Commercial radio proves to be a niche little earner

Radio’s popularity is on the rise; people spend more time a day listening to the radio than they do watching TV. This can only be good news.

Rajar results released last week were welcome news for those in the commercial radio sector. So far this year, radio has had precious few positive percentage increases in audience figures and these latest results show that the industry is improving services to listeners, quarter on quarter, reaching an all time high of more than 500 million listening hours a week.

Commercial radio has finally closed the gap in share of total listening between itself and the BBC – a vital step in continuing to attract blue-chip advertisers and in turn, for the long-term prosperity of the industry.

Radio has also breached another boundary. The average time spent listening to the radio a day (both BBC and commercial) has for the first time, exceeded the average time spent watching television. The reasons for this increase in radio’s popularity can only be speculated upon. A prevailing theory is that as people’s lives become busier, the nature of radio fits in better with their daily routines. But the answer as to why, may be more simple than this and examining the emerging patterns year on year reveals some interesting trends.

When assessing radio in the long term there are three main dynamics.

First, the traditional big-hitters – the mainstream conurbation-based FM stations – are actually losing considerable numbers of listeners. All three of the major commercial FM networks are reported to have lost both reach and hours year on year.

Second, supposedly “niche” stations have added significantly to their audiences. Classic FM is a continuing success story and dance music stations have proven to be strong audience builders. Kiss 100 in London and the Galaxy network around the UK are examples of this.

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest commercial success stories is TalkSport. It has added over ten per cent to its national audience, proving that its strategy is right and that it has a breadth of sporting appeal beyond just football. Other winners in commercial radio include London’s alternative music station XFM and Jazz FM in London and the North-west.

The success of BBC Radio 2 in reinventing itself with a brace of youthful(ish) presenters, shows that it seems to have succeeded in altering both the reality and the perception of the station. This has resulted in a healthy 17 per cent increase in its audience.

If there are clear conclusions to be drawn from these figures it is that, like any maturing mass market, the secret of success in radio right now is segmentation. Approaching the market with a clear proposition and an enthusiasm that can be easily communicated to the target market is key. The days of a radio station being “all things to all people” are numbered. As in other media markets, it is perhaps not the pressures of people’s lives that are driving change, but the increased choice and quality of output.

Chris Howett is head of radio at Carat

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

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