An increasing number of commercial radio stations are coming on air, many of them with more specialised formats than the BBC offers. Unfortunately, audience data collection has not kept pace with this trend. I believe this makes it hard for niche radio stations to gain recognition.
Rajar, which measures radio audiences, was originally set up to research adult reach, a measure which was perfectly acceptable at a time when most stations had quite a broad appeal. But this is no longer the case. The radio landscape has changed.
As a general rule, BBC local radio offers a consistent format throughout the UK. But the commercial radio sector has spawned a plethora of viable alternatives including youth brands, ethnic brands and stations for the over-45s. Commercial radio also covers diverse music genres from country to dance to classical. The BBC competes in some of these areas, but by no means all.
As an industry, we should trumpet the choices available to advertisers, as well as emphasising fields in which we are market leaders. We are hampered, however, by the Rajar diary system, which offers scant chance for tightly targeted stations to gain a respectable adult reach figure, as they are consistently being compared with broad-based stations.
Since the last Rajar announcement, I have not seen a single reference to small stations’ performances within their defined target markets. Official Rajar data refers to total adult reach, but never, say, a youth station’s reach among 15to 24-year-olds.
Youth stations will never appeal to the over-35s because they are not designed to, but the current Rajar system works against them. Why? If they achieve a 20 per cent reach within their target market, they still only attain a five to six per cent reach overall. The station is not perceived to be a success, even though it is doing well in its target sector. As a result, advertisers promoting youth brands tend to opt for mainstream stations as these are seen to be the market leaders.
Agencies are open to the “unique profile” argument, but the big radio groups do not wish to promote this view. This is why smaller stations need Rajar’s support. Demand for more sophisticated data is growing with the advent of digital radio. Rajar must move with the times, or small stations will have to seek other methods of audience measurement, a move which would damage the credibility of both Rajar and the industry.
By updating its methods, Rajar would better reflect the areas where commercial radio is strong compared with the BBC – and awareness in the advertising industry would increase as people became more conscious of radio’s true versatility.
Finally, smaller stations’ representation on the Rajar board should be increased. Currently it is too biased towards the larger controlling groups.
These changes would be in the interest of radio as a whole and would attract potential clients to the medium. The time is ripe for a review. The question is: who will help to make it happen?
Nigel Reeve is chief executive of Fusion Radio