel’s Newsline will have lots of figures and analysis
Paul Easton for more lots analysis including London charts
Matt Deegan will have some great analysis
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s corporate site
Global Radio’s corporate site

All my previous RAJAR analyses are here.

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB, period ending 25 June 2017, Adults 15+.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else, including my employer. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Drop me a note if you want clarifications on anything. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

DAB and DAB+: Some Testing Ahead of SDL/D2 Launch Next Week

125 DAB and DAB+ Services

Rupert Brun, expert on all things audio and late of the BBC, has been testing his radios at ahead of the Sound Digital (SDL) launch in a week’s time. The multiplex is in full test mode at the moment, so if you want to know if you can hear the new services, then a rescan of your radio may be in order.

Rupert first compiled his results on his blog (direct link), and has gone on to produce a Google Doc of the results including those of others.

So I’ve decided to test my own radios allowing Rupert to incorporate them into his results.

First of all I should note, as the photo above shows, that I’m in a rather fortunate location with regard to DAB/DAB+ radio. I live in north London, inside the M25, but close to the green belt. I’m also high up (at least for London) at somewhere around 70m above sea level. What that all means is that my radios will currently tune in 125 different services coming from the following multiplexes

  • BBC National
  • D1 National
  • SDL National
  • London 1
  • London 2
  • London 3
  • London Trial
  • Herts, Beds & Bucks
  • Essex
  • Kent
  • Surrey

I am somewhat surprised that I can get the Surrey multiplex, since it’s geographically the other side of London. And to be honest, reception is poor – but listenable. Kent might seem as far, but historically FM services have always reached this part of north London, and the closest transmitter for that mulitplex is actually in Benfleet in Essex.

Anyway, here are the results of my radios. I’ve included the number of services tuned into to give you an idea of the sensitivity of these sets. I tested them all with their own built in antennae, except the portable models where I used a set of ear-buds extended vertically.

BrandModelResultsRating (Based on Rupert Brun's Rating)Services Tuned
RobertsEco4 BTDisplays and plays DAB+ servicesGood125
RobertsEcologic 4Displays and plays DAB+ servicesGood125
RobertsStream 83iDisplays and plays DAB+ servicesGood125
RobertsGemini 59Shows but does not play DAB+ servicesPoor125
GrundigOpusShows but does not play DAB+ servicesPoor125
PureMove 1500Shows but does not play DAB+ servicesPoor116
BushCDAB431RDoes not show or play DAB+ servicesAverage*122
GoodmansGHDAB101Shows but does not play DAB+ servicesPoor125

*Note that Rupert measures both sets that present DAB+ services that can’t be tuned, and those who can’t tune them, so hide them, as both “Poor.” That’s true, but I think it’s a better user experience to hide services that can’t be tuned. It you see a service and tune to it, it looks like there’s either a problem with your radio, or perhaps the station is off-air.

In summary, the more expensive radios – the first three Roberts models – all did fine. Which is as well, since these are my most used radios, and also deliver by far the best sound. I’m unsurprised that none of the portable models tested works, but I do have a new Pure Move 2500 – untested because I left it at my parents’ house accidentally – which should give me DAB+. And none of my cheap models surprised me by revealing that they were indeed DAB+ compatible.

Two more thoughts on my testing:

– The test audio that SDL is currently broadcasting for Virgin Radio is truly awful in sound quality. While the service will only be 80k mono, it sounds like they’re playing a 32k mp3. Not the best way to show off a new service.

– My radios get a lot of Heart stations. And it’s not always easy to tell them apart. In order I get the following:

Heart – Herts, Beds & Buck
Heart – London 1
Heart Kt – Kent
Heart Su – Surrey
Heart Sx – Essex (esS eX – geddit!)

You’ll note that the first two are indistinguishable from the short version of the DAB label. I have to tune to one of them and then hit “info” a few times to determine which multiplex I’m listening to.

When Heart Extra launches in a few days that’ll be one more! (With the London breakfast show carried on the service competing with all the local Heart breakfast shows.)

I know that DAB labels aren’t easy to manage. I once battled with naming all the Absolute Radio services, trying to get radios to sort them in a logical order. Unfortunately, what’s logical on one radio, isn’t on another – different brands and models use different sorting algorithms! So trying to get Absolute Radio 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s, along with the main brand and classic rock, into a sensible order proved impossible.

D2: All Coming Together

US 2014-90

NB. This is not a DAB radio. The picture above is of possibly the most beautiful radio I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s the Nocturne, made in 1935 by a US company called Sparton and designed in Art Deco style by Walter Dorwin Teague. This one sits in the Wolfsonian museum in Miami. If you want one, there’s a YouTube video showing a 2012 auction with one going for $34,000, so you may have to start saving. This radio has a whole website dedicated to it, where you’ll notice that teaser adverts for forthcoming new models are nothing new!

In my recent RAJAR post, I wrote a little about the second national commercial multiplex – Sound Digital – which is due to launch from the 29th February (with some services launching across the following month).

The full line-up of services has been announced, and we’re now getting a drip-feed of more details about who will be on those services.

First properly out of the gate is the new TalkRadio. I’ve long thought that UK radio is under-served by speech, with essentially four national speech services currently available. LBC was very late in the day in going national, but it has made a good fist of it, and in particular has delivered a lot of publicity by making a virtue of giving politicians of all hues their own shows.

TalkRadio looks like it’s going to be quite similar, but perhaps a little lighter in tone. Paul Ross, who seems to have had stints on just about every station going, but most recently on BBC Radio London’s breakfast show, will helm TalkRadio’s breakfast. Then comes Julia Hartley-Brewer, who has previously done a similar show on LBC. Sam Delaney moves over from TalkSport, and then there’s Iain Lee, who recently had a run-in with BBC Three Counties and left, with a return to late-night on TalkRadio being the obvious gig. However, I really could do without George Galloway though who I find abhorrent, and who has a tendency to take cash from the Iranian and Russian governments via their state broadcasters as well as say obnoxious things.

With LBC filled with ex-politicians like Iain Dale, occasional Newsnight presenter James O’Brien, former Five Live breakfast presenter Shelagh Fogerty and of course, Nick Ferrari, it feels like a slightly more current affairs driven service than TalkRadio.

The proof will be in the pudding of course, and with Dan Walker off from Five Live to BBC Breakfast, listeners may be exploring their dials to find something new to listen to.

Of course Five Live and TalkSport do have the advantage of analogue carriage. If you want TalkRadio, or LBC outside London, you do have to listen on a digital platform. That will affect audiences – particularly in-car because while new cars now nearly all come with DAB, the vast majority on the road don’t have it. But late nights in particular are going to be really interesting.

Next out the block is UTV’s other big new station, the reborn Virgin Radio. Considering I spent much of my working life at the original Virgin Radio (It launched in 1993, and I worked there from late 1996 until it re-branded in 2008), you might think that I have mixed views about this, but to be honest I don’t.

The big questions for me were always going to be: What kind of service would UTV offer, and was the Virgin Radio brand a bit passé in the UK? The new version of the station is interesting because UTV is a partner with Bauer Media (and Arqiva) in the multiplex, and Bauer’s Absolute Radio is the evolution of Virgin Radio. Christian O’Connell, Geoff Lloyd and Leona Graham are still there from the Virgin days, all in key shows. You would imagine that many of those legacy Virgin Radio listeners are now Absolute Radio listeners.

And whisper it, but I’m not sure Virgin is quite the sexy brand it once was. It’s a transport and finance brand these days, rather than record label and record store. Yes Virgin Atlantic is aspirational, and Virgin Media does a decent job. But it does feel a bit tarnished. Even the potential of Virgin Galactic has not been achieved.

Then there’s the marketplace for where a Virgin Radio music service might fit. While Virgin Radio isn’t a prescriptive service that comes with a set playlist – stations in Dubai and Thailand show that local Virgin Radios can be whatever the market dictates there’s a space for – there was a serious question about whether a relaunched Virgin should be recognisable from before, or something new. Should it just be Virgin Radio about ten years older? Well eight years on, anyway. Or do you disregard what Virgin Radio meant as a brand to listeners in the past, and do something new? If you choose the latter, what is the point of retaining the brand? I suppose the thinking is that like a movie studio relaunching a popular franchise for a new generation, the same can be true for a radio station.

Although I did see a UTV presentation recently that noted the continued strength of the Virgin Radio brand, that perhaps wasn’t surprising given the station’s previous life, and the fact that it had a very successful run with Chris Evans at the helm. And anyone who’s been through a station re-brand will know that old brands live on much longer in listeners minds than marketeers might perhaps hope.

Then there’s the question of the wider radio landscape and a new Virgin Radio’s place in it. As well as Absolute, in broadly the same musical area, there is the new Radio X with its massive marketing budget and big-name presenters, and BBC 6 Music which gets larger all the time and is undoubtedly the “cool” station of the day.

The announcement of the new Virgin Radio line-up suggests to me that they’re actually trying something a bit different! I will admit that I was surprised that UTV let Johnny Vaughan up and leave for Radio X, when they’d had him on contract for TalkSport, but budgets are always finite, and UTV will undoubtedly hae some realistic audience targets that take account of their distribution. So instead it looks like Liam Thompson, Virgin Radio’s Programme Director, is trying something much more interesting.

Having former Radio 1 presenter Edith Bowman at breakfast almost seems like a direct response to the “male-ness” of Radio X, or at least the marketing surrounding that station’s launch.

And putting Kate Lawler in the afternoon slot – formerly of Capital, Kerrang and more recently Bauer’s Big City network – compounds that feeling. National radio is certainly too male, remaining the Achilles heel of Radio 2. Of course it’s disappointing that it should even need to be noted that 2 out 4 daytime presenters are women, but that’s a reflection of our industry today.

Also in the line-up are people I’m less familiar with like Jamie East and Matt Richardson, neither of who’s output I’ve ever seen. This also suggests, that I’m outside the target market for the new Virgin.

Rounding things off is Tim Cocker, who many were disappointed to lose when Xfm rebranded, as he lost his Manchester breakfast slot.

Overall, this is a much more interesting Virgin Radio than I’d envisaged. Again, my fear is that there could be too much congestion for audiences, so marketing for this and the other new stations will be imperative. Cross promotion on Talk branded services might not be enough.

I’m still curious to see exactly what TalkSport 2’s schedule ends up looking like, and whether it’ll be closer to Five Live Sports Extra (some extra programming, but lots of filler/repeats when there’s nothing new), or whether it’ll be more of a full-service. The next UK radio rights package for the Premier League has yet to be announced, and TalkSport might try to take a little more to put something on their new service. But Championship football might be more affordable at a time when the company is making a lot of investment in UK radio, and ridding itself of television.

What press there has been for TalkSport 2 mentions cricket, football, golf, horse racing, tennis, rugby and US sport. They launch at the Cheltenham Festival, and that might suggest that afternoons will have a lot of racing. Putting US sport on overnight might be a smart idea. Five Live Sports Extra covered the NFL this season, and in the past, the World Series has been broadcast. The radio commentaries exist, and with baseball, NBA and NFL (maybe even MLS), it could be as simple as retransmitting those commentaries. I speak as someone who once upon a time used to tune into distant Armed Forces Network programmes on AM to drift off to sleep listening to baseball.

Overall though, UTV should have a much healthier network offering to sell to advertisers, and given that most of the market is driven by large “share deals” for Global and Bauer, this is imperative for them.

Elsewhere, it’s very sensible that instead of the originally planned TalkBusiness, UTV has done a deal for the slot with London station Share Radio. Their challenge will be finding that business niche and monetising it.

From Bauer, we have not one, but two Magic spin-offs. Mellow Magic (or, as it was briefly, and bizarrely known, “Magic Mellow”) is to be joined by Magic Chilled, perhaps a little bit of one-upmanship against the upcoming Heart Extra back on Digital One. I confidently expect these to work precisely as Absolute Radio’s digital brethren work with its main brand. While it remains to be seen whether that includes changing the breakfast show music as Absolute does for Christian O’Connell, I would expect the same Magic presenters to be voice-tracking some more specialist versions of the Magic oeuvre, with perhaps a couple of new names helping out. The Absolute Radio Network model has proved itself.

The rest of Bauer’s services are either stations shifted from Digital One, to a perhaps more cost-effective platform, or moved up from local DAB multiplexes, where Bauer has a substantial shareholding.

Nearly all the rest of the DAB services on D2 are spin-offs of existing services. So Premier gets a second service, Premier Praise, as its main brand shifts multiplexes too. UCB 2 is another Christian service, previously available in London, while Sunrise and Panjab move up to a national platform.

The only other completely new service seems to be Awesome Radio (previously called British Muslim Radio), coming from the people who run Asian Sound Radio in Manchester. You would imagine that they will be able to utilise existing studios and personnel to keep costs reasonable.

Finally there are the two other new DAB+ services. When Sound Digital won the multiplex, they only talked about a single DAB+ service, whereas rival bidder Listen2Digital was talking of offering 4 DAB+ services. The fact that the Sound Digital bid won without a named service in place, and that subsequently it was advertising for services willing to run in DAB+ was perhaps a little concerning.

DAB+ has always been a chicken and egg situation in the UK. Because DAB has been around since the end of the nineties, many radios in UK homes do not have DAB+ compatibility. In territories where digital has been adopted more recently, DAB+ was offered from the outset. While more recent models have included DAB+, if only because the radios were built for more than just the UK market, it isn’t clear what proportion of radio sets in use today are DAB+ compatible.

So while I’ve no doubt there’ll be some rough numbers kicking around, produced with the help of manufacturers, it’s still a leap of faith for a broadcast who wants to go DAB+ only. Some radios might be upgradeable, since the choice about whether to include the DAB+ codec was really more about the intellectual property licences payable rather than the hardware required. But how many consumers will actually seek out that information, and go to the effort of plugging memory sticks into USB ports?

Sound Digital’s solution is to offer two existing relatively niche services in DAB+, as well as the new Magic Chilled. Jazz FM’s was once available on Digital One, but latterly it was largely available online, with only some local DAB coverage. Getting national coverage is good for the service.

It’s a similar story with Fun Kids. They target an audience that even RAJAR doesn’t properly measure, and so they need to be careful about how they spend money on broadcast transmission.

You would imagine that all three services are getting a “good deal” from Sound Digital, with everyone watching with interest to see how successful the services are. Because if DAB+ is actually available more widely than previously realised, then we can expect more services to switch to it. It’s a more efficient use of the limited data available in DAB multiplex, and can offer – shock – stereo sound at a more affordable price to stations. Stereo is especially important to Jazz aficionados!

For what it’s worth, I’ve been retuning some of my own DAB sets at home, which are largely Roberts models, to receive the test Waves and Waves+ test stations. All three of my main radios are DAB+. But none of them are especially old. Other, older radios await a retune.

[Updated to reflect that Magic Chilled is also in DAB+]

[Update: I’ve now tested all my radios and the results are here.]

D2 Bids: Further Thoughts

[Note: Updated following the publication of the detailed bid documents on the Ofcom website. Note that only parts of the applications have been made public. Other parts are confidential.

Sound Digital application hereListen2Digital application here.]

At a risk of boring everyone senseless about D2, I’ve got a few further thoughts that have come out of events and discussions since the big reveal yesterday:

  • Sound Digital is making a very big play of the fact that they have signed undertakings to ensure that, in the event that they win the licence, Bauer, UTV and Arqiva are financially on the hook for the full 12 years of their licence regardless of anything else. This provides Ofcom with certainty. Listen2Digital will need to similarly present a financial solid case.
  • Listen2Digital’s key point of difference is that it provides more choice in multiplex operator. i.e. Arqiva isn’t part of it. The question is whether or not Ofcom will take this into consideration.
  • Talkbusiness (I know UTV would prefer talkBUSINESS, but I capitalise proper nouns the correct way. It’s Easyjet as well on this blog!) has agreements with both Bloomberg and The Economist. Obviously there is currently Share Radio, available in London on DAB and part of Listen2Digital’s bid. And in the past there has been a Bloomberg radio service which was shut down (a US focused internet service lives on). This is a specialist area, and I suspect that it will be very hard to get ratings via RAJAR. I note that CNBC pulled out of BARB quite a few years ago.
  • I’m still unclear how Talksport 2 will fill all its hours. I’m sure that the radio rights for lower profile sports could be picked up relatively inexpensively, but there’s still a production cost. In a promotional video sports listed included rugby, cricket, F1, athletics and cycling. I wonder if horse racing is an interesting area with its obvious links with betting? (I’m not sure going exclusively with Channel 4 has worked well for the sport). Picking up radio rights to something like the IPL might be interesting though. Having two services could allow them to try interesting things with some of their commentaries though. If you had rights to, say, the Merseyside derby, could you put a Liverpool-skewed commentary on service and an Everton-skewed commentary on the other? To be fair, this sort of thing happens quite a lot in local radio where two local stations are broadcasting the same match for their respective supporters. And Absolute Radio, in the past, broadcast a comedy commentary for England rights that they had. The BBC has done the same with Chris Moyles and even a kids’ commentary.
  • Virgin Radio is going to target 25-44 year olds. Which is essentially the same target it had before. And is the same target that Absolute Radio has. I still see this as a direct competitor which makes things a bit strange, and perhaps uncomfortable in the bid meetings. We are promised some big names, although none have been proffered. The obvious radio personality currently without a berth is Chris Moyles. But prior to Bauer buying Absolute Radio there were rumours of a bid featuring Jonathan Ross going back to radio as well. But names like these aren’t cheap, and that’d be making a massive bet. It’s fair to say that most new digital-only music services rely heavily on pre-recorded voice links and generally cheaper talent. [See also the Updated section below]
  • Talkradio has an agreement with Comedy Central. How that will fit in will be interesting. Comedy has a strong radio heritage, but nobody really offers pure comedy for extended periods. Half hour shows are dropped in after the news. Presenters with comic chops still use lots of music in their shows. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what they do.
  • It does sound like there is still room on Sound Digital for some extra services. Their DAB+ slot has not been announced, and I’m not sure they’ve actually got a station lined up. And there could be more than one DAB+ service. They’re keeping their powder dry on this one. I still think that consumers will need quite a compelling option to actually replace older DAB radios with DAB+ capable models. But then as I’ve mentioned before, I think getting a really good handle on how many DAB+ sets are being used is really hard to do. Having at least one live service means that a mux owner could conduct extensive research to see who is able to hear it, using those findings to determine whether or not to later shift services from DAB to DAB+. Publicly at least, nobody has talked about making that transition over time, but it has to remain an option.
  • There is a significant difference in what each bid is offering in terms of coverage and a lot of people are confused about how Listen2Digital can have fewer transmitters but better coverage. Well I don’t know, but they’re not using all the same places. Fuller bid documents will be released later next week, and they may go some way to explaining that.
  • The more I think it about, the more dangerous it is that Bauer is proposing to move Absolute 80s from D1 to D2. I said prior to the announcement that I thought it’d be Absolute Radio 90s that’d make a reappearance nationally. Absolute 80s is a station with 1.4m reach and 6.8m hours. Not to be sniffed at. Yet the DAB coverage will be significantly worse, and that means listening will fall. Not everyone currently listening on DAB can be easily shifted to internet apps. On the other hand, it does provide a big draw for the bid.
  • Neither bid is making any commitment to extend their coverage beyond what they are saying in their bid documents. They could expand coverage, but it’ll be down to any agreements they have with their service providers, since each extra transmitter will end up costing service providers extra money.
  • Both groups have presented Ofcom with some comprehensive research backing up their bids and explaining why audience are interested in their offerings. Some of this research should become available next week on the Ofcom website, although some will remain confidential.
  • The new Magic spin-off station is definitely called “Magic Mellow” even though the programme strand it comes from is “Mellow Magic.” I think that’ll take quite a while for fans to adapt to!
  • I think a lot of people find the idea of a food radio station interesting. It’s easy to poo-poo the idea, but I was pointed towards Chef Radio by a commenter, and it’s worth noting that an awful lot of radio listening happens in the kitchen. Trying new formats is only to be encouraged.
  • If I’m honest, I’m disappointed that nobody is holding a space open for pop-up radio. I can think of all sorts of use cases, and commercially it could be a really interesting proposition. There are issues with the ease of getting new services on and off quickly with regard to the regulator, but Smooth Extra rebranding back to Smooth Christmas for a month isn’t really enough. Listen2Digital has the closest service to this with their Upload service which itself is interesting as I mentioned previously. But I’d love to see a permanent space carved out for pop-up services.
  • Anyone else notice that Global Radio, the UK’s biggest commercial radio group, isn’t anywhere in any of these groups (unless they’re a confidential supplier)? They have promised at least one further service on D1 though.
  • And perhaps less surprising, there’s nothing from the BBC. Last time around in 2007, BBC Asian Network was going to be on the NGW bid. Of course today there’s a tougher licence fee settlement and there’s the prospect of BBC Three going online only to save money, so the idea that the BBC might launch a new linear radio station is unlikely. Even though it could free up some space by moving a current channel over, you run into issues about reduced coverage. And with their Olympics, Eurovision and upcoming Country pop-ups, it has shown it can shift its “bits” around to accommodate services as need be (at a cost to stations like Radio 3 and Radio 4).
  • Finally, it’s worth noting that just because these stations are the ones that have gone in the bids, it doesn’t mean that things won’t change between now and launch. Come back in a year or so’s time to compare and contrast.

[Additional thoughts, post publication of the bid documents]

  • Stereo? What is this stereo you’re talking about? None of the regular DAB services offered by either Sound Digital or Listen2Digital will be stereo. Every service on Sound Digital will be mono – 64k mono for speech services, and 80k mono for music services. With Listen2Digital, they’re promising stereo for their four DAB+ services. Their regular DAB services will likewise mostly be in 80k mono for music, and 64k mono for speech. Notably a couple of the services – the sports service and Share Radio – will be in 48k mono. No current national service is broadcasting in this format, although previously Traffic Radio used it. Expect quality closer to AM for these.
  • DAB+ mono? Well that’s what Sound Digital are saying. Noticeably, they’re using fewer CUs for their DAB+ service that Listen2Digital is suggesting. That limits them to a mono service. Like DAB, DAB+ is only as good as the bit-rate you give it.
  • There’s still space for services on Sound Digital as I hypothesised above. Every DAB multiplex is divided into 864 “capacity units” (or CUs). You can allocate these as you need, which in turn determines your audio bitrate (and error correction level). As it stands, Listen2Digital is essentially full, with just 8 spare units – which could only be used for data purposes. Whereas Sound Digital has 98 spare units, which could accommodate, say, two speech services (64k mono), or one music service (80k mono) and a DAB+ service (mono or stereo).
  • Listen2Digital says that for the services it has not named, there may be either a confidentiality clause preventing them from naming the service at this time, or they may not have a service lined up or, “to
    allow third-parties who may be currently constrained from working with us to be able to come forward in due course.” They would advertise for such services on winning the bid.
  • Only Listen2Digital has allocated space for an EPG. Sound Digital has no plans “at this time.” Few radios in the market currently use EPGs because they have mostly only been furnished with relatively small LED screens. Devices like the Pure Sensia have been few and far between – with colour screens that could show either Slideshow imagery, or pull other information from via IP. As Listen2Digital note, with expanded choice, it does become harder for listeners to navigate between services. (I retuned a DAB radio at home recently, and ended up with 79 services across national, London, and nearby local mulitplexes – I live on a hill). I would hope that in future more devices (not “radios”, but multi-functional “devices” that have radio tuners embedded) will have bigger screens, so an EPG makes sense. As noted above, Sound Digital has the capacity to include one, they’ve just chosen not to at the moment.
  • Sound Digital includes a table (Table 11.5) that details potentially overlapping stations for each of its proposed services. Curiously, the potentially overlapping services for Virgin Radio are Team Rock, Planet Rock, Absolute 80s, Absolute Radio 90s, Kiss, and Capital Xtra. Spot the missing station? The main Absolute Radio service isn’t mentioned. If Virgin Radio is going to overlap with all those other services – suggesting a fairly varied mix of rock and pop, then surely it must also overlap with Absolute Radio? “The all new Virgin Radio will play a range of the best rock and pop music from the 1980s to the present day, appealing particularly to those aged 25-
    44 and with a clearly defined slight bias towards male listeners. Programming will be carefully tailored to what this target audience wants to hear.” That all sounds familiar to me…
  • Talksport 2’s programming will include additional sports coverage for which rights would probably be cheap to acquire, and reruns of popular Talksport shows. Interestingly it also says: “It is expected that this will include independently produced content.” I wonder if this might include broadcast opportunities for, say, popular football podcasts? An interesting thought. And it will also work with William Hill who provide internet audio streams for horse racing and darts coverage. Again a good way to fill the station.
  • For both Planet Rock and Absolute 80s, Bauer is promising to write to Ofcom with the rationale behind moving them over from D1. Beyond that, there’s no public explanation.
  • Sound Digital says that it will formally advertise its DAB+ spot subject to winning the award. However a service could jump in and do a deal with them in the meantime. They say that they’re looking for a service that will drive uptake of DAB+ sets. If the advertisement doesn’t get the desired result, then the consortium will create a new service themselves.
  • Sound Digital includes some really interesting research from Mediatique, commissioned by Arqiva, to determine how many DAB+ sets are currently in the market. This report claims that by the end of 2013, 2.9m sets were DAB+ compatible out of a total of 20m sets in the market – 14.5%. Further, by the end of 2020, the majority of radios in car and home will be DAB+. Unsurprisingly, their work also found that DAB+ stations would need to be “highly appealing” to accelerate DAB+ ownership. (Unfortunately, the full research document doesn’t appear on Ofcom’s website as it’s probably considered to be a confidential part of the bid.)
  • Both Listen2Digital and Sound Digital are effectively subsidising DAB+ capacity at launch. However Listen2Digital is offering substantially more space at the start – six times as much space.
  • Both bids will use the same error protection level (3) for their services. You can get more error protection, but that uses up more space. You can also get lower error protection, but that makes signal break-up likelier. Both groups have taken the middle ground on this – which is what most multiplexes do.

As to which of these bids will win? Well the safe option is Sound Digital – whatever your personal choice, they’re the consortium with two big broadcasters and the tried and tested transmission supplier. But what will Ofcom do? I did have a quick look over at the “special bets” on Betfair, but it seems that there’s not sufficient demand for a betting market on who wins the D2 licence.

Read my initial thoughts on Listen2Digital and Sound Digital.

Disclaimer: These are my personal views, and don’t represent those of my current or past employers. Probably not any future ones either!