The digital picture isn’t as sharp as it could be

Jazz FM has 300,000 listeners tuning in via a digital platform, but the actual effectiveness of this channel has yet to be realised, says Howard Bareham

According to the latest Rajar figures, 300,000 listeners are tuning in to Jazz FM through media platforms other than traditional radio sets. We suspected the number was high, so this tells us what we already thought, but it is good to have an official figure. Yet, the actual worth of these figures – in terms of value and robustness – has yet to be determined.

While we will see growth in penetration of the digital platform in radio, it is not suited or valid for all stations. It is most suited to those stations that have a clear identity through programme content or specific audience interest, such as Jazz FM.

Eventually we may move towards a two-tier system, where there will be local super-stations – perhaps 95.8 Capital FM being the obvious candidate – which will provide locally focused cover, combined with national programming-led opportunities.

Technology allows radio stations to broadcast via a number of media platforms and this is going to increase. Therefore it is crucial that the Rajar research keeps pace with these changes. Current proposed methods being tested include a wristwatch and a pager. These systems will offer a greater degree of accuracy for the current analogue output, but will they be robust enough to measure listening by platform? This remains to be seen.

Through the different media platforms, local radio stations have the ability to broadcast nationally. As a result, programming content will become a challenge, and there will undoubtedly be blurred boundaries between what is considered to be local and what is not.

The number of radio stations broadcast via the digital platform is already extensive. But when the market expands and more established stations embrace online, those stations currently available via digital technology will have to offer a lot more to keep their listeners. Creating opportunities for advertisers will be crucial to develop revenue streams as well.

The way in which radio advertising is planned and bought will evolve, with more national coverage options. We’ll also see a rise in targeted opportunities. The way radio is consumed will also evolve over time. The wider choice of formats and different platforms will offer greater choice for advertisers and listeners alike, and attract new revenue to the market. This will have a positive effect on radio audiences.

But while radio is moving towards an audience-led sell (against and in conjunction with other media), a core strength is its geographical coverage and connection with its local audience – a strength that advertisers want to harness.

So, although Jazz FM has made a start and the online measuring facility is available to other stations that might want it, trading against these figures is some way off. The market needs to evolve and the scale of these options needs to be achieved before we can move forward.

Howard Bareham is head of radio at MindShare

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