What’s The Truth Behind Digital Radio Figures?

The dust has settled a little bit on the last RAJAR figures were released.
But there were a number of stories surrounding RAJAR much like this one, highlighting the fact that the overall level of digital listening fell from 21.1% in Q3 2009 to 20.9% in Q4 2009.
That 0.2% drop was clearly disappointing, but perhaps not altogether surprising given that the margins of error in RAJAR clearly see even obvious trends occassionally shift backwards.
To put this in context, here’s the all digital listening figure since it first started being measured with the RAJAR Q2 2007 release:

Source: RAJAR
(NB. If anyone can tell me how to get a Google chart to include data values on the top of bars, then that’d be wonderful. Just comment below).
Broadly speaking it’s an upward trend. Yes, it’s flattened a little of late, but we also know that in Q4 2009 we passed 10m DAB sets in the market overall, so we can probably expect to see an increase in all digital listening in Q1 2010 when that data becomes available in May. As the chart shows, there have previously been significant jumps between Q4 and Q1 following those Christmas sales.
But we can also see that in Q4 2008 there was a 0.4% decrease from 18.7% to 18.3%. The figure then jumped up 1.8% to 20.1% in Q1 2009.
I make no secret that I work for a station that is very happy to see its digital listening increase substantially over the past couple of years. An AM-only music service is not going to have a long future in the 21st century.
Absolute Radio’s National service (i.e. excluding the FM London signal) has now reached 54.0%. Again there’s been the odd quarter where there have been decreases, but one data point is not a trend.

Source: RAJAR
None of this can disguise that overall fall in digital listening. Noted DAB sceptic, Grant Goddard, highlighted the fall in listening to digital only stations. He claims that “the UK radio industry’s strategy for its digital stations is in tatters.” He admits that there were no specific strategic shifts – no stations closing, and no notable format changes. Instead he claims that this “the result of increasing public malaise about the whole DAB platform and the radio content that is presently being offered on it (plus a little Q4 seasonality).”
But is that the whole story? I’d say not.
One of the less reported figures from this quarter’s RAJAR is that overall recorded listening fell – quite a lot, falling 2.1% to just below 1 billion hours a week. That’s very nearly 21m hours less listening a week, or about the amount of listening the Real Radio Network or Talksport achieves in a week. Whether or not that fall is the beginning of a trend or not is not something we know yet, but I suspect that it’s just a blip. It’s only a couple of quarters, after all, since we saw the biggest ever recorded audience for radio.
Yet despite that fall, DAB listening actually increased between Q3 and Q4 2009 (Digital radio, lest we forget is not identical to DAB radio. DAB is one element of digital radio, albeit the major one).

Source: RAJAR
That’s right: there’s more listening to DAB now than there has ever been and that’s in spite of there being fewer hours overall spent listening to radio.

Source: RAJAR
Clearly other forms of digital listening have decreased along with analogue listening. But these results would certainly seem to contradict claims of an “increasing public malaise about the whole DAB platform.”
People are actually spending longer listening to DAB radio; again it’s at a record high.

Source: RAJAR
Do we need better and more digital radio stations to continue to drive DAB uptake?
I’d never argue otherwise. But there are a few out there. Jazz FM had some good reach figures this quarter, even if its hours showed a decrease. NME showed a very good increase in listening hours, and these numbers include barely any listening via the national commercial DAB multiplex with NME only arriving on Digital One at the end of the quarter. Planet Rock continues to do very well with nearly five million hours all attributable to digital platforms. BBC 6Music has just achieved its largest ever reach figure with just short of 700,000 listeners, and the BBC Trust has just challenged it to increase those numbers (more on those findings to follow!). And Absolute 80s launched at the end of 2009. Although there won’t be any RAJAR figures for this service until May, it has been well received from what we can tell internally in terms of streaming.
Goddard published a chart similar to this:

Source: RAJAR
It shows digital listening for a number of services since Q1 2003. While I certainly haven’t included every digital only service on this chart, I’ve included all those that Goddard included as well as some of the BBC’s services.
There’s one over-riding service here that seems to be having a disproportionate impact on the numbers: The Hits. This is a service that shared its name with a sister TV channel, until the TV channel was renamed and relaunched as 4Music during Q3 2008. What’s more The Hits was one of only two music television services that were available on Freeview – surely the bedroom TV choice of many a 15-24? When 4Music launched in August 2008, listening for The Hits started to decline. And that decline has continued.
Can I prove that the two are related? No.
Could I definitively demonstrate that respondents completing RAJAR diaries were recording listening to a radio station when in fact they watching a music television channel? Absolutely not.
But what I can do is show you a chart without The Hits to see what impact it has on the overall picture.

Source: RAJAR
I think this presents a bit of a more positive story for digital only service providers.
Clearly there have been some dips in the most recent data, but there’s still an overall trend. And as Goddard himself noted, there wasn’t anything in particular in the fourth quarter of last year that would affect listening, so let’s see what Q1 2010 data brings before we write off digital services completely.
Radio operators obviously do need to offer strong services as an incentive to speed up the migration of listening to digital platforms. Nobody’s ever pretended this would be an easy journey, meeting an overall 50% level of digital listening remains a serious challenge. But let’s not conflate digital radio and DAB radio. And let’s not let a bad story get in the way of the facts shall we?
[Disclaimer: These are my opinions and not necessarily those of my employer.]


  1. You mentioned “trends” a few times above. Here’s a trend for you (DAB’s actual annual sales versus forecast annual sales):
    Not sure if that graph will show up or not in HTML img tags, but in case it does:
    That’s why Tim Davie said last year that at the current rate of sales we wouldn’t see digital radio switchover “in our lifetime”.
    DAB has already failed commercially, Adam. The only thing stopping it from complete collapse is the Government and the BBC’s willingness to force it upon the public. If it wasn’t for them, DAB would collapse and die. Without the BBC’s TV advertising for DAB, FM would simply never be switched off, because it would take decades to reach switchover, and the commercial radio groups would simply pull out before that could happen to save on decades of dual transmission costs.
    And remember Ofcom’s market research: 91% of listeners are “satisfied” with the amount of choice available, and only 3% are “dissastisfied”.
    You can spin your RAJAR listening figures as much as you like, but one thing you can’t spin is that the public isn’t interested in DAB.

  2. That Tim Davie quote needs to be placed in context Steve. He said that it wouldn’t happen unless the industry woke up to the challenges it faced. I know, because I heard his speech. It was on the occassion of the announcement of the Radio Council.
    The whole point of the piece above is that I haven’t spun any figures. They are what they are. I think I’ve presented most of the salient RAJAR figures for digital radio – the “good” ones and the “bad” ones.
    As for forecasts? Well they change year after year. Nobody predicted a recession for example. Trying to estimate in 2003 how many DAB sets will be sold in 2009 is a thankless task.
    As I say, more people are listening to more DAB than ever before.

  3. The actual quotes of what he said are here:
    “continuing current purchase trends would not lead to radio switchover in our lifetime”
    And he repeated what he said a few months later:
    “I said on current trends it won’t happen in our lifetime, and I meant it”
    So I don’t think I took what he said out of context.
    The maths backs up what he was saying anyway. He said it last year, at a time when DAB’s annual sales had been 2 million for the last couple of years (and they’re still about 2 million now), the target replacement figure is about 120 million FM devices, and 8 million DAB receivers had been sold at the time. Therefore, at the current rate of sales it should take
    (120 – 8) / 2 = 56 years before FM could be switched off

  4. And Davie has since said in November 2009:
    “Let me just make a few quick points on DAB which I hope will soon be called simply Digital Radio!
    “I will not go through all the logic of why we support the concept of a digital broadcast network for radio – that is well-trodden ground – but let me just indicate some of the real progress which I think is being made behind the scenes on the fundamentals.
    “I have said before that unless we tackle the basics – industry alignment, coverage, device pricing, in-car penetration and an improved content offer – then digital wireless sets sales will not flourish. The setting out of clear criteria which need to be delivered before a switchover can happen is significant and it helps set a course for a more competitive and flourishing market.”
    “DAB is of course not a done deal, there are big risks and the radio industry needs to roll up its sleeves and get the job done, but the prize of one robust digital broadcast network with a more vibrant competitive market with a leaner cost base has to be worth fighting for.”
    So I think Davie has a very realistic view of DAB.
    Are we there yet? Of course not. Nobody’s arguing that. But calling the baby stillborn is also patently untrue.
    [And I’m ending this particular correspondence here thanks.]

  5. Yes, the most important thing is probably that total listening hours decreased 2.5% (as your graph shows; not 2.1% stated. Which the RAJAR press release omitted, and Press did note note.
    For digital, the most important thing is that DAB includes FM (and Internet) listening on DAB/FM/Internet radios. This could easily be 1/3 to 1/2 of the ~13% reported.
    And, adjusting for total radio listening, rather than only live for subscribers, RAJAR doubles Internet live for listen later, podcasts and tracklist services. And, considering the rest of UK stations, and the rest of the world, probably doubles Internet again.
    Adjusted for total listening, DAB and Internet could easily be about equal now.
    If Absolute National AM is 54% digital, what % of Absolute London FM is digital?

  6. The chart was actually wrong. Thanks – I’ve corrected it. RAJAR hours did decrease 2.1% on the quarter which is what the chart now shows. 2.5% was the year on year decrease.
    There’s not actually any proof of your supposition that people listening to FM via DAB are incorrectly recording their listening. Nor are there any figures to back this up. They could just as well be listening to DAB and recording their listening as FM in that instance.
    Indeed there’s a significant amount of “platform unstated” and a small amount “digital platform unstated” listening that’s not included in any of the above figures. Some of this is analogue, and some of it is digital listening.
    RAJAR currently only measures live listening. Listen Again services such as those available on the BBC are not included in RAJAR listening figures. Nor are podcasts.
    But what I can tell you is that Absolute Radio’s streaming listening whilst very healthy and increasing (note that these figures are not directly comparable with RAJAR although they are indicative), are still significantly lower than analogue and DAB listening.
    “Listen Again” in radio is largely confined to the BBC. So it’s statistics are worth looking at in regard to on demand versus live. Recent figures show that less than 30% of BBC iPlayer listening is on demand (p14 of the PDF).
    Absolute Radio, like most stations are strong beleivers in IP listening. You can get streams in more formats from Absolute Radio than just about any other radio station in the world. But while, for example, building mobile phone applications increases listening levels, let’s not pretend that such listening is mainstream yet.
    As for Absolute’s London FM service – none of it is digital. The service is different in terms of advertising. Therefore our Absolute Radio London figure is 100% analogue. If you listen online, on DAB or on DTV and live in London, you hear the national service.
    However, if you look at Absolute Radio’s overall digital percentage of listening including that analogue FM listening, it’s at 31.6% – up 1.1% on the quarter and 2.8% on the year. Absolute Radio is very open in publishing this figure as well.

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