How Many Listened?

According to a story in Media Guardian, “an estimated 5 million” people tuned in to hear who would be the Christmas number one yesterday during the various chart shows.
There are two main chart shows these days: the Radio 1 version which is considered the official chart, and the Big Top 40 chart which runs on dozens of local commercial radio stations and during which you can actually affect the top ten chart placings by buying songs during the show.
Radio has a couple of problems with listening figures for one-off shows: RAJAR only measures audiences over three month periods, and then publishes those figures at something of a delay. So even if one show achieved four times the audience of the regular show, when averaged over a thirteen (or twelve) week period, that audience surge is flattened out. This is even more the case with the Big Top 40 chart which has 6 month weighting meaning that the numbers are derived from the previous 12 weeks’ performance.
So the 5 million figure is a complete (educated) guess.
To be fair, that’s what John Plunkett’s piece says, and the figure comes from Mark Goodier:
But Goodier estimated that the combined audience for the Radio 1 chart show – yesterday hosted by Scott Mills – and its commercial radio rival, the Big Top 40 , could have topped 5 million.
How did Goodier get to that figure? Well he might have looked at the audiences of Radio 1 and the Big Top 40 shows at that time. Between 1845 and 1900 on Sundays, Radio 1 is heard by 748,000 listeners, while the Big Top 40 chart is heard by 968,000 listeners across its network of 139 FM stations as well as various digital outlets*.
So something like 1.7m people usually hear the number one. Goodier is speculating that around 3 times as many people heard yesterday’s chart.
I think that he might actually be being a little conservative. The two songs battling for the number one sold around a million copies between them. Ordinarily a number one sells much less than this (perhaps by a factor of ten if this table from Wikipedia detailing download only sales is to be believed).
In summary – nobody knows how many people listened yesterday. This is a bad time of year to do any kind of research (RAJAR takes a break for a couple of weeks), and unless somebody like the BBC has commissioned some, we’ll never know.
I think that Goodier is actually being conservative given the many millions who saw Joe win X-Factor the week before, allied with the hundreds of thousands of Rage and Joe sales achieved. I’d put the figure a bit higher perhaps at around 6 or 7 million. But I have no real proof either way. So it’s a fair guestimate.
* Note that I’ve used 6 month weighting for the Big Top 40 figures, but only 3 month weighting for Radio 1, in line with their respective RAJAR reporting periods. Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB period ending September 2009.






5 responses to “How Many Listened?”

  1. James Cridland avatar

    Of course, if radio used electronic measurement, we’d know exactly how many people tuned in. Instead, we use diaries which measure peoples’ perception and memory, rather than actual listening; and have no idea whether programming like this works well.

  2. James Cridland avatar

    Of course, if radio used electronic measurement, we’d know exactly how many people tuned in. Instead, we use diaries which measure peoples’ perception and memory, rather than actual listening; and have no idea whether programming like this works well.

  3. Adam Bowie avatar

    And if somebody can come up with an electronic measurement system that works and measures insignificant things like, umm, breakfast, then we could adopt it.
    Not that anybody would ask for radio overnights. They’d be thoroughly inaccurate and advertising agencies simply don’t want them as they’d cost too much to administer in comparison with the money spent on radio.
    Of course in the UK we tested the technology rather than have the service provider roll it out whether or not we liked it.

  4. James Cridland avatar

    I think this a valid debate to have; and possibly not to hide in blog comments.
    But: you’re insinuating there that electronic measurement doesn’t measure breakfast listening. That was a myth circulated by anti-changeists, which I initially fell for. Having learnt the facts, rather than the propaganda, I can let you know that the Arbitron PPM, at least, DOES measure all the time, regardless of whether it’s being moved.
    You’re also insinuating that PPM doesn’t work. It’s certainly true that the answers might not be to everyone’s taste, since memory-based research manages to over-estimate big brands in favour of what people actually listen to – and therefore the bigger radio groups, who own those big established brands, are happier with the status quo. It’s also true that it’s changing how stations are marketed in PPM markets (far less reliance on brand name, far more on the frequency). But the technology clearly works.
    Finally, you also claim that PPMs won’t give radio overnights, and that people wouldn’t ask for them. However, accuracy is based on sample size and not technology, one could argue; and overnights, while not accurate, are certainly useful indicators to discover whether the £200,000 coverage of a music festival, instead of the £200 ‘ten songs in a row’, attracted more audience.
    I completely acknowledge that you know far more about these issues than I; so I’m asking to be educated as to why electronic measurement won’t work for radio. From my position, it’s essential for the medium.

  5. Adam Bowie avatar

    You’re right that this probably does deserve something more than hiding in these comments. And I should probably address them at some point, although I should point out that although I sit on the RAJAR Technical Management Group, I didn’t at the time that RAJAR made its choices regarding meters.
    The real issue about the meters is not whether or not they work. They do – and can easily measure audio whether being worn by participants or not.
    It’s more a question of whether or not the participants are carrying their PPMs with them. Think about the average household morning with people going into the bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, lounge and possibly other rooms. They’re not always clothed in all those places, and therefore not always carrying their meter with them.
    Indeed the major issue was with compliance I believe: as I understand it, barely anybody at all carried their meter with them at all times. And quite a lot didn’t carry their meter for significant times.
    The other major issue is lack of headphone listening. While I’m sure that there are technical ways of feeding your headphone cable through the meter into your listening device, are people really prepared to put up with a tangle of wires when just plugging headphones into an iPod can generate enough problems as it is.
    In the long term I’m sure that many of these issues can be combatted, but I’m not convinced they have been.
    Will PPMs produce very different – and quite probably lower listening levels? Almost certainly. Any changes to any research methodology will result in different measurements.
    As you’re almost certainly aware my own employer (Absolute Radio) quite probably loses out from the current measurement mechanism because it relies on recall of the station, and if you don’t know the station’s name, you can’t record it in the diary. So I’d be delighted if a new mechanism was put into place that worked. But I’m not convinced by the evidence so far.
    In the UK, we were lucky that we have an industry body willing to test different devices rather than an external body that essentially makes up its own rules: the BBC and commercial radio own RAJAR, whereas Arbitron is a commercial organisation offering a monopoly service.
    Finally, the overnights issue isn’t about whether or not PPMs can supply them – of course they can! It’s a question of whether the industry wants – or more to the point – can afford them. Radio groups certainly can’t, and agencies don’t want the extra work that’d be required. TV revenues make it worthwhile investing in manpower to analyse the non-stop arrival of data. Radio gets 4-5% of spend if it’s lucky, so it can’t afford to staff up. There’s an interesting story in the number of staff currently required to service online but that’s probably for another post (clue: they use far too many people).