Digital radio finally comes of age

Those who have a DAB radio love it, and more and more of us are taking the plunge. With new services starting up, the UK’s listening habits are undergoing a big change

Over the past 12 months, much has been made of digital audio broadcasting (DAB). The medium has been publicly praised across the board by national press, advertising and retailers, who are delighted with the increased prices being generated by the sales of digital equipment. And while consumer opinions before ownership of a digital radio vary, a new report reveals that once they’ve bought one, consumers love it too.

The study, carried out by Continental Research for DAB consortium MXR, which comprises Chrysalis Radio, Capital Radio Group, UBC Digital and Guardian Media Group Radio, aimed to find out how consumer listening behaviour changes following the purchase of a digital radio. In the UK, there are now 478,000 digital radio sets, according to the Digital Radio Development Bureau. The DRDB predicts that this figure will reach the million mark before the end of the year.

The MXR report aimed to look at the listening habits and motivations of those with access to digital radio, and at what drives them to buy a DAB set in the first place.

One of the key findings was that the respondents, across a broad demographic spread, report an increase in average listening time of 1.7 hours a day or 11.9 hours a week. The research also shows that, although DAB radios are popular, digital television listening, through satellite, cable and Freeview, is growing and now accounts for 24 per cent of radio listening. This is particularly good news for stations that are available across a range of different platforms.

Another notable feature of DAB listening for radio groups is the emergence of “twin peaks”. Radio listening via analogue radio is weighted towards breakfast whereas DAB listeners are listening heavily both at breakfast time and in the evening.

The report also shows that while a majority of DAB listeners have only one radio, 40 per cent of respondents say they are planning to buy another. This is supported by the fact that 69 per cent of DAB owners now listen to their digital radios more than their analogue models.

Digital TV listening is becoming an important sampling ground for consumers to familiarise themselves with the variety of stations available via digital platforms, but DAB radios become the medium of choice once they have bought a DAB set.

This is no doubt due to the styling and portability of DAB products, paired with the fact that radio listeners enjoy listening while undertaking other activities, such as using the internet, doing housework, reading or cooking, while tuning in. In dual homes surveyed, where listeners had access to both a DAB radio and digital TV, 85 per cent of listening was via the DAB radio.

The findings highlight the predilection for the new and varied station choices of DAB radio, with 82 per cent of DAB respondents now deliberately listening to one or more new stations since their first DAB purchase. Of those questioned, 37 per cent have consciously changed their favourite radio station since they began listening via a DAB set. Radio brands gaining this new listening promiscuity include LBC, The Arrow, Jazz FM, Xfm, Radio 2 and Radio 4.

Encouragingly, consumers do understand the benefits of digital radio and are tuning in for exactly those reasons. For instance, 35 per cent of respondents say that the music is key to their decision to switch stations, which means the niche offerings available on DAB, such as the BBC’s 6 Music, are reaching the intended audience. A further 11 per cent say that the improved sound quality and clearer reception are important factors in the decision to listen to digital radio.

DAB listeners’ spontaneous reasons for starting to listen to new stations are echoed in the satisfaction levels recorded for specific aspects of DAB. These findings revealed that 98 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the ease of tuning (something that can only be fully appreciated with personal use); 96 per cent were happy with the variety of stations; 93 per cent say that they like the improved reception quality; and 92 per cent are pleased to have the additional data services.

Lastly, the DLS (text screen) services found on the newer DAB radios is clearly showing promise. These will be of increasing interest both for advertisers and programme-makers once the penetration of sets reaches a point at which the screen starts to be developed for a variety of services.

Nearly all those surveyed were already using the DLS for artist/track details and programme information, and also as a method of finding out what’s coming next. It can only be a matter of time before consumers are looking for a wider variety of information relating to the output.

This year sees the launch of more DAB products, many with functionality beyond even the features already available. There can be no doubt that radio listening habits in the UK are set to undergo both dramatic change and growth.

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