Rajar results put heat on commercial stations

The latest figures show some stations enjoying ten per cent audience growth over the last year. But will they keep advertisers happy?

The RSL/Rajar figures which were released last week, the first in which year-on-year comparisons are appropriate, fuelled a rash of press releases from radio stations and sales houses which analysed only period-on-period fluctuations. Ever the cynical buyer, my suspicions were aroused.

But the results do show that the number of local commercial radio listeners has risen by ten per cent year on year. Moreover, as nearly 82 per cent of commercial radio hours are delivered by ILR, advertisers need to see these stations building their audiences – and rapidly. Speedy audience growth is important to justify the rise in revenue, which is more than 16 per cent up on last year, according to the latest figures from the Advertising Association.

As a maturing advertising medium, it is important that radio protects two of its fundamental strengths: its comparatively low capital outlay and its cost efficiency. It will become far less appealing to advertisers if it replaces its “two per cent medium” moniker with the compromise “six per cent medium driven by cost inflation”.

It is satisfying to see stations marketing themselves aggressively to build their audiences, as Capital has consistently done in London. It takes years of consistent investment to establish a brand that engenders listener loyalty and attracts new customers. Radio audiences listen to a limited portfolio of stations and tend not to surf in the same way as we channel-hop on TV.

Increasing commercial choice may fragment the audience over time, but the battle with the BBC still remains the key to audience fluctuation. The BBC is building its audience faster. One of the architects of this growth, Sue Farr, is now in the market for a new job and hopefully this has not gone unnoticed by radio companies with shareholders to impress.

As well as attracting more than 200,000 new listeners, Classic FM remains the only national commercial station to boost hours year on year. Elsewhere, TalkSport’s latest reincarnation has failed to dent Five Live’s continued growth; promotion of Virgin’s “ten songs in a row” has built its daytime audiences; and in London, only Heart 106.2 and Kiss 100 have shown year-on-year rises for both reach and hours. The picture outside London is again mixed.

For the first time, the Rajar figures look into the number of people who listen to the radio over the Internet. Three per cent of total audiences clearly consider radio content worth the price of a phone call.

It will be interesting to see, as cross-media ownership rules relax slightly and consolidation increases, whether Clear Channel, for example, will use its outdoor products to promote its radio stations or whether EMAP can use its magazine portfolio. It’s nothing new; the BBC has been doing it for years with great success.

Duncan Sillence is head of radio at Starcom Motive Partnership.

Rajar figures can be found at www.rajar.co.uk

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