What the latest listening figures tell us about the fortunes of commercial radio's recent arrivals

These are the first Rajars we’ve had since stations were launched on the second national multiplex back in March, making them a very interesting set of figures.

Whilst none are yet matching the likes of the now-established digital stations such as Absolute 80s, Kisstory and BBC 6 Music for reach and hours, the increased level of choice has helped to push the weekly reach of commercial radio back above that of the BBC. The national commercial stations clearly outperformed local and BBC radio over the last 12 months, with a 9 per cent increase in listening hours.

Interest in news coverage surrounding the referendum has almost certainly had an influence on the news-focused stations with LBC, BBC Radio 4 and BBC 5 Live all achieving increased levels of reach year-on-year and the three stations gaining more listening hours (if you include BBC 4 Extra in Radio 4’s figures) than any other station over the course of the last year.

Of those stations producing their first set of results, Bauer will be pleased with the additional 388,000 listeners that the Magic portfolio now reaches thanks to the introduction of Magic Chilled and Mellow Magic; although it would no doubt be preferable if these weren’t announced together with a 367,000 loss of reach over the last 12 months on its London station.

For The Wireless Group, the major success story is clearly that of Virgin Radio with an initial weekly reach figure of 409,000 following its seven-and-a-half-year absence from the UK airwaves.

Meanwhile, TalkSport 2 reached 285k listeners per week while talkRADIO reached 224,000. Success for these two is slightly tricky to judge; TalkSport 2 seems to be an overspill station for content that doesn’t fit on TalkSport (similar to BBC’s 5 Live Sports Extra). Indeed, in the last year-and-a-half, 5 Live Sports Extra’s listening hours have been as low as 1.4m per week and as high as 6.9m.

For talkRADIO, on the other hand, the challenge is getting listeners to discover the station. Their wide range of subjects and characters may mean it’s not something that the average listener would easily stick with all day, as opposed to a station where the music takes centre stage and doesn’t vary heavily. However, it’s likely that once people begin to find presenters that they like, they could accrue more of a following.

There’s definitely a gap in the market for more speech-based radio content in the UK as evidenced from the increased popularity of podcasts. Indeed, in the US, the top five most listened to shows are all speech-based. It’s also the format which is least likely to be affected by streaming services. However, the commitment and costs involved in running and producing 24/7 speech content may be what holds it back in the UK market.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that these are just the first set of figures for many of the stations. Even now, some of the first digital stations to launch are continuing to grow in reach, listening and hours. With the potential increased investment that will come with Newscorp’s purchase of The Wireless Group, it will be interesting to see what the future holds.

Mike Wood is AV account manager at Carat

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