Listeners shun promiscuity

Despite increased choice in radio stations, most listeners remain loyal to one or two channels.

The relationship that listeners have with their radio station is well established, and can perhaps be best understood by considering radio’s survival in the face of increased competition from other technologically superior media.

The core of the relationship relies on what is often described in focus groups as “radio is my friend”. The implication is of trust and loyalty on the part of the listener.

The choice available to radio listeners in the UK has expanded considerably over the past decade. In 1987, the average radio listener could choose between two local stations, of which one was a commercial radio service and the other a BBC station, and four national BBC stations.

Today, the typical radio market consists of about a dozen stations – four national commercial stations, five national BBC stations, three local or regional commercial stations and a local BBC service. The London market is even more developed, with about 30 stations available to the radio listener, and another – XFM – announced last week.

The question posed by this growth in choice is whether the traditional loyalty of listeners is being diminished. But there is little evidence to suggest it is. Instead, listening behaviour is developing along the lines of packaged goods buying patterns. In the same way that consumers may choose to buy Nescafé Gold Blend and Nescafé Alta Rica for use at different times of the day, so radio listeners will choose different stations for their habitual morning listening and their leisure listening.

The first evidence of this can be seen in the fact that repertoire listening appears to be largely unaffected by having more brands to choose from.

According to the latest Rajar data, the average number of stations tuned to each week by radio listeners is two, unchanged from 1993 despite the increase in stations from seven to about 12.

The comparison between London and the UK shows that despite the significantly greater choice available in the capital, the average number of stations tuned to each week is only marginally higher, at 2.2. This, despite the launch of 11 new stations over this period.

Further evidence of the enduring loyalty of radio listeners is an analysis which reveals that the majority still rely on a primary and secondary brand for their weekly listening.

Almost two-thirds of radio listeners across the UK listen to a maximum of two stations each week, with over a third only tuning to one station. The proportion listening to over five stations each week – the most promiscuous of listeners – is less than ten per cent.

The same analysis within London provides another indication that the increased number of stations is not necessarily leading to greater listener promiscuity. As with the whole country, a third of listeners only tune to one station each week, while a further 28.5 per cent tune to a second station each week.

There is a greater proportion of the most promiscuous type of listener. However, only one in ten listeners tunes to more than five stations each week.

Yet some in the advertising industry believe listeners are becoming more promiscuous. The charts demonstrate the average repertoire size by broad demographic groups and reveals that being under 55, more upmarket and male is likely to lead to more tuning around the dial.

Demographic analysis reveals that AB men aged 25 to 54 in full-time employment tune to an average of 2.5 stations each week. This is considerably higher than the average for all adults and the fact that this demographic group encompasses many marketing and advertising professionals is a pointer to why some believe that brand repertoires are larger than they actually are.

This finding could also explain why station repertoire sizes are larger in London. AB men aged 25 to 54 in full-time employment account for one in 12 of all adults in the capital – the comparative figure for the UK is one in 20.

All in all, there are positive indicators that listener loyalty is as strong as ever and that promiscuity is more likely to be a state of mind rather than something that is driven by external factors such as increased brand choice.

Media Analysis, page 16

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