This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the many years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I am delighted that I continue to be able to bring you this RAJAR analysis in association with RALF. For more details on the product, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.
Note: This blog is best read on laptops or tablets rather than phones because of the various charts that are included.
Introduction and Sampling Notes
It’s been a while.
As you may or may not be aware, RAJAR, the UK’s radio audience measurement body jointly owned by the BBC and Radiocentre on behalf of commercial radio, was forced to suspend measurement at the start of the Covid outbreak. That’s in large part because it relies on recruiting respondents in their own homes to complete RAJAR’s digital and paper diaries. The very foundations of the research are conducted in this fashion.
It’s important to note that simply switching to another kind of methodology is simply not do-able. So they couldn’t suddenly just use online panellists for example.
RAJAR is unique in that a single methodology measures stations from some of the very smallest to the massive national brands using a similar methodology. And if you change methodologies – even in quite small ways – you can cause massive changes in the measurement.
Anyway, RAJAR is back, having worked out a compliance procedure for recruiting new diarists. However, it has been recruited in a slightly different manner, and that has ramifications. There are now three parts to the sample instead of one. The largest part remains individuals recruited door-to-door and asked to complete a digital or paper diary for a single week, as was the case previously. But they’ve added into the mix, a panel of previous respondents who have been keeping diaries for multiple weeks. Panels are used widely in research – BARB in TV uses a panel for example – but they bring their own issues because if your panel isn’t properly weighted to the population, you can miss some consumption. The other addition they’ve made in the short term is to use a passive sample. These people use an app on their phone to capture listening. In the US Neilsen uses passive sampling like this, although using a bespoke device and not a mobile app as here. Again there are benefits and issues that come with it. Ordinarily a RAJAR respondent needs to know what station they’re listening to record it. If you’re in a shop and the radio is playing the new Adele single, it could be just about any station in the country. A passive monitor can work it out – either by listening for hidden signals in the audio, or determining which station was playing that track at that precise moment.
Longterm, RAJAR is going to closely monitor the three portions of the sample and it’s likely that changes will be made. But in the short term, that’s the sample we have – representing every locality in the country to ensure that there is a big enough sample to give each station fresh data this quarter.
The one significant downside is that RAJAR is explicitly telling users of the data that they shouldn’t compare this quarter with previous quarters. To be clear, stations can do that themselves, but they shouldn’t do it for other stations or groups. And consequently, I’m not going to do it here. So unusually, this time around I won’t be giving Quarter on Quarter and Year on Year comparisons. Instead I’ll look at how the stations stack up against one another, and anything else that stands out in the data.
RAJAR has a press release on its website about some of this.
All of that means that this RAJAR blog is going to be a bit different to some of my previous ones.
So with all of that out of the way, let’s get on…
There are a few new services that have come on board RAJAR in the months since we last had a report, but the two most interesting ones are Times Radio and Boom Radio.
Times Radio launched in June 2020, with a financial model that sees it monetised partly with sponsorship (but not spot advertising) and partly by it being treated as a marketing driver to The Times itself and its various digital subscription offerings.
RAJAR shows it to have a reach of 637,000 with hours of 3.5m. That makes it bigger than News UK stablemate talkRADIO, but much smaller than LBC or Five Live. It’s hard to say whether or not News UK would be happy with this. I suspect that a bigger reach would be nice (Wouldn’t it always?), but that hours are quite decent. 5.5 hours a week isn’t at all bad for a station as new as this, suggesting that the audience is hanging around. Speech stations do tend to have good average hours though.
Boom Radio is an independent station launched by radio “veterans” Phil Riley and David Lloyd (Disclaimer: I know both of them, and have previously worked with David). So named because it targets Baby Boomers, a generation who still listen to the radio a lot, when other services have been shifting towards younger demographics (I think Radio 2 was referenced a lot by them at launch), the station launched in February this year and is full of presenters for whom the target audience will be familiar.
Their first figures show a reach of 233,000 with hours of 1.8m. I think those are “OK” numbers. Unlike Times Radio which had some significant marketing behind it, Boom Radio has had much less spent on it. But those who listen are very loyal. 7.8 hours a week average listening is excellent – better than stations like Five Live for example. So for them, I suspect it’s a question of getting the name out there some more.
One of the tenets of radio listening is that it is habitual. We wake up each morning and, assuming that radio is part of our day, then we tend to listen to the same stations at the same points of the day each and every day. In “normal” times, that could mean waking up the radio as an alarm clock, listening in bathrooms and kitchens, and then on our journeys to work.
But what if a large part of the population is no longer going to work? What happens then?
I recently looked at Department for Transport data that measures various sectors of our transport to see how much the pandemic had changed them over time. They started pre-pandemic when travel was at 100% – i.e. everything was normal. Then they kept measuring those datapoints to see how things changed.
The chart above shows some of these behaviours, with the various waves of Covid hitting the UK with all forms of transport being reduced, until more recently when car usage (the blue line) is back to its norm, but with much public transport still well below where it had been in the past. While many of us (me included) continue to work mostly from home, that’s not surprising.
But that means changes in behaviour. Some of those who are now driving, were perhaps on public transport before, while others aren’t travelling at all. Because if there’s one thing this chart shows, it’s that a lot of people still aren’t using public transport. And if I’m not travelling, then perhaps the kinds of things I used to do while I travelled, are no longer happening?
RAJAR data seems to reflect those changes. Here is a chart showing listening location back in Q3 2019 (I’m using Q3 because then I’m comparing similar periods):
And here’s what it looks like in Q3 2021:
Listening at home has increased, while listening in car, and listening at work has decreased over time. (Note that overall radio listening is reported as being over 1 billion hours, implying that radio listening is still very healthy). So it’s the location that’s changing.
Then let’s compare weekday listening through the day:
Again, I’ve compared data a couple of years apart (and the provisos at the top about comparing data stand). But what this suggests is that while there is still a breakfast peak, it has levelled off a little and isn’t as strong. Perhaps those who work more at home aren’t getting up quite as early? But daytime listening has increased – if we are able to work from home, then we’re more likely to listen to the radio at home?
By the end of the day and into the night, things tie up much closer, but that does seem to be a pattern – and a pattern I think nobody would express an enormous amount of surprise at.
There’s a lot more I could look at here, and perhaps as the dust settles, I’ll return to some of it. But in the meantime, let’s see how some of the other stations have been doing.
Because we’re not really being encouraged to compare stations’ performance between this quarter and previous ones, it’s probably easiest if I chart some of the key stations and groups instead to show the relative sizes of them. Even then, it’s worth noting that some stations report over 3-months and others over 6-months.
BBC National Services
Things to note from these charts:
- In terms of listening hours, 6 Music is half the size of Radio 1
- Radio 2 is of course still dominant, accounting for 16% of all radio listening
- Although Radio 4 accounts for a hefty 12% on its own
Commercial National Services
If these charts look a little crowded, it’s in part because I’m using a consistent y-axis throughout to allow you to compare stations’ relative sizes more easily. But yes, there are a lot of stations here, and I should note that it’s not a complete list. You can hover over any datapoint to make it more legible:
Things to note:
- Classic FM remains the biggest single commercial radio station
- Bauer has strength beyond that with Magic, Kiss, ABsolute, Kisstory and Absolute 80s. (Global’s strength tends to be in the networks of Capitals and Hearts)
- Absolute Radio’s hours are an outlier – being better than its peer group.
Note that it can be confusing working out which stations are in which groups here. In general, the “Brand” is the master group. So “Heart Brand (UK)” includes every Heart FM station across the country, and all their digital sub-brands like Heart 80s. “Heart Network (UK)” is all the main Heart stations excluding those digital sub-brands.
Again, I’ve used a consistent scale to allow you to scroll up and compare, say, Heart Brand against Radio 2.
If I’d colour-coded the bars as Global or Bauer, note that every single bar would belong to one or other group with the exception of the talkSPORT Network and the Virgin Network which are both News UK.
Probably the most interesting thing to happen in London’s radio over the last few months is Bauer’s removal of Absolute Radio on FM in the capital to replace it with Greatest Hits Radio on 105.8FM. London’s FM dial has remained pretty consistent over recent years – with perhaps the biggest rebrandings having been Virgin Radio to Absolute Radio back in 2008 and XFM’s rebranding to Radio X in 2015. And in both those cases, it was a like-with-like swap – a name change more than anything else.
While many local stations around the country rebranded to Heart or Capital, London hasn’t had something that seismic. Which makes these figures interesting. Greatest Hits Radio is right down the right hand end of these charts, beyond Absolute Radio which to all extents and purposes is digital only in the capital (yes, there is an AM version, but it’s listened to very little). I suspect that Bauer has a marketing campaign that they still need to wage in London to get those numbers up, because they would surely hope it to be a bigger station than Radio X.
The other thing to look at is some of the disparity between Reach and Hours performance. LBC does disproportionately well here, as does Classic FM. On the other hand, stations like Kiss and even Capital are underperforming given their reach sizes.
Things not captured here
This has been a tricky RAJAR to report – although it has undoubtedly been a massively tough thing to even measure. And there are plenty more things to explored in due course. Here are a few of them:
What happened throughout the pandemic?
For all the numbers we have here now, it’d be great to know what happened month by month or quarter by quarter over the last 18 months or so. Sadly, we won’t get that as data wasn’t being captured. Individual stations have their own streaming data and will have crunched some of those numbers. One niche station owner I spoke to told me that they’d seen their streaming numbers rocket upwards during working-from-home periods as people chose to listen to their station during the workday.
Some of the news stations may have done well initially – when we were all tuning in for daily 5pm news conferences, and wanted to find out everything that was happening all the time. On the other hand, many people then got overwhelmed by news and wanted anything but that. Did listening to stations like Radio 4 or LBC ebb and flow? Who knows.
One way or another, there’s not really the data to back that hypothesis up right now.
I’ve just not really looked at that this time. The slight drop in the breakfast peak above will no doubt be reflected at show level to some extent, but until we can really compare shows quarter on quarter again, I’m going to leave it for the moment.
The move to digital is a big and important story. But digging into those numbers right now probably isn’t the best thing to do while the methodology is evolving. The measurement used this time around is different to previous sweeps, so making comparisons isn’t straightforward.
Much more interesting is the recent DCMS Digital Radio and Audio Review which was published last week and considers in some detail the overall radio and audio markets in the UK. In particular, their belief that we will continue to need FM radio until at least 2030 but “…that the UK radio industry should begin preparing the ground for a possible switch-off of analogue services at some point after 2030.” More immediately, AM radio is surely in its endgame? The BBC has already begun closing some local services on AM.
Podcasts and Other Audio
RAJAR by its very nature doesn’t capture wider audio listening behaviour changes. All the major radio groups have invested in podcasts, and offer a variety of forms of catch-up, as well as online only services (not all of which are measured in RAJAR).
There will have some behaviour changes brought about during the pandemic with more – or at least different– listening behaviours for on-demand audio including podcasts, and also streaming music services like Spotify. Indeed as I write this, Spotify has been releasing its latest quarterly figures, and it projects that it will have 400m global users by the end of the year. That listening isn’t all going to be abandoned CDs and mp3s. It will impact on radio…
The official RAJAR site
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Matt Deegan always has great analysis, and you should probably sign up for his Substack email
Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Mediatel’s Newsline will have lots of figures and analysis
BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s corporate site
Global Radio’s corporate site
Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB, period ending 19th September 2021, Adults 15+.
Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else, including my employer. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Drop me a note if you want clarifications on anything. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.