Written by Radio

Radio 1 Listening by Age – A Closer Examination

One of the things that I noted in my Q3 2013 RAJAR summary was that Radio 1’s average age was just not shifting. And despite an overall fall in audience over recent quarters, notably following the departure of Chris Moyles, it just hasn’t fallen.

I thought that this was worth exploring some more, because I do think Ben Cooper, controller of Radio 1, has a fairly thankless task to completely shed those older listeners. Cooper has likened them to “festival dads” – those older listeners who just won’t stop acting like children (At Absolute Radio, we refer to them as reluctant adults, and make a virtue of marketing them).

First some facts. For the most part, any RAJAR analysis you see (including my own) will be based on adults 15+. That’s the accepted definition of adults in the radio world, and is really determined as much as anything by advertisers who want to target an audience of that age upwards. But in recent years RAJAR has actually measured everyone from 10 upwards. So rightly, Radio 1 prefer to use this as their baseline.

For the purposes of this analysis, I’ve also used 10+, since it includes the youngest of listeners that we can measure.

The two key measurements for RAJAR are weekly reach – the number of different people who listen to at least five minutes of a station in a given week – and hours – the cumulative amount of time those people spend listening to the station.

Anyway, the chart below shows listening by age for Q3 2013. A switch at the top lets you choose between reach and hours.

What both versions of the chart show is that although Radio 1 certainly does appeal to younger listeners, there’s a significant number of listeners outside its core target. The BBC Trust says that the station should target 15-29s. But as the chart shows, just over 50% of listeners are actually aged 30 upwards. And it’s not as if they’re lighter listeners either, since they contribute 52% of the station’s listening hours.

The BBC will rightly point out that average age – or mean age – can disguise the fact that the peak age group is much younger. Indeed if you consider the modal age (the single most popular age group), you can see that it’s 18 for reach (and 23 for hours). But the third “average” for those who remember their GCSE/”O” Level maths, is the median – or midpoint – and that’s 30 for reach.

Indeed, a full quarter of Radio 1’s listeners are aged 30-42. Which means that another quarter of Radio 1’s audience is 42+. And what’s more, they account for something like 23% of listening. Ironically, I fear that in part, this is because older listeners are more likely to listen to the radio anyway, whereas Radio 1’s target market is listening to less radio altogether.

That 25% of listeners aged 42+ are really messing up Radio 1’s average audience. If they disappeared tomorrow, the average age of a Radio 1 listener would immediately fall to 25 – much more nicely within the station’s target age group.

But I wonder if slicing an audience up by age is the right way to do things any longer?

Are artists or genres completely age dependent any longer? Or do we split our musical tastes in a different way?

If you look use Compare My Radio to look at the two (I compared the stations since the start of the year), there’s only a small crossover. But it’s significant. Radio 1 has, unsurprisingly, a smaller playlist than Radio 2. But over the course of 10 months, it has shared 9% of its playlist according to the site (Note: It’s not perfectly accurate). That’ll be artists like Jessie J, Adele and Coldplay (but not Robbie Williams!). Indeed, one of the most interesting sessions at this year’s Radio Festival covered this very point with BBC research identifying how musical genres are broken down in different ways.

It’s not really clear to me why older listeners are still listening to Radio 1. Are their children forcing them to listen at the breakfast table and in the car? Are they rejecting commercial stations? Have just not heard of 6 Music? Have they never listened to Radio 2? Or do they just feel that they want to stay relevant? I suspect that it’s a bit of all those things, as well as not wanting to grow up. Radio 1 is keeping them young.

Since Radio 1 can’t ban people from listening to the station, I’m not sure what the answer is beyond trying to continue to talk the language of their core audience. They could also go younger. Although their Trust commitment is to start with 15 year olds, I’m not sure that putting a slightly larger emphasis on teen-pop bands wouldn’t help a bit.

Whatever route Radio 1 follows, it’s not going to be easy. But I really hope they succeed for the sake of everyone who loves radio.

Note: I’ve tried using Datawrapper for presenting my data in charts this time, rather than my regular Google. I’m not sure if it’s any better or worse just yet.

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, Individuals 10+.

Disclaimer: These are my own views, although they’re based on work I’ve done for Absolute Radio, and through whom I get access to the data. I also sit on the RAJAR Technical Management Group representing commercial radio. Just so you know.