bauer

Greatest Hits Radio

Interesting news from Bauer Media this morning. They’re launching Greatest Hits Radio nationally from January 7th, to sit alongside Hits Radio. Together they will form the Hits Radio Network.

It sounds like this new mostly networked service is being positioned as a slightly older version of Absolute Radio Network. It will target 40-59 “Reclaimers,” playing “the biggest songs of the 70s, 80s and 90s” from artists like Queen, Blondie, INXS and Michael Jackson.

The station is going onto national DAB, but interestingly is also going to replace Absolute Radio on the West Midlands 105.2FM frequency, as well as 105.9 FM in Liverpool (where Radio City 2 was already effectively this format).

This will also be the default AM service across Bauer’s city brands, but with separate English and Scottish breakfast shows.

This looks to be part of a larger dual-pronged approach to radio brands under Bauer. There are the big national brands like Absolute, Magic and Kiss, and now Hits. But importantly, they can sell national, regional and local advertising as Global can do with its brands.

But Bauer looks to be retaining local FM stations across primarily northern England and Scotland. And while I suspect that Global will jump fairly early “nationalising” its stations to a large extent, it’s not certain that Bauer will do this in peak. 

Bauer Buys Jazz FM

Bauer today announced it was buying Jazz FM, which is good news for the continued existence of a musically important station. I imagine that they’ll be squeezing into Golden Square away from their current Margaret Street studios which will save some money. But I suspect that the key thing in this deal is that Bauer’s national sales team will be able to monetise the brand pretty well.

I’m not completely certain who they’re represented by currently, but in the past First Radio Sales has done the job for them. The problem is that as both Global and Bauer have grown, they’ve squeezed out other operators. While Global might have around 45% of the UK commercial market place, they probably demand more. Assume that Bauer does the same, and those not represented by the Global and Bauer sales teams get squeezed.

Jazz is now inside the Bauer tent, and it gets to profit.

As far as the station itself goes, I trust they won’t mess around too much with the current formula. They have 672,000 reach and around 3m listening hours at the moment which are decent. But there might be some envy about how well Smooth is doing. Although it benefits from some good FM transmitters, it brings in 5.6m reach. 

Bauer’s press release sounds like it’s going to be respectful of the format, and that’s a good thing. 

The other interesting thing about Jazz FM is that just over 40% of its listening is via the internet. Bauer notes in its press release that they’ll be using their InStream technology to monetise this, and that should work will with a service with such a strong internet presence.

Overall an interesting move by Bauer, going to show that it’s not just Global out acquiring stations right now.

The Fragmentation of the UK Radio Sector

I’ve yet to properly write about the recently published RAJAR report, Audio Time, based on the last MIDAS survey. That will come. But it does implicitly present some food for thought about the future of radio in the UK, identifying some of the threats it may face.

“Amongst 15-24s, the weekly reach of radio is very similar to the total population, but there is a clear
preference for online forms of audio – the most widely used being online music video on sites like YouTube.”

After last week’s RAJAR release, I highlighted some serious concerns about how much the amount of 15-24s listening to radio falling.

To overturn some of these trends is going to take something of a concerted effort from everyone in the radio industry. These aren’t trends that can be ignored because we can’t just expect people to discover radio when they get a bit older.

So it’s interesting at this point in time, to note how fractured UK radio actually is.

Obviously, I’m not talking about industry ownership. That’s more consolidated than ever, with Global and Bauer dominating, and the latter having just bought up Orion. But not everyone in radio is singing from the same hymn sheet.

The news that Global Radio has pulled its Patron support from the Radio Academy has, I fear, been a while in coming. For those who haven’t been following recent developments, in short the Radio Academy over-spent on major events like their Awards (aka the Sony Radio Awards) and the Radio Festival, and had to make nearly all its permanent staff redundant – with just a temporary CEO left in place.

The Radio Academy Awards were cancelled altogether – the last set of awards were in 2014, and there is currently no sign of a replacement despite promises of its return. A pretty dreadful state of affairs. If you make great radio, there’s nowhere for you to compete against all of your peers. It’s not just about having a shiny piece of perspex in a cabinet somewhere; award recognition can drive someone’s career.

Meanwhile, the Radio Festival was slimmed down and moved to London, and the organisation has been trying to reshape itself, although the recent news about Global’s withdrawal from the Radio Academy suggests that an overall appeasement has not reached. (It’s also worth reading what Paul Easton thinks about the situation and what it means for members like him.)

But beyond squabbles within the Radio Academy, if you look across the wider industry, these are not the only lines of disagreement:

  • Wireless Group, formerly UTV, pulled out of commercial radio’s trade body RadioCentre a few years ago now, as did UKRD. (As a consequence, neither enter the Arqiva Commercial Radio Awards, even though the awards are now open to all commercial stations, regardless of RadioCentre membership.)
  • There are certainly differences of opinion over DAB and it took tortuous negotiations to agree a Memorandum of Understanding between commercial groups, the BBC and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. And you certainly won’t find uniform agreement about any kind of potential “switch-off” or “switchover” to a fully digital broadcasting solution. As we get closer to a symbolic 50% digital listening percentage, those differences in opinion will probably only widen
  • RadioPlayer is a joined up success and most stations have bought full into it. Yet visit some of Bauer’s sites (example link) and you still won’t get the universal player as you would with Global, the BBC and most other commercial stations, despite Bauer being a shareholder in the group as a result of its purchase of Absolute Radio.
  • The only real pan-radio group is RAJAR – everyone uses the same currency. Except, of course, some smaller commercial stations and most community stations, since RAJAR’s methodology would not satisfactorily measure these stations without increasing costs massively.

I should point out most people use RadioCentre’s Clearance services to ensure that advertising copy is fully complied, and pretty much all national radio advertising is scheduled via the JICRIT system for trading.

And of course an entire industry will never see eye to eye on everything – you wouldn’t expect any industry to do so. But radio, a medium now facing unparalleled challenges, really doesn’t present a particularly united front on anything.

Following Global’s withdrawal from the Radio Academy, On Twitter, I wondered, with my tongue only very slightly in my cheek, whether in fact Sound Women was now the de facto pan-industry radio group?

Sound Women of course has a specific set of aims and ambitions, notably: “to build the confidence, networking and leadership skills of women in audio.”

To those ends, they hold events and festivals, provide training, and including a regional programme.

They’re open to all – including men – and, at least at time of writing, I believe that they’re supported by most of the radio industry including Global, Bauer and the BBC, as well as several radio indies, Skillset, RadioCentre and Ofcom. Oh, and the Radio Academy!

I must confess that I’m not a member, in large part, I suspect, because I know I would feel like an usurper attending their events. I’m a white middle-class man after all.

(Aside: It’s perhaps also because my own bête noire is the representation of diversity in radio. It shouldn’t just be defined in terms of sex or ethnicity either. As I’ve argued before, social background is at least as important, because we’re not talking to our audience while our industry is predominantly middle-class. With so many routes to entry based around unpaid work experience, we’re effectively barring those without private incomes or who’s parents can’t support them.)

Sound Women is doing an excellent job in raising key issues about the gender imbalance in radio, audio, and indeed the wider media.

But beyond them, who’s looking after the rank and file of those who work in radio, audio and beyond? What’s the venue for sharing knowledge and learning from our peers? The Radio Festival and Hall of Fame are all very well, but only a minority get to attend. The Festival tends to be aimed at managerial types. Yes – that includes me. Meanwhile the Hall of Fame is somewhere to take your talent – or for the most senior people in your station to schmooze.

Regional Radio Academy events were open to all. Anyone could attend – even non-members for a small fee. You could learn, network and discuss relevant issues with your peers. For many members – most members? – these were the only things the Radio Academy directly offered them.

Is this being lost?

Now, if you work at a Global Radio station, you’ll need to personally spend at least £36 a year to get along to an event. That said prior to notification of the upcoming 30 Under 30 event, I honestly can’t remember the last time there was an event in London – and like it or not, that’s where the big groups, and a large proportion of Radio Academy members live and work. (Yes – I know that regional events have been rather better organised, with a number of events taking place recently).

One way or another, at a time when the medium is under attack from a variety of interlopers in the radio and audio world, the industry doesn’t appear to speak with a singular voice on pretty much anything. And now we’ve reached a point where there isn’t even a single representative organisation for everyone in radio.

This seems a pretty appalling state of affairs. Maybe I’m making it sound worse than it is, but you’re going to have to work to persuade me otherwise.

It seems that corporate differences, entrenched views and personal grievances have won the day. Will the all the UK’s commercial radio groups be sending delegates to the UK’s main radio conference later this year? Will they all speak at the event? Will talent regardless of station be eligible for the Hall of Fame? Perhaps the answer to all of these will in fact be ‘Yes.’ But these are awkward questions that we shouldn’t have to be asking.

Is it time to start afresh and do something different? Do we need something that is open to all without corporate involvement? Something for individuals and beyond the reach/interference of organisations? Of course doing something different will have costs, and that raises the question of funding. In many industries, corporate patronage is a key part of making these kinds of groups viable. Is that something we need to rethink in the future if at a corporate level, agreements can’t be reached?

Yes, there are independent operations – conferences like Next Radio (The 2016 conference has just been announced!) and Radiodays Europe. But they’re relatively few, and in the latter’s case, at nearly €1000 a delegate, few employees of stations are likely to dip into their own pocket to attend, meaning that you have to rely on your employer’s support.

I look slightly enviously at Television where the BAFTA Awards still happen – BBC; ITV; C4; Sky; Netflix; Amazon; everybody represented. There’s a conference in Edinburgh that anyone serious in the industry must attend. There are events for both BAFTA and Royal Television Society members. There’s a trade body that all the major commercial groups are members of.

I’m sure it’s not all perfect, and that there are differences between members. But it looks somewhat rosier than radio from where I’m sitting.

At a time when global giants like Apple and Google are investing ever more into audio, can UK radio be outward, joined-up and inclusive, rather than inward, fractured and narcissistic?

D2: All Coming Together

US 2014-90

NB. This is not a DAB radio. The picture above is of possibly the most beautiful radio I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s the Nocturne, made in 1935 by a US company called Sparton and designed in Art Deco style by Walter Dorwin Teague. This one sits in the Wolfsonian museum in Miami. If you want one, there’s a YouTube video showing a 2012 auction with one going for $34,000, so you may have to start saving. This radio has a whole website dedicated to it, where you’ll notice that teaser adverts for forthcoming new models are nothing new!

In my recent RAJAR post, I wrote a little about the second national commercial multiplex – Sound Digital – which is due to launch from the 29th February (with some services launching across the following month).

The full line-up of services has been announced, and we’re now getting a drip-feed of more details about who will be on those services.

First properly out of the gate is the new TalkRadio. I’ve long thought that UK radio is under-served by speech, with essentially four national speech services currently available. LBC was very late in the day in going national, but it has made a good fist of it, and in particular has delivered a lot of publicity by making a virtue of giving politicians of all hues their own shows.

TalkRadio looks like it’s going to be quite similar, but perhaps a little lighter in tone. Paul Ross, who seems to have had stints on just about every station going, but most recently on BBC Radio London’s breakfast show, will helm TalkRadio’s breakfast. Then comes Julia Hartley-Brewer, who has previously done a similar show on LBC. Sam Delaney moves over from TalkSport, and then there’s Iain Lee, who recently had a run-in with BBC Three Counties and left, with a return to late-night on TalkRadio being the obvious gig. However, I really could do without George Galloway though who I find abhorrent, and who has a tendency to take cash from the Iranian and Russian governments via their state broadcasters as well as say obnoxious things.

With LBC filled with ex-politicians like Iain Dale, occasional Newsnight presenter James O’Brien, former Five Live breakfast presenter Shelagh Fogerty and of course, Nick Ferrari, it feels like a slightly more current affairs driven service than TalkRadio.

The proof will be in the pudding of course, and with Dan Walker off from Five Live to BBC Breakfast, listeners may be exploring their dials to find something new to listen to.

Of course Five Live and TalkSport do have the advantage of analogue carriage. If you want TalkRadio, or LBC outside London, you do have to listen on a digital platform. That will affect audiences – particularly in-car because while new cars now nearly all come with DAB, the vast majority on the road don’t have it. But late nights in particular are going to be really interesting.

Next out the block is UTV’s other big new station, the reborn Virgin Radio. Considering I spent much of my working life at the original Virgin Radio (It launched in 1993, and I worked there from late 1996 until it re-branded in 2008), you might think that I have mixed views about this, but to be honest I don’t.

The big questions for me were always going to be: What kind of service would UTV offer, and was the Virgin Radio brand a bit passé in the UK? The new version of the station is interesting because UTV is a partner with Bauer Media (and Arqiva) in the multiplex, and Bauer’s Absolute Radio is the evolution of Virgin Radio. Christian O’Connell, Geoff Lloyd and Leona Graham are still there from the Virgin days, all in key shows. You would imagine that many of those legacy Virgin Radio listeners are now Absolute Radio listeners.

And whisper it, but I’m not sure Virgin is quite the sexy brand it once was. It’s a transport and finance brand these days, rather than record label and record store. Yes Virgin Atlantic is aspirational, and Virgin Media does a decent job. But it does feel a bit tarnished. Even the potential of Virgin Galactic has not been achieved.

Then there’s the marketplace for where a Virgin Radio music service might fit. While Virgin Radio isn’t a prescriptive service that comes with a set playlist – stations in Dubai and Thailand show that local Virgin Radios can be whatever the market dictates there’s a space for – there was a serious question about whether a relaunched Virgin should be recognisable from before, or something new. Should it just be Virgin Radio about ten years older? Well eight years on, anyway. Or do you disregard what Virgin Radio meant as a brand to listeners in the past, and do something new? If you choose the latter, what is the point of retaining the brand? I suppose the thinking is that like a movie studio relaunching a popular franchise for a new generation, the same can be true for a radio station.

Although I did see a UTV presentation recently that noted the continued strength of the Virgin Radio brand, that perhaps wasn’t surprising given the station’s previous life, and the fact that it had a very successful run with Chris Evans at the helm. And anyone who’s been through a station re-brand will know that old brands live on much longer in listeners minds than marketeers might perhaps hope.

Then there’s the question of the wider radio landscape and a new Virgin Radio’s place in it. As well as Absolute, in broadly the same musical area, there is the new Radio X with its massive marketing budget and big-name presenters, and BBC 6 Music which gets larger all the time and is undoubtedly the “cool” station of the day.

The announcement of the new Virgin Radio line-up suggests to me that they’re actually trying something a bit different! I will admit that I was surprised that UTV let Johnny Vaughan up and leave for Radio X, when they’d had him on contract for TalkSport, but budgets are always finite, and UTV will undoubtedly hae some realistic audience targets that take account of their distribution. So instead it looks like Liam Thompson, Virgin Radio’s Programme Director, is trying something much more interesting.

Having former Radio 1 presenter Edith Bowman at breakfast almost seems like a direct response to the “male-ness” of Radio X, or at least the marketing surrounding that station’s launch.

And putting Kate Lawler in the afternoon slot – formerly of Capital, Kerrang and more recently Bauer’s Big City network – compounds that feeling. National radio is certainly too male, remaining the Achilles heel of Radio 2. Of course it’s disappointing that it should even need to be noted that 2 out 4 daytime presenters are women, but that’s a reflection of our industry today.

Also in the line-up are people I’m less familiar with like Jamie East and Matt Richardson, neither of who’s output I’ve ever seen. This also suggests, that I’m outside the target market for the new Virgin.

Rounding things off is Tim Cocker, who many were disappointed to lose when Xfm rebranded, as he lost his Manchester breakfast slot.

Overall, this is a much more interesting Virgin Radio than I’d envisaged. Again, my fear is that there could be too much congestion for audiences, so marketing for this and the other new stations will be imperative. Cross promotion on Talk branded services might not be enough.

I’m still curious to see exactly what TalkSport 2’s schedule ends up looking like, and whether it’ll be closer to Five Live Sports Extra (some extra programming, but lots of filler/repeats when there’s nothing new), or whether it’ll be more of a full-service. The next UK radio rights package for the Premier League has yet to be announced, and TalkSport might try to take a little more to put something on their new service. But Championship football might be more affordable at a time when the company is making a lot of investment in UK radio, and ridding itself of television.

What press there has been for TalkSport 2 mentions cricket, football, golf, horse racing, tennis, rugby and US sport. They launch at the Cheltenham Festival, and that might suggest that afternoons will have a lot of racing. Putting US sport on overnight might be a smart idea. Five Live Sports Extra covered the NFL this season, and in the past, the World Series has been broadcast. The radio commentaries exist, and with baseball, NBA and NFL (maybe even MLS), it could be as simple as retransmitting those commentaries. I speak as someone who once upon a time used to tune into distant Armed Forces Network programmes on AM to drift off to sleep listening to baseball.

Overall though, UTV should have a much healthier network offering to sell to advertisers, and given that most of the market is driven by large “share deals” for Global and Bauer, this is imperative for them.

Elsewhere, it’s very sensible that instead of the originally planned TalkBusiness, UTV has done a deal for the slot with London station Share Radio. Their challenge will be finding that business niche and monetising it.

From Bauer, we have not one, but two Magic spin-offs. Mellow Magic (or, as it was briefly, and bizarrely known, “Magic Mellow”) is to be joined by Magic Chilled, perhaps a little bit of one-upmanship against the upcoming Heart Extra back on Digital One. I confidently expect these to work precisely as Absolute Radio’s digital brethren work with its main brand. While it remains to be seen whether that includes changing the breakfast show music as Absolute does for Christian O’Connell, I would expect the same Magic presenters to be voice-tracking some more specialist versions of the Magic oeuvre, with perhaps a couple of new names helping out. The Absolute Radio Network model has proved itself.

The rest of Bauer’s services are either stations shifted from Digital One, to a perhaps more cost-effective platform, or moved up from local DAB multiplexes, where Bauer has a substantial shareholding.

Nearly all the rest of the DAB services on D2 are spin-offs of existing services. So Premier gets a second service, Premier Praise, as its main brand shifts multiplexes too. UCB 2 is another Christian service, previously available in London, while Sunrise and Panjab move up to a national platform.

The only other completely new service seems to be Awesome Radio (previously called British Muslim Radio), coming from the people who run Asian Sound Radio in Manchester. You would imagine that they will be able to utilise existing studios and personnel to keep costs reasonable.

Finally there are the two other new DAB+ services. When Sound Digital won the multiplex, they only talked about a single DAB+ service, whereas rival bidder Listen2Digital was talking of offering 4 DAB+ services. The fact that the Sound Digital bid won without a named service in place, and that subsequently it was advertising for services willing to run in DAB+ was perhaps a little concerning.

DAB+ has always been a chicken and egg situation in the UK. Because DAB has been around since the end of the nineties, many radios in UK homes do not have DAB+ compatibility. In territories where digital has been adopted more recently, DAB+ was offered from the outset. While more recent models have included DAB+, if only because the radios were built for more than just the UK market, it isn’t clear what proportion of radio sets in use today are DAB+ compatible.

So while I’ve no doubt there’ll be some rough numbers kicking around, produced with the help of manufacturers, it’s still a leap of faith for a broadcast who wants to go DAB+ only. Some radios might be upgradeable, since the choice about whether to include the DAB+ codec was really more about the intellectual property licences payable rather than the hardware required. But how many consumers will actually seek out that information, and go to the effort of plugging memory sticks into USB ports?

Sound Digital’s solution is to offer two existing relatively niche services in DAB+, as well as the new Magic Chilled. Jazz FM’s was once available on Digital One, but latterly it was largely available online, with only some local DAB coverage. Getting national coverage is good for the service.

It’s a similar story with Fun Kids. They target an audience that even RAJAR doesn’t properly measure, and so they need to be careful about how they spend money on broadcast transmission.

You would imagine that all three services are getting a “good deal” from Sound Digital, with everyone watching with interest to see how successful the services are. Because if DAB+ is actually available more widely than previously realised, then we can expect more services to switch to it. It’s a more efficient use of the limited data available in DAB multiplex, and can offer – shock – stereo sound at a more affordable price to stations. Stereo is especially important to Jazz aficionados!

For what it’s worth, I’ve been retuning some of my own DAB sets at home, which are largely Roberts models, to receive the test Waves and Waves+ test stations. All three of my main radios are DAB+. But none of them are especially old. Other, older radios await a retune.

[Updated to reflect that Magic Chilled is also in DAB+]

[Update: I’ve now tested all my radios and the results are here.]

RAJAR Q3 2015

RAJAR Q4 2013

This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 8 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I’m delighted to be able to bring you this analysis in association with it. For more details on RALF, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

The end of October brings Halloween, and also the latest set of RAJAR numbers. Insert your own joke about the two of them here.

Let’s have a canter through the numbers and see how stations have done.

National Stations

At a time of intense scrutiny over Charter Renewal, BBC radio has had a really good RAJAR with increases nearly across the board.

Radio 1 has seen its second increase in reach in a row, heading over 10.5m listeners again, and even seeing a fractional year on year increase. Hours are very marginally down, and I fear that it will be this measure that people should really be looking at, or average hours per listener (currently 6.3) rather than reach itself.

Radio 2 has also recorded a second consecutive rise, and is heading back towards the dizzying heights of 15.5m listeners. Listening hours have fallen a little this quarter, but are still up on the previous year. The average Radio 2 listener listens for 11.8 hours a week.

Radio 3 experienced its traditional Proms uplift, and is once again just north of 2m listeners. While Radio 4 has also had a a decent result with 10.8m listeners, although like Radio 3, saw some listening dropoff over the summer.

Radio 5 Live is also looking to finally recover a bit from its big schedule changes, now a year ago. It’s back to 5.5m reach, although it’s still down on last year.

But it’s the BBC’s digital channels that really bear some examination, as they continue to grow massively. Radio 4 Extra has just broken its own record reach of a couple of months ago, with 2.2m people listening a week. Over on 5 Live Sports Extra, Ashes cricket would seem to have been the catalyst for yet another record reach for that station, with 1.7m listeners and nearly 7m hours (also a record). And 6 Music has also had record reach and hours with just fewer than 2.2m listeners a week, and it has passed 20m hours for the first time.

All of that means that BBC Radio accounts for 53.3% of all radio listening in the UK (with Radio 2 accounting for 17.5% on its own).

Does that mean commercial operators have had a dreadful quarter? Well not exactly.

Classic FM has had a very decent quarter, up 4.0% in reach to very close to 5.5m, as well as a similar increase in hours.

Talksport has also had an excellent quarter with a 3.9% increase in reach, taking it very close to 3.2m listeners. Indeed, both Classic and Talksport are very consistent players.

Absolute Radio has had an excellent quarter. It’s reach is up to over 2m for the first time since 2008 – in other words, for the first time since it rebranded from Virgin Radio. Hours are down a fraction, but that needs to be put into perspective with the network performance (see below).

Absolute 80s had a slight fall from last quarter’s record reach. On the other hand, Absolute 70s saw its reach climb to a new all time high.

Kiss had a good quarter, up 5.2% in reach, although listening hours fell. Like Radio 1, I fear that these need to be monitored very carefully.

Kiss Fresh did well getting over 500,000 again in reach, while Kisstory was flat at 1.3m.

Capital Xtra saw a big jump this quarter, up nearly 25% in reach, and nearly 20% in hours. I can’t really explain that change – although in the London market we’re used to that sort of thing.

LBC was flat in reach with just shy of 1.5m listeners – still equalling its record reach since turning truly national. Hours did dip a little however.

Xfm became Radio X on 21 September, the day after the end of this RAJAR quarter. As such, although Radio X appears in the survey for sales purposes, in actuality, it was recorded by listeners as Xfm at the time. But the impending closure of Xfm perhaps piqued listeners’ interest because reach across the network surged up to over 1m – a 14% increase on the previous quarter. Otherwise there’s simply no information in this survey as to how Radio X is performing.

Networks

As alluded to above, the Absolute Radio Network achieved a new all-time high of nearly 4.2m listeners. Hours dropped off a little, but the strength of digital performance has been key to Absolute Radio’s success.

The Capital Network has performed well this quarter up 4.9% in reach, and also seeing an increase in hours. In this period, Capital’s owners, Global Radio, bought Juice FM in Liverpool from UTV. The rebranding is apparently due for early next year, so look for the Capital Network to continue to grow.

The Heart Network also had a good quarter with its reach up 3% to just over 9.1m for the first time. It’s a new record for them.

Overall Global Radio now reaches 22m people a week listening for 194m hours.

Bauer Radio reachs 16.7m people listening for 146m hours. Both major groups are up. It’s a competitive landscape out there.

It’s worth noting that both Global and Bauer actually sell even larger audiences since they operate as sales houses for some other groups.

UTV is the third biggest group, and following the sale of the television assets to ITV, and that of Juice FM to Global, I would expect a corporate rebrand will be forthcoming, particularly with their D2 services due to launch next year. They did suffer a little unlike their big competitors, down 2.5% in reach, although broadly flat in hours. They reach 4.4m people a week delivering 32m hours.

Overall Radio Listening

Overall, radio listening is down a fraction on last quarter, but flat on the year. 89% of the population listen to the radio at least once a week, spending 21.6 hours doing so.

Breakfast

It’s breakfast that gets a lot of people excited, so here are a few highlights from this quarter.

Nick Grimshaw has seen his audience fall a small amount, with a 1.0% drop from last quarter, set against an overall increase for the station.

Chris Evans has also seen a a drop, losing about 275,000 listeners on the previous quarter.

The Today Programme on Radio 4 is of course the second biggest “breakfast show” in the country, and it has increased a little to nearly 6.8m listeners this quarter (up 1.2%).

In the commercial world Christian O’Connell saw a big jump, up 6.2% to 1.8m listeners across the entire Absolute Radio Network of services.

Aled Jones on Classic FM has nearly 1.7m listeners, up 1.8% on the last quarter. But Alan Brazil has seen his reach drop to just below 1.4m listeners on Talksport (again, against an overall station rise).

The Kiss breakfast nationally has fallen nearly 10% this quarter, and LBC will be disappointed with Nick Ferrari falling 12% this quarter to just over 900,000.

London

London listening is always interesting, with a competitive marketplace and a surprising degree of change from RAJAR period to RAJAR period (disturbingly).

The chart above shows the reach of the main commercial stations in London, as well as BBC London (or BBC Radio London as it is now known).

What this chart shows in particular is that Capital and Kiss are neck and neck in reach terms. In fact, Kiss shades Capital by 3,000 people this quarter. But Capital will also be able to say it’s the biggest [commercial] station in London with more listening hours than Kiss.

This chart also illustrates to what extent Heart’s reach has bounced around over the last few quarters. From a record low in Q3 2014, they bounced up in Q4, bak down in Q1 2015, then surged in Q2, before falling down again this quarter. You could make a decent rollercoaster out of Heart’s performance chart.

Otherwise LBC and Magic have had disappointing reach perforances this time out, with Absolute flat, and both Smooth and Xfm seeing increases – the latter again perhaps because of its imminent demise towards the end of this period.

Finally BBC London got its best result in a couple of years just ahead of its rebrand. There’s a new schedule coming there soon too, so it’ll be one to watch.

Finally, because people tend to forget it, it’s worth reminding ourselves that Radio 4 is actually the biggest station in London with 2.7m listeners and 31m listening hours (i.e. 3 times what the largest commercial station gets!). Radio 2 is actually number 2, while Radio 1 slots in behind Kiss, Capital and Magic.

Digital

The big news here is that 41.9% of listening to radio is now via a digital platform. This figure had been threatening to creep over 40% for a while, and it’s now onward to 50% which is what gets people talking about digital switchover in radio.

At the same time, those who say they listen via AM/FM has fallen to below 50% for the first time (The difference is made up of people who don’t state their platform).

Both DAB and internet listening are up to record levels with 27.7% of listening being via DAB, and 6.9% of listening via the internet, including mobile apps.

The chart above really makes clear the growth in internet listening, although broadcast DAB is still much more important.

The chart below shows listening through the day (Mon-Fri average) by the different platforms. AM/FM listening is the most normalised, while the morning and evening drivetime peaks for DAB aren’t as clearly defined because we’re less likely to have DAB in our cars.

Internet listening tends to be a post-lunchtime thing, with a peak at around 5pm. One could surmise that a lot of that is at work, but the listening on that platform continues into early evening.

On the other hand, digital TV has a clearly defined daytime trend.

Listening Location

It’s a while since I last looked at this, and although it rarely changes much, I thought it was useful to put some updated information out there on where people listen to the radio.

It doesn’t move around massively, with listening at home making up the vast majority of listening.

But with the growth of digital in-car offerings, as more and more people connect their smartphones to their car’s entertainment system (Or “infotainment” system as the manufacturers would have it), I thought it was worth seeing the extent to which internet listening in-car is growing.

We know that services like Apple Carplay and Android Auto are coming soon, and already in select models, so this will be something to keep an eye, particularly given the range of audio options the connected car will offer the driver.

The numbers are a little “fuzzy” since some of the sample sizes, particularly for 15-24s, are low. But this shows that digital is beginning to make an impact in-car, with nearly 20% of in-car listening being via a digital platform. That drops to just 1.0% for internet radio, although it’s 3.0% for the younger 15-24 demographic. Something to keep an eye perhaps, as people get better data plans, and they find it easier to hook-up their phones to their cars.

Further Reading

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic is here
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Paul Easton for analysis including London
Matt Deegan has some great analysis
Media Guardian for more news and coverage
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s site.
Global Radio’s site.

[Updated to correct a 1Xtra/6 Music figure]

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 20 September 2015, 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.

Super-serving Men 20-44

Today we finally heard a few details* about the relaunch of Xfm as Radio X. The much mooted re-branding sees Chris Moyles take over breakfast, with Vernon Kay on mid-mornings and Johnny Vaughan on drive.

Jon Holmes will move to weekend breakfast, when Ricky Wilson from the Kaiser Chiefs (and The Voice) will have a show. While I’ve not seen the full schedule, it’s clear that some people will be staying and others going – Eddie Temple Morris will be taking his long-running The Remix show to Soho Radio for example.

The station will also be going onto the national D1 DAB platform – albeit another mono station – where it’s replacing Teamrock.

Re-brands are never easy, since audiences hate change. A quick glance at Xfm’s Facebook page shows that. But Global know what to expect – they’ve re-branded much of the UK’s commercial radio output over the last few years, as they built the Heart and Capital networks.

But sad though it is for those who love the station as it is now, something really had to be done with Xfm. Essentially it has been a bit of a basket case for a while, not getting to a million listeners in a while, and suffering especially in the London marketplace. And it’s notable that the small Paisley FM licence has been handed back to Ofcom.

That’s not to say that those that listen don’t love it. They don’t want changes as they like it as it is. But with lack of investment and a resurgent 6 Music becoming the “cool” station, it couldn’t easily carry on as it was.

One place that Xfm has actually always done well in is the advertising community. Advertisers love being involved in cool brands. And over the years, despite poor listening figures, Xfm was able to captialise on that. The audience may be small, but it was passionate and otherwise hard to reach. So like those strange magazines that seem like bastard children of Nathan Barley’s Sugar Ape, selling virtually no copies but being very profitable, so was Xfm able to get by. But following its threatened closure, it was 6 Music that had the kudos. And that’s what Global needs to get back.

It’s been reported that Moyles want’s to double Xfm’s audience. To be honest, that should be achievable considering the starting point. And it doesn’t actually have to do as well as 6 Music in audience terms to be a success. The BBC can’t take advertising, but Radio X can.

The wider question is what this means for its target audience. The press release for Radio X says that it will be “a completely new national music and entertainment property for 25-44 year old men.”

Well that’s essentially the same demographic that Absolute Radio is already targeting and has been for many years.

And there’s there the forthcoming version of Virgin Radio, from UTV and the Virgin Group in the new year. We are again promised a service that will target 25-44 year olds.

That’s suddenly a lot of stations all targeting the same people.

But just because you’re targeting the same audience, it doesn’t mean that the music will be the same. The Radio X press release says they’ll be playing: “Florence And The Machine, Mumford And Sons, Blur, Arctic Monkeys, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, The Maccabees, Radiohead, Nirvana, The Smiths, Royal Blood, Kasabian, Catfish And The Bottlemen and Kings Of Leon.”

Except that all bar five of those artists appear in the top 40 most played artists on Absolute Radio according to Comparemyradio. And of the remaining five:

– Absolute Radio plays Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds more than any other service on Comparemyradio
– Absolute Radio is the third biggest player of The Maccabees and Royal Blood
– Absolute Radio is the fifth biggest player of Nirvana after stablemates Absolute Radio 90s, Absolute Classic Rock, Kerrang! and Planet Rock

Only Catfish and the Bottlemen haven’t been on Absolute Radio is the last 30 days. But then, of the stations Comparemyradio measures, they’ve only had a handful of plays on TCR and Radio 1 period. (Note that Xfm isn’t currently monitored by Comparemyradio).

In other words, this isn’t going to be an entirely unique sound.

And as a commenter on Digital Spy noted, there is some disparity between the a station who’s character of service claims its targeting 15-34 year olds, and one who’s commercial aim is to target men 25-44.

So Global is starting over. From the characters of the presenters in the key drive slots, you’d imagine that speech will be as important as the music they play – and that’s ever more true amongst an audience that is perfectly able to find music on its own without the help of a radio station.

To go for a full rebrand would suggest that they feel the need to leave the Xfm brand behind. It just isn’t cool and can’t regain that coolness. I think what’ll be important is how they market the station. Global isn’t scared to spend a lot of money on marketing and we’ve seen big and bold commercials for the Heart and Capital brands. Radio X will be harder. For example few stations truly advertise nationally on television, even if they’re national brands like Global’s because it’s very expensive to do that. I would imagine that much of the Radio X budget will go towards its FM sites in London and Manchester. While both are highly competitive radio markets, it’s the obvious starting point (and the ad agencies are in London which is important). But digital marketing will also be key for this audience.

Anyone looking for Moyles to repeat what he did at Radio 1 would be foolish. That audience has moved on. I wouldn’t expect to see anyone too worried at Radio 1. But it will be interesting to see what Bauer does to combat the threat, particularly to Absolute Radio. It does have its successful Absolute Radio Network to support it, but this probably represents the biggest direct competition the station has had in its history. I wonder if there will be any marketing budget released to compete a bit.

* Incidentally, Global really needs to redesign its corporate site. It’s just dreadful for navigation, and not remotely responsive in design.

RAJAR Q2 2015

RAJAR Q4 2013

This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 8 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I’m delighted to be able to bring you this analysis. For more details on RALF, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

The first thing to say is that this has been a good quarter for radio as a whole. Overall reach is back to 90%, and listening hours have increased too, with the average radio listener listening for 21.7 hours a week – the highest in a couple of years.

Commercial radio is likely to be pleased too, since it has gained back a little from the BBC, with 44.4% of listening being commercial (up from 42.8% last quarter), compared with 53.0% to the BBC (down from 54.4% last quarter). Commercial has gained too, compared with this time last year.

And because it’s always keenly watched, the number of people who listen via a digital platform at least some point during the week has grown to over 60% of the population for the first time (61.1% up from 59.8% last quarter). The amount of listening via those platforms has also grown – up to 39.9% of all listening.

Let’s look in a bit more detail at the performances of some of the key players.

National Stations

Radio 1 has notably bounced back since last quarter’s results. Indeed those previous numbers do now look a little of an aberration, and are a reminder that nobody should ever judge a station’s figures on the basis of a single RAJAR period. The station’s reach has increased by 7.6% and is back over 10 million, while hours have increased by 3.3% on the previous quarter. It’s true that they’re still down on the previous year, but I think they’d take these numbers.

Radio 2 has also improved from last quarter a fraction – but you would probably argue it’s results are flat. Still not bad for the biggest station in the UK/Europe/World/Universe (Delete as applicable).

Radio 3 has dropped below 2m again, although it’ll undoubtedly return next quarter (Proms), but its listening hours are up nearly 5% (and enormously on the previous year).

Here’s an interesting question: who do you think has the higher average age? Radio 3 or Radio 4?

In fact, the average age of a Radio 3 listener is 57, and that of a Radio 4 listener is 56. The variability of those averages is probably quite different however.

Radio 4 fell marginally this quarter, although it’s up on the previous year and still reaches 10.6m people a week.

Five Live is still clearly finding its feet following all its schedule changes, and is back down this quarter – 7.6% down in reach, but only 2.4% down in hours. That does leave it well down on the previous year however. And there’s not really a big summer of sport to help get things straightened out, so it’ll be worth watching.

Classic FM will be disappointed with its results. It’s reach and hours are both down on the quarter and the year, with reach in particular at an all time low under the current RAJAR methodology (so since 1999). It still reaches nearly 5.3m people, but it’s something to keep an eye on. There can be a bitter war of words between it and Radio 3, when they think the latter is dumbing down to appeal to Classic FM’s audience. But Classic FM’s audience is 2.5x Radio 3’s, and as we’ve established, Radio 3’s audience fell this quarter too.

Talksport will also be disappointed by this set of results, which include the end of the football season. Both reach and hours are down on the previous quarter, and over 10% down on the previous year. It’s reach still hovers above 3m, while hours are above 20m. It’ll be hoping that the forthcoming sister services which are due to launch next year on D2 will help grow a “Talk” network.

Meanwhile the main Absolute Radio station has seen its reach stay flat while hours have grown – quite substantially on the year. With the station due to take over the West Midlands FM licence currently used to broadcast Planet Rock, it should mean some further growth in the coming quarters (although such format switches always take time to bed in locally).

National Digital Stations

Overall Bauer has had a very good quarter with several of its brands achieving record audiences.

The Absolute Radio Network now reaches a record high of 4.04m people a week with just less than 32m hours. And that’s without including Planet Rock’s figures with which it is bundled when sold. That comes off the back of yet more growth on Absolute 80s which jumped another 10.7% in reach on the previous quarter, and much more on the previous year. At 1.6m reach, it’s getting ever closer to the 2.0m that the main brand gets. (I remain uncertain as to the plan to move Absolute 80s off D1 and onto D2 at launch, since the lower reach of the new multiplex must surely effect these numbers negatively. We’ll have to wait and see).

The Kiss Network has also achieved some great growth with over 5m reach and 30.5m hours – both records. These are helped especially by some very significant improvements in Kisstory which has seen nearly a 30% increase in reach and a more than 40m increase in hours. And Kisstory has yet to launch properly nationally on DAB, currently only appearing on a series on local DAB multiplexes.

The nascent Magic Network also did well. It too has a sister station due with D2.

Global Radio has perhaps more of a mixed bag this quarter.

The Capital Brand has increased in reach and hours this quarter – a modest 1.9% in reach, but a more chunky 9.7% in hours. But both are down on the previous year.

Heart is more disappointing. Overall it’s down 1.4% in reach and 6.8% in hours, with both measures down on the year too. It’s also not clear when the previously announced Heart Extra is likely to launch which might help prop up the brand a little. It was announced in December last year, but the presumed spot on the D1 multiplex was retained by Premier Christian Radio after negotiations with multiplex operator (Premier has signed up until 2028 according to reports).

Smooth has also shown some disappointing results this quarter, down in reach and hours, although not as bad on the year. While Xfm is flat in reach, but down further in hours – another 7% down on the quarter and 12% down on the year. The radio industry is currently awash with rumours that Chris Moyles is going to Xfm, which may even get a full rebrand and relaunch. We’ll have to see.

LBC has had some very strong results, with its reach up strongly on both the quarter and the year. The station is now showing some real growth since it went national towards the start of last year. We could be in for some interesting battles between LBC and Talkradio once it launches.

It feels like every quarter that I report that 6 Music has had a record reach. Well it hasn’t this quarter – it’s actually down by a paltry 9,000 listeners. But it’s had record hours. With its listeners spending 9.1 hours a week, this is not an “additional” station, this is very much a main station for those 2m people.

1Xtra has had a strong quarter, up a lot in reach (14.2%) and an enormous amount in listening hours (47%). This probably reflects a bit of freak set of results last quarter as much as anything though.

Radio 4 Extra had extraordinarily high results last quarter, so perhaps unsurprisingly it has fallen – back below 2m listeners. It is still well up on the previous year though (+25% in reach and +37% in hours), so I’d say that it’s still a confidently growing station.

And it’s been a very strong result for 5 Live Sports Extra – even in a period before The Ashes began (although there was other cricket). Reach is up 21% and hours are up nearly 50%! Even though this represents a record high reach, I would expect both figures to increase further with the current Ashes campaign driving them.

Finally, since it’s very close to home for me now, I should report that listening to the BBC World Service is up very a very solid 14% in reach on the quarter and a similar amount on the year. Hours are a more modest 3% up.

London Stations

While I’m sure some readers think that London radio gets too much attention paid to it, I always think as much as anything it’s worth paying to attention to because it’s proved a good indicator of where radio is heading in the UK as a whole. It’s obviously of key importance to agencies buying advertising on commercial stations as well.

The figures this quarter show that all radio listening is at 89% (up from 86%) which compares well with 90% overall. What that means is that although Spotify, Apple Music and everyone else is fighting it out for supremacy, it’s not had a massive impact on radio… at least not yet. Indeed radio listening in London is up 9.4% on the previous quarter too, with radio listeners in London spending an average of 20.5 hours listening to the radio every week. So perhaps last quarter’s numbers were a one-off?

Interestingly, most of that growth this quarter has come from commercial radio with the BBC broadly flat in reach, and up 2.8% in hours. It’s also worth pointing out that in London, unlike nationally, commercial radio is more listened to than the BBC, with 51.0% of listening compared with the BBC’s 45.6%.

That all said, Radio 4 remains the most listened to station in the capital, but you’re really interested in the battle between the commercial stations aren’t you?

I think the big London news is that Global has had a great quarter. Capital has scored its highest reach in quite a while, jumping 22.7%. And it’s hours are also up 20.7%. That gives Capital the number one commercial spot in London, as it just beats Kiss. The 80,000 difference between the two is about the number of people who get to go to Capital’s Summertime Ball! Its sister brand Capital Xtra has also done well – up to such a great extent, that we know that last quarter’s data probably shouldn’t even be looked at.

Heart too seems to be back from a recent slump, jumping nearly 30% in reach to close to 2m. Hours growth is more modest, but it’s back over 10m.

Meanwhile it turns out that Xfm isn’t dead in London, and Smooth too is turning it around.

LBC is again a strong performer, and its listening hours shouldn’t be underestimated – it’s number two in London under that measure.

But number one in hours is Bauer’s Kiss which has also had a very strong reach performance jumping to 2.12m – its highest ever. It’s hours were up 26% on the quarter and reach up 12.6%. With Magic putting in some solid growth in reach and hours, only Absolute Radio’s London performance will have disappointed them a little (down in reach and hours on the quarter although up on the year).

Breakfast

I’m not going to dwell long on this and just consider Radio 1 and Radio 2, since both presenters have some interesting new TV jobs coming up and it’ll be worth seeing whether it makes any difference to their ratings over the coming months.

Nick Grimshaw takes on co-presenting duties of The X-Factor later this month, and this quarter has seen his reach increase by 6.2% to 5.8m. While Chris Moyles has previously had in excess of 7m listeners for the Radio 1 breakfast show, we’ve not seen numbers like that since the start of 2012. The other thing to watch here would be any kind of “Moyles effect” should he show up on Xfm, and should Xfm be given a significant marketing budget and be made available nationally on DAB. Lots of ifs there. And it’s been a while since Moyles was on the radio, so where are those listeners now? Nothing is certain.

Meanwhile Chris Evans on Radio 2 has also had a decent set of results with increase in reach and hours. While neither are quite records, you’d have to go back to the start of 2012 to find the last time listeners spent so much time with Radio 2’s breakfast show. Evans of course, is taking over Top Gear from next year. And there’s also another run of TFI Friday planned. Can he keep all this up and his Radio 2 show? We’ll have to see.

No bubbles this quarter I’m afraid. Hopefully they’ll be back next time.

But instead, I thought I’d show you some audience overlap figures between some station pairings. Broadly speaking radio listeners hear fewer stations than TV viewers watch stations. But there are overlaps between services, and it’s always worth having a look to see who listens to otherwise similar stations – and who doesn’t.

Radio 1 v Capital Network

R1Capital

So just to explain this chart, it means that 2.4m people listen to both Radio 1 and Capital, while 7.6m Radio 1 listeners never listen to Capital, and 4.7m Capital listeners never listen to Radio 1 (At least across a single week).

Radio 2 v Heart (Network)

R2Heart

Radio 3 v Classic FM

R3Classic

Five Live v Talksport

FiveTalk

Radio 1 v Radio 3

Well – there was a Radio 1 Prom this year!

R1R3

NB. These charts are not necessarily quite to scale – I “hand” drew them in Photoshop.

Further Reading

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic probably here
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Paul Easton for analysis including London
Matt Deegan usually has some analysis
Media Guardian for more news and coverage
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Sadly the One Golden Square blog seems to have died, but you could try Bauer Media’s site.
And it’s entirely likely you’ll find Global Radio here.

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 28 June 2015, Adults 15+. One other thing to note is that RAJAR updates its population estimates in Q2 each year, so we’ve seen the UK adult population grow slightly this quarter, although only by 1.3% nationally.

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.

D2 Bids: Further Thoughts

[Note: Updated following the publication of the detailed bid documents on the Ofcom website. Note that only parts of the applications have been made public. Other parts are confidential.

Sound Digital application hereListen2Digital application here.]

At a risk of boring everyone senseless about D2, I’ve got a few further thoughts that have come out of events and discussions since the big reveal yesterday:

  • Sound Digital is making a very big play of the fact that they have signed undertakings to ensure that, in the event that they win the licence, Bauer, UTV and Arqiva are financially on the hook for the full 12 years of their licence regardless of anything else. This provides Ofcom with certainty. Listen2Digital will need to similarly present a financial solid case.
  • Listen2Digital’s key point of difference is that it provides more choice in multiplex operator. i.e. Arqiva isn’t part of it. The question is whether or not Ofcom will take this into consideration.
  • Talkbusiness (I know UTV would prefer talkBUSINESS, but I capitalise proper nouns the correct way. It’s Easyjet as well on this blog!) has agreements with both Bloomberg and The Economist. Obviously there is currently Share Radio, available in London on DAB and part of Listen2Digital’s bid. And in the past there has been a Bloomberg radio service which was shut down (a US focused internet service lives on). This is a specialist area, and I suspect that it will be very hard to get ratings via RAJAR. I note that CNBC pulled out of BARB quite a few years ago.
  • I’m still unclear how Talksport 2 will fill all its hours. I’m sure that the radio rights for lower profile sports could be picked up relatively inexpensively, but there’s still a production cost. In a promotional video sports listed included rugby, cricket, F1, athletics and cycling. I wonder if horse racing is an interesting area with its obvious links with betting? (I’m not sure going exclusively with Channel 4 has worked well for the sport). Picking up radio rights to something like the IPL might be interesting though. Having two services could allow them to try interesting things with some of their commentaries though. If you had rights to, say, the Merseyside derby, could you put a Liverpool-skewed commentary on service and an Everton-skewed commentary on the other? To be fair, this sort of thing happens quite a lot in local radio where two local stations are broadcasting the same match for their respective supporters. And Absolute Radio, in the past, broadcast a comedy commentary for England rights that they had. The BBC has done the same with Chris Moyles and even a kids’ commentary.
  • Virgin Radio is going to target 25-44 year olds. Which is essentially the same target it had before. And is the same target that Absolute Radio has. I still see this as a direct competitor which makes things a bit strange, and perhaps uncomfortable in the bid meetings. We are promised some big names, although none have been proffered. The obvious radio personality currently without a berth is Chris Moyles. But prior to Bauer buying Absolute Radio there were rumours of a bid featuring Jonathan Ross going back to radio as well. But names like these aren’t cheap, and that’d be making a massive bet. It’s fair to say that most new digital-only music services rely heavily on pre-recorded voice links and generally cheaper talent. [See also the Updated section below]
  • Talkradio has an agreement with Comedy Central. How that will fit in will be interesting. Comedy has a strong radio heritage, but nobody really offers pure comedy for extended periods. Half hour shows are dropped in after the news. Presenters with comic chops still use lots of music in their shows. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what they do.
  • It does sound like there is still room on Sound Digital for some extra services. Their DAB+ slot has not been announced, and I’m not sure they’ve actually got a station lined up. And there could be more than one DAB+ service. They’re keeping their powder dry on this one. I still think that consumers will need quite a compelling option to actually replace older DAB radios with DAB+ capable models. But then as I’ve mentioned before, I think getting a really good handle on how many DAB+ sets are being used is really hard to do. Having at least one live service means that a mux owner could conduct extensive research to see who is able to hear it, using those findings to determine whether or not to later shift services from DAB to DAB+. Publicly at least, nobody has talked about making that transition over time, but it has to remain an option.
  • There is a significant difference in what each bid is offering in terms of coverage and a lot of people are confused about how Listen2Digital can have fewer transmitters but better coverage. Well I don’t know, but they’re not using all the same places. Fuller bid documents will be released later next week, and they may go some way to explaining that.
  • The more I think it about, the more dangerous it is that Bauer is proposing to move Absolute 80s from D1 to D2. I said prior to the announcement that I thought it’d be Absolute Radio 90s that’d make a reappearance nationally. Absolute 80s is a station with 1.4m reach and 6.8m hours. Not to be sniffed at. Yet the DAB coverage will be significantly worse, and that means listening will fall. Not everyone currently listening on DAB can be easily shifted to internet apps. On the other hand, it does provide a big draw for the bid.
  • Neither bid is making any commitment to extend their coverage beyond what they are saying in their bid documents. They could expand coverage, but it’ll be down to any agreements they have with their service providers, since each extra transmitter will end up costing service providers extra money.
  • Both groups have presented Ofcom with some comprehensive research backing up their bids and explaining why audience are interested in their offerings. Some of this research should become available next week on the Ofcom website, although some will remain confidential.
  • The new Magic spin-off station is definitely called “Magic Mellow” even though the programme strand it comes from is “Mellow Magic.” I think that’ll take quite a while for fans to adapt to!
  • I think a lot of people find the idea of a food radio station interesting. It’s easy to poo-poo the idea, but I was pointed towards Chef Radio by a commenter, and it’s worth noting that an awful lot of radio listening happens in the kitchen. Trying new formats is only to be encouraged.
  • If I’m honest, I’m disappointed that nobody is holding a space open for pop-up radio. I can think of all sorts of use cases, and commercially it could be a really interesting proposition. There are issues with the ease of getting new services on and off quickly with regard to the regulator, but Smooth Extra rebranding back to Smooth Christmas for a month isn’t really enough. Listen2Digital has the closest service to this with their Upload service which itself is interesting as I mentioned previously. But I’d love to see a permanent space carved out for pop-up services.
  • Anyone else notice that Global Radio, the UK’s biggest commercial radio group, isn’t anywhere in any of these groups (unless they’re a confidential supplier)? They have promised at least one further service on D1 though.
  • And perhaps less surprising, there’s nothing from the BBC. Last time around in 2007, BBC Asian Network was going to be on the NGW bid. Of course today there’s a tougher licence fee settlement and there’s the prospect of BBC Three going online only to save money, so the idea that the BBC might launch a new linear radio station is unlikely. Even though it could free up some space by moving a current channel over, you run into issues about reduced coverage. And with their Olympics, Eurovision and upcoming Country pop-ups, it has shown it can shift its “bits” around to accommodate services as need be (at a cost to stations like Radio 3 and Radio 4).
  • Finally, it’s worth noting that just because these stations are the ones that have gone in the bids, it doesn’t mean that things won’t change between now and launch. Come back in a year or so’s time to compare and contrast.

[Additional thoughts, post publication of the bid documents]

  • Stereo? What is this stereo you’re talking about? None of the regular DAB services offered by either Sound Digital or Listen2Digital will be stereo. Every service on Sound Digital will be mono – 64k mono for speech services, and 80k mono for music services. With Listen2Digital, they’re promising stereo for their four DAB+ services. Their regular DAB services will likewise mostly be in 80k mono for music, and 64k mono for speech. Notably a couple of the services – the sports service and Share Radio – will be in 48k mono. No current national service is broadcasting in this format, although previously Traffic Radio used it. Expect quality closer to AM for these.
  • DAB+ mono? Well that’s what Sound Digital are saying. Noticeably, they’re using fewer CUs for their DAB+ service that Listen2Digital is suggesting. That limits them to a mono service. Like DAB, DAB+ is only as good as the bit-rate you give it.
  • There’s still space for services on Sound Digital as I hypothesised above. Every DAB multiplex is divided into 864 “capacity units” (or CUs). You can allocate these as you need, which in turn determines your audio bitrate (and error correction level). As it stands, Listen2Digital is essentially full, with just 8 spare units – which could only be used for data purposes. Whereas Sound Digital has 98 spare units, which could accommodate, say, two speech services (64k mono), or one music service (80k mono) and a DAB+ service (mono or stereo).
  • Listen2Digital says that for the services it has not named, there may be either a confidentiality clause preventing them from naming the service at this time, or they may not have a service lined up or, “to
    allow third-parties who may be currently constrained from working with us to be able to come forward in due course.” They would advertise for such services on winning the bid.
  • Only Listen2Digital has allocated space for an EPG. Sound Digital has no plans “at this time.” Few radios in the market currently use EPGs because they have mostly only been furnished with relatively small LED screens. Devices like the Pure Sensia have been few and far between – with colour screens that could show either Slideshow imagery, or pull other information from via IP. As Listen2Digital note, with expanded choice, it does become harder for listeners to navigate between services. (I retuned a DAB radio at home recently, and ended up with 79 services across national, London, and nearby local mulitplexes – I live on a hill). I would hope that in future more devices (not “radios”, but multi-functional “devices” that have radio tuners embedded) will have bigger screens, so an EPG makes sense. As noted above, Sound Digital has the capacity to include one, they’ve just chosen not to at the moment.
  • Sound Digital includes a table (Table 11.5) that details potentially overlapping stations for each of its proposed services. Curiously, the potentially overlapping services for Virgin Radio are Team Rock, Planet Rock, Absolute 80s, Absolute Radio 90s, Kiss, and Capital Xtra. Spot the missing station? The main Absolute Radio service isn’t mentioned. If Virgin Radio is going to overlap with all those other services – suggesting a fairly varied mix of rock and pop, then surely it must also overlap with Absolute Radio? “The all new Virgin Radio will play a range of the best rock and pop music from the 1980s to the present day, appealing particularly to those aged 25-
    44 and with a clearly defined slight bias towards male listeners. Programming will be carefully tailored to what this target audience wants to hear.” That all sounds familiar to me…
  • Talksport 2’s programming will include additional sports coverage for which rights would probably be cheap to acquire, and reruns of popular Talksport shows. Interestingly it also says: “It is expected that this will include independently produced content.” I wonder if this might include broadcast opportunities for, say, popular football podcasts? An interesting thought. And it will also work with William Hill who provide internet audio streams for horse racing and darts coverage. Again a good way to fill the station.
  • For both Planet Rock and Absolute 80s, Bauer is promising to write to Ofcom with the rationale behind moving them over from D1. Beyond that, there’s no public explanation.
  • Sound Digital says that it will formally advertise its DAB+ spot subject to winning the award. However a service could jump in and do a deal with them in the meantime. They say that they’re looking for a service that will drive uptake of DAB+ sets. If the advertisement doesn’t get the desired result, then the consortium will create a new service themselves.
  • Sound Digital includes some really interesting research from Mediatique, commissioned by Arqiva, to determine how many DAB+ sets are currently in the market. This report claims that by the end of 2013, 2.9m sets were DAB+ compatible out of a total of 20m sets in the market – 14.5%. Further, by the end of 2020, the majority of radios in car and home will be DAB+. Unsurprisingly, their work also found that DAB+ stations would need to be “highly appealing” to accelerate DAB+ ownership. (Unfortunately, the full research document doesn’t appear on Ofcom’s website as it’s probably considered to be a confidential part of the bid.)
  • Both Listen2Digital and Sound Digital are effectively subsidising DAB+ capacity at launch. However Listen2Digital is offering substantially more space at the start – six times as much space.
  • Both bids will use the same error protection level (3) for their services. You can get more error protection, but that uses up more space. You can also get lower error protection, but that makes signal break-up likelier. Both groups have taken the middle ground on this – which is what most multiplexes do.

As to which of these bids will win? Well the safe option is Sound Digital – whatever your personal choice, they’re the consortium with two big broadcasters and the tried and tested transmission supplier. But what will Ofcom do? I did have a quick look over at the “special bets” on Betfair, but it seems that there’s not sufficient demand for a betting market on who wins the D2 licence.

Read my initial thoughts on Listen2Digital and Sound Digital.

Disclaimer: These are my personal views, and don’t represent those of my current or past employers. Probably not any future ones either!

D2 Bid: Sound Digital

sounddigital

Earlier in the week I put a bit of context into the background surrounding the advertising of a second national commercial multiplex. I plan to go through in a bit of detail what each of the bidders is proposing. As ever, these are my own views and don’t represent those of any employer, past or present.

Ofcom has published details of both bidders on its website.

Sound Digital is a consortium made up of Arqiva (the major UK transmission provider, and owner of the Digital One multiplex amongst others), Bauer Media (the second largest commercial radio group in the UK, and owner of brands including Kiss, Magic, Absolute Radio and Planet Rock) and UTV (owner of the ITV franchise in Northern Irleand, Talksport, some local UK radio services, as well as significant assets in the Republic of Ireland).

The services, as described in Sound Digital’s press release, are as follows:

  • UTV will launch three original speech stations – talkRADIO, talkSPORT 2 and talkBUSINESS – significantly extending choice and plurality in a sector currently dominated by the BBC.
  • Bauer will offer high quality music stations catering to a broad spectrum of musical taste, including Magic Mellow, KISSTORY and heat radio, along with highly successful digital stations Absolute 80s and Planet Rock.
  • Virgin Radio will return to the UK airwaves under a partnership between the Virgin Group and UTV.
  • Sound Digital will also offer a non-mainstream music station, which Jazz FM has signed an agreement to provide.
  • Stations will also cater to specific areas of interest for which there is additional national demand: UCB Inspirational and Premier Christian Radio for Christian audiences, Sunrise Radio and British Muslim Radio.
  • To lay the foundation of a future migration to DAB+ and accelerate take-up of DAB+ compatible radios, Sound Digital will launch a DAB+ channel. The programming content of this ground-breaking channel will be revealed ahead of launch.

With a rumoured sale of its local radio services, UTV is the standout here, launching four new services, three speech and one music.

Bauer is offering five music services, four of which already exist, and two of which are already available nationally. Only Magic Mellow is completely new.

Jazz aficionados will be pleased to see the return, nationally of Jazz FM. They previously had a slot on D1, but currently can only be heard in London on DAB.

Three of the four special interest stations are currently broadcasting locally, meaning that this bid would bring them national broadcast coverage. British Muslim Radio is the new service.

Sound Digital claims that it will reach 73% of households and 63% of major roads (increasing to 75% and 65% if international agreements are met), with a network of 45 transmitters.

Here are some initial thoughts on the Sound Digital bid:

  • The assumed big story here is that Virgin Radio is coming back as part of a UTV licence deal with Virgin Group. But I’m a little confused about how that fits in since it promises to once again be a rock and pop station. As regular readers will know, I worked for a long time at the original Virgin Radio, but I was very supportive of the rebranding of the service when SMG sold it to The Times of India in 2008. What seems strange to me in 2015 is that Bauer would be happy with a consortium that seems to be directly targeting its own 2013 acquisition, Absolute Radio. Media Guardian even illustrated their report of the D2 story with a picture of Christian O’Connell from back in the Virgin Radio days. The station will of course live and die on how it’s programmed and resourced of course. But Bauer had essentially taken “ownership” of rock in this country with the Absolute branded stations including Absolute Radio and Absolute Classic Rock, as well as Planet Rock and Kerrang!
  • I actually think the bigger story is the significantly increased amount of speech that is being promised by Sound Digital. We’re seeing the return of Talk Radio (as “talkRADIO”), alongside a sister station for Talksport and a new business service. The UK is underserved with speech radio, and it’ll be interesting to see how Talk Radio takes on LBC (and Five Live). Their business service is also interesting, although I find that to be a harder one to justify. And it’ll be interesting to hear how they plan to programme Talksport 2 – whether that means buying more sports rights, or broadening away from mostly football. But UTV is definitely delivering the most creative offering in this bid.
  • Bauer seems to be moving across Absolute 80s and Planet Rock from D1. Does that mean that it will be able to bring some of its other stations over on Digital One back up to stereo with the increased bandwidth? Or can we expect new services to launch on Digital One too?
  • It’s worth noting that coverage of D2 will not be as great as D1 (upwards of 90% coverage), therefore some current listeners to Absolute 80s and Planet Rock are likely to lose coverage.
  • On the other hand 15 services (including one DAB+ service) is also a lot for a single multiplex, even taking account for at least three predominantly speech services. Again, lovers of stereo might be a bit disappointed.
  • Arqiva has a 40% shareholding in this consortium (the largest shareholding), and it’s also the owner of Digital One and the majority of local DAB multiplexes. As such, were it to win, Arqiva would have a hand in most of UK DAB radio.
  • Sound Digital is offering a single, as yet un-named DAB+ service with no hint as to what kind of format it might be. That’s perhaps a little disappointing since it’s not going to easily kick start a DAB+ revolution. But obviously it depends what the service is.
  • I’m somewhat surprised that Sound Digital seems to be offering significantly less coverage with slightly more transmitters than Listen2Digital. A detailed look at the non-confidential parts of their bids may be in order to see why this is when Ofcom publishes them next week.
  • In many respects, this is the “safe” bid – the existing, almost sole, transmission provider allied with two of the top three biggest UK radio groups building on solid brands for most of its services. However it doesn’t obviously bring many exciting new services to the market – with the notable exception of what UTV is offering.

Further reading:
Sound Digital website

My first take on the Listen2Digital bid can be read here.

Radio Radio

A couple of interesting stories today with news that finally there’s a signed agreement to rollout local DAB coverage to 91.2% of FM equivalence. This has been a little while coming – to say the least – but now it’s here and the first of 182 new transmitters should be built in March.

Why 91.2% of FM equivalence? Well it’s a very nuanced balancing act with hundreds of transmitters required to cover every nook and cranny of the country. And the closer you get to 100% the gains disappear quickly. You might have to spend thousands of pounds on a transmitter that will only reach tens of people.

And the good news is that on many of those local transmitters, there is space for new services. While it’s an expensive way to reach a national audience, it becomes more achievable if you want to reach a local audience (And yes, I appreciate that cost is in the eye of the beholder – for some smaller ILRs or community stations, local DAB remains beyond their means).

The other interesting news is that UTV is reported to be considering selling its portfolio of English local services to concentrate on Talksport and its TV services including the just-launched Ireland Live, which has snaffled many of TV3’s ITV shows.

Media Guardian speculates that UKRD or Orion might be interested. I think it’s less likely that Bauer or Global will be rushing out because there are probably some ownership issues with either group snapping them up. And following Global’s tortuous negotiations over its GMG acquisition and subsequent sale, they’re probably not up for the fight. Bauer already has a position of strength in the north of England, and while it could strip costs out of the

What’s perhaps more interesting is who ends up selling the services, and do they do a licencing deal and re-brand? The former is especially important because Bauer and Global have the radio marketplace sewn up between them. The stations would instantly have improved revenues if either sales house represented them. If Communicorp bought them, then expect the services to quickly adopt Global brands and for Global to sell their national advertising.

The irony is that a sale to a group that hands the national sales contract to Global or Bauer, will only make life a little more difficult for Talksport who effectively stands alone in the radio marketplace. They have a strong proposition, but share deals mean that no matter how good that might be, they’re left with a diminished share to fight for.