Written by Media, Radio

Digital Radio – Is It All Doom and Gloom?

I’ve already been through the latest RAJAR results, and in my summary I said:
The digital listening figure for all radio went up a fraction as noted above. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a bit disappointing even if the year on year growth is quite reasonable – up from 21.1% to 24.8% now. The BBC is slightly ahead of that average at 24.9% while commercial radio is slightly behind it at 24.1%.
I just used the overall numbers for digital listening, but those figures can be broken down further. That 24.8% is made up of 15.3% DAB, 4.4% digital television, 2.8% internet and 2.2% unattributed digital listening.
An article in the Telegraph, and digital doom-monger Grant Goddard, have both highlighted the fact that the DAB constituent part has dropped this quarter from 15.8% to 15.3%. This is emblamatic, seemingly, of DAB’s failure.
But let’s look at the digital listening figures in a bit more detail shall we?

The immediate thing to notice is that, yes, that DAB percentage has fallen a bit this quarter. But can that really be said to be the beginning of a trend? Not at all. Overall, digital listening dropped between Q3 09 and Q4 09 last year when we had more stories about the failure of digital radio. What happened after that? The numbers jumped back up to 24.0%
And what would you say is the overall trend on that chart?
In fact – don’t let your eyes deceive you. Run the numbers through Excel and get a trend line. But I’ve done it for you. It gives
y = 0.0082x + 0.1338
For the less mathematically inclined, the fact that both numbers on the right hand side of the equation are positive means that the trend is upwards.
Go on. Here’s the chart with a trendline on (not Google Charts this time)
What those charts also clearly display is that the growth in digital listening is seasonal, with significant step-changes coming in Q1 each year after Christmas presents have been given.
Now would the radio industry (well most of it anyway) be happier if the digital growth was faster than this?
Absolutely (no pun intended).
But nonetheless, some stations are doing very well indeed. Let me refer you once more to my previous entry on RAJAR – Absolute Radio’s Network has grown by 24%, and that’s driven by digital growth. Radio 1Xtra just published its biggest ever reach, and 6Music has double the audience it had last year. Then next quarter will be the first in which Smooth has been fully national on DAB. And the RadioPlayer is soon to launch which will make listening online much easier. Applications to listen to stations on mobile phones are flying, with all the major groups creating applications for the bigger platforms (Global has just launched their Windows Mobile 7 applications) as smartphone penetration and mobile data usage increases. And digital television switchover is still happening, meaning that as well as homes’ main sets, secondary TV sets in kitchens and bedrooms go digital where they can also be tuned to radio stations.
Who says the future of radio isn’t digital?
[James Cridland also addresses this issue here.] Disclaimer: These are my personal views, and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer. Furthermore, I do sit on the RAJAR Technical Management Group, which works closely on these matters. Although, that hopefully means that I know what I’m talking about.