Written by Radio

Digital Powerhouses

This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 6 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I’m pleased to be able to bring you this analysis. For more details on RALF, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about the RAJAR that was released last week, is that the two most interesting stories have come from digital stations. Both BBC 6 Music and Absolute 80s have seen their best ever reach figures. But aside from the platforms they broadcast on, and the music they play, they’re actually quite different beasts.

If you look at the raw numbers, then it looks as though 6 Music and Absolute 80s are quite similar. The former has just short of 2m listeners, while the latter has just short of 1.5m listeners. They’re both digital, and have seen growth as digital audio platforms have evolved. OK – only one has been threatened with the chop.

But 6 Music listeners are closer to traditional station listeners than those to Absolute 80s – because for them, their station is more likely to be their primary station. In radio-speak they have a lot of “P1” listeners – that is people for whom it’s their favourite station.

37% of the 6 Music audience are P1’s – they spend more time with 6 Music than any other station. Whereas for Absolute 80s it’s just 1.3% of the audience. That’s a massive difference.

That’s because Absolute 80s serves a different purpose. You tune in when you’re in the mood for 80s music. You don’t listen all the time – you pick and choose when you want to hear it. It’s a party station. You listen to it alongside your other station.

One key metric to compare is the average hours spent listening to each of the services. For Absolute 80s it’s 4.8, whereas for 6 Music it’s 9.2 – nearly twice as much time spent listening.

Another thing to look at is listeners’ repetoires – the number of different stations they listen to in the course of a week. The chart below shows that the average radio listener only hears 2.9 stations a week. They’re really rather conservative. But it’s easier if you have a digital set, with a display letting you know what you’re listening to. Remember, some people prefer never to move their “dial” in case they lose their favourite station.

You can see from this chart that listeners to digital stations like 6 Music and especially Absolute 80s, are very happy listening to other stations (perhaps the big surprise here is Radio 3). Absolute 80s listeners tune around – perhaps to other Absolute Radio services.

Now Absolute Radio has done some clever things. They always used to simulcast the Christian O’Connell breakfast show across all their services. But that meant that everyone got the same music. Sure there’d be the odd 80s track in there, but there’d be much more contemporary stuff. Earlier this year, they introduced a new process whereby you only heard relevant music from that decade on the station. So 80s music on Absolute 80s, 90s music on Absolute Radio 90s and so on. The system – styled Project Banana – won the TechCon Technical Excellence Award recently at the Radio Festival.

Some radio purists will be a little upset about the system. Surely that means Christian can’t talk about the music he’s playing if it’s different on each station? Well, yes. But then when was the last time you heard a breakfast presenter talk about the stream of hits they’re playing? Breakfast shows are all about the other stuff. In any case, this has long been the way things are done in the US where a big breakfast show might air on an A/C station in New York and a Country station in Nashville.

Which all means it’s interesting to see that Absolute 80s sees 462,000 listeners at breakfast out of a total of nearly 1.8m. But look across the rest of the day and see where the peaks are compared with “ordinary” radio.

The chart below lets you switch between the Absolute 80s, BBC 6 Music and All Radio, to demonstrate when people listen to the radio in general and those two stations in particular.

The Monday to Friday peak for Absolute 80s is actually after breakfast and during mid-morning. I’ve not plotted it here, but I’d hazard that a decent amount of that listening is at work, probably via a PC with headphones, or via a DAB radio for which Absolute 80s is a happy medium for a mixed age-range of workers.

Look at BBC 6 Music, and there’s a similar, but subtly different pattern. 6 Music is all about daytime (again I’m ignoring weekends here, when listening patterns can be markedly different) too. But because it’s a more solid listen. While the peak is at about 10am, it’s pretty flat through until 5pm when there’s marked drop-off. Absolute 80s sees more of a decline over daytime, and instead actually spikes at 5pm. Neither station really competes in the evening.

Now look at All Radio. This is your traditional radio chart. There’s a peak between 8.00 and 8.15 only to drop away during the day before a slight bump at 5pm, and another samller bump at 10pm (which is often speech based).

There’s no doubt that it remains hard to listen to either of these stations in cars. But we should neither under-estimate nor over-estimate what that means. According to RAJAR, 83% of the adult population owns a car. But 84% of BBC 6 Music listeners have a car, and a massive 88% of Absolute 80s listeners have one.

In other words, these strong listening figures are despite the fact that it’s pretty hard to listen to digital radio in the car. Certainly new cars are more likely than not to have a DAB radio, but most cars on the road don’t have one. And while you can hook up your phone to the car’s speaker system, that becomes an expensive way to listen to the radio unless you have a good data package.

20% of listening to the radio is done in car. That means that 80% isn’t – plenty of time to be able to generate a decent audience.

In the past people have compared the relative successes of Radio 3 and 6 Music (I’ve done it myself). 6 Music is now a bigger station, and for some reason that has led to some people suggesting that it should switch FM frequencies with Radio 3.

What a strange idea.

The 6 Music audience has already found the station. They’re listening. While Radio 3’s digital listening is high – with 43% of the station’s listening being digital and 48% of its listeners hearing the service via a digital platform for at least some of the time – that still means a sizeable part of the audience wouldn’t be able to hear it if they switched today.

While a switch from analogue to digital is something for the future at some point, it would be very backward thinking to switch from digital back to analogue.

The more interesting question is the relative sizes of Absolute Radio and Absolute 80s. Absolute 80s is about 430,000 listeners behind Absolute Radio. Should Bauer maintain its AM transmitter network, might they consider switching Absolute Radio for Absolute 80s on that platform?

Relatively few listeners would be affected as RAJAR suggests as little as 20% of Absolute Radio’s listening is via AM. It’s almost certainly less than that, since much of that “AM” listening is found just outside London – in other words, in areas where you can probably quite easily still get an FM signal which is what I believe that listening actually is. So a switch to something different probably wouldn’t cause that big a blip in listening figures. This’ll be something to watch.

So there you have it. Two digital station doing very well, but performing different jobs.

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.