Written by Radio

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.]