Rajar Figures Period Ending 23 June 2002While sports fans the world over were drooling at the prospect of a whole month of footballing fodder, the nation’s favourite radio stations were perhaps not filled with quite the same euphoria. And, in light of the most recent round of RAJAR figures, fears that might have been suppressed seem to have been well-founded by radio broadcasters throughout the UK, with a drop in listeners being the industry standard amongst most stations.
Having experienced record listening levels in three of the last four RAJAR reports, the new listening figures show that commercial radio’s long-term audience growth has been stunted during a quarter that saw the Union Jacks of the Golden Jubilee and the multicolours of the World Cup.
Commercial radio listening stood at 31.58 million adults for the quarter to 23 June, according to the latest RAJAR report – a decrease of 700,000 listeners year on year and 600,000 period on period.
The Radio Advertising Bureau has been quick to blame this disruption on the Golden Jubilee and the World Cup. However, the BBC also suffered likewise, with a fall in listeners over the age of 15 of 700,000.
Commercial radio held its period-on-period share of listening with 45.5 per cent to the BBC’s 52.6 per cent, but its share of listening was down year on year by more than one per cent and this inability to grow share against the BBC is likely to worry commercial stations.
There were, however, a few exceptions and an element of truth may be taken from the World Cup theory as Talk Sport added 200,000 listeners over the last year. But north of the border it was Scotland’s local stations that wheeled away, strips pulled over their heads, for a congratulatory back slap as they reaped the benefits of close community relationships and a local mentality. And while champagne corks may not exactly be popping in the receptions of Scotland’s local stations, neither is the full-time bath likely to be stained red by a mass of slit wrists.
In fact, the mood remains quite positive, says Adam Findlay, managing director of Northsound in Aberdeen.
“The RAJAR results were a great confirmation to our overall strategy including local news and sport. We do see Northsound as a brand in its own right, but we never forget that we are first and foremost a local radio station. This can sometimes mean doing ‘unsexy’ things, but believe me the rewards are worth it. In my view RAJAR has made commercial radio one of the most accountable mediums around which in today’s climate is very valuable.”
The mood seems equally as buoyant down at Northsound’s SRH owned sister station Radio Forth, where marketing manager Camille Craig says: “We have seen a slight increase in reach, but less amount of time being spent listening to our stations, because of increased competition, but overall we were pretty stable.
“We are working very hard to push the audience back up and we are striving to be better and sharper all the time. The Edinburgh Festival is certainly a big bonus for us, as a marketing platform as well as for our coverage.”
However, Craig does not see the recent festival of football that was the World Cup as the scapegoat many have perceived it to be: “The World Cup comes but once ever four years. It’s the biggest event in the world and when it’s on people will watch it regardless of whether their team is in contention. Radio stations have to be realistic when TV is covering every game as well as highlights packages and news updates.
“But the fact that it was on so early in the morning maybe even worked in favour of the radio stations; we were able to update listeners on their way to work or when they were still in bed, so I don’t think that can be a huge excuse for the overall drop in listeners across the RAJAR results.”
This is a view that is subscribed to by Danny Gallagher, managing director of Radio Borders: “We have a strong, stable radio station. Our last three or four RAJAR results have been consistent and this time around we are top in market share in the UK.
“It is a bit of a red herring when people complain about the World Cup losing them listeners. We have 25,000 English listeners. So, for us, the World Cup was good. We deal with the Scottish/English divide well, we’re used to it. A decision was taken to cover the World Cup as a whole, not just the England games, to try and avoid alienating the Scottish listeners. But it would have been folly to ignore it completely.
“What affected us, more than the World Cup, the Jubilee and the national downturn, was foot and mouth, but the local market is a strong market. Local radio is very much treated as a friend. You are part of the community. The listening is almost subliminal, and while TV is starting to suffer from fragmentation, local radio’s audiences remain intact.”
One station left licking its wounds this time around is Beat 106 which dropped 2 per cent in reach and just under 1 per cent in share. Hugh Murray, managing director at Beat, says: “The figures are black and white. We can argue about the vagaries and accuracy of RAJAR, but that is the industry standard measure. We are the only station that tracks its audience on a week by week basis, which we believe provides a highly accurate picture of our core audience and our competitors. The results this time around do not, in my opinion, reflect the foundation strength Beat has amongst its core listeners and ownership of core music properties Beat has in Central Scotland.”
He adds: “We offer Scotland a station that plays more music than any other with 12 of the most talented music specialists in their music genre which doesn’t leave our competition with much to choose from. When they have tried to steal our talent in the past they have either voted to stay, always their choice, or their departure has seen further increases in our audience reach. Beat, being a highly targeted commercial offering, is a must for national advertisers, who currently contribute 70 per cent of Beat’s income.”
Across in Fife, Kingdom FM is a station which continues to achieve impressive audiences depite Beat 106 and Real Radio invading its patch in recent times. The station has increased its numbers by 4.5 per cent on the same quarter last year though average hours have fallen affecting the station’s market share. However, Kevin Brady, programme director at Kingdom FM, remains upbeat about what benefits his station can offer advertisers. “Our USP is that we offer targeted advertising for local businesses with very little wasteage from an area cover point of view, and with a higher penetration than any other station. For example a Fife business advertising on Forth 1 would have very high wastage on the geography of their area. For national brands how high reach is is the key to attracting them and again penetration level.”
Clan FM is a relatively new player in Scotland’s local radio market and, despite a disappointing show in the last round of RAJARs, John Collins, the station’s managing director, remains optimistic too: “Our RAJAR results were poor, but we knew that they were going to be poor. The results come out every 12 weeks now, and to make a real impact it takes a lot longer than twelve weeks.
“We have a 12-month plan and we are currently four months into it, so what is appearing just now is not the finished article.
“But what we can take from the results is that we understand the market. And we now know that, through no testing of our own, throwing money at a station can add listeners, but it will not add large numbers of listeners. We relaunched our programming nine months ago with a marketing budget in the tens of thousands. Unfortunately, it clashed with the launch of a new station with similar programming with a marketing budget ten times that.
“But localness is our USP; any local radio station will say that. The difficulty is to get a substantial share of voice and to move your brand to the front of mind. But we can still be attractive to advertisers. We lack wastage and, typically, we are cheaper. I mean, when you are trying to reach Motherwell what is the point in reaching Gourock too?
“Quite often national advertisers are not interested in the smaller local stations because they deal with agencies and agencies often deal with straight numbers. Our advertisers are often built through relationships and that model has proven to be far more resilient when times are tough. Our billings continue to rise, the local relationship model is strong.”
Westsound’s fortunes in the RAJARs contrast with that of Clan, but managing director Sheena Borthwick suggests that they may well have something in common. Locality, it seems, is the key: “We haven’t suffered at all. Quite the opposite; we have had our highest figures in our 21-year history. Last year we had a reach of 49 per cent, this year it was 55 per cent. Last year we had a market share of 37 per cent, this year it was 41 per cent, the second highest in Scotland.
“We have been taking big, big leaps forward. But the key for local stations is to keep on the ground. You have to know what is important to the audience and then act on that. We recently handed Ian Grey, the Minister for Transport, a petition with 48,000 signatures to boost the A77 Motorway Upgrade campaign. Ayrshire is very much a community and it pays to be part of it.”
During the storms early this year and, more recently, the floods this summer, local radio proved to be a pulling point for information and news, and it is at times of local crisis, however big the mountain or molehill, that really brings radio into its element, says Forth’s Craig: “Everyone tunes in. It is the only place where you can get up-to-date information on a very local level. When the schools shut we are there to inform parents and pupils or if there is any problem on the Forth Road Bridge we are the first to know, as we are in constant conversation with the Bridge monitor. People trust us and trust is a huge issue.
“Our service area is quite broad and diverse. Edinburgh is a very cosmopolitan city, with a very strong city etiquette. But we also serve Fife and the Lothians. So, despite being a local station, we have to be a broadcaster in every sense of the word. We have to involve everyone.
“People buy numbers. They want to reach as many people as they can, but also advertisers place a lot of emphasis on trust. With 27 years of heritage behind us we have a large level of trust, and that is so important.”
As new stations come to the fore, competition increases. Many of the new, regional players – such as Beat 106 and Real - have significant clout, but still, as the market fragments, local stations continue to hold their own. Radio is like that. In an ever more hectic world where the cash rich are time poor, radio is often the only way to keep up to date.
There has been a decline in radio listening, but that decline has to be looked at in context. Listening may be down, but it is down from a peak. So maybe excuses aren’t needed and in four years’ time everyone (yes, even fans in Scotland) will be able to enjoy the wonders of the World Cup.
by Craig McVitie,
Scottish Radio Network Sales.
The latest RAJAR shows that, although the numbers listening to radio in Scotland have remained broadly similar to the previous quarter's figure, the amount of listening (total hours) has decreased by seven percent.
It is by no means clear why this fall has occurred, especially given the unprecedented competition in the marketplace and the auxiliary nature of the medium. Of the new(er), services Beat has seen its weekly listenership decline from 17% to 15%. And while it has held up well in the East, it has suffered in the West.
Though it is still relatively early days for Real Radio, it has built loyalty among its existing listener base with an increase in average hours from 8.6 to 9.2. Unlike Beat, Real has chosen not to release data on an East\West basis so more detailed analysis is not possible.
Turning to SRH's Scottish portfolio, it’s seven stations remain leaders in each of their markets, on a combined basis at least. In reach terms, Borders, Forth, Northsound, Tay and West Sound all registered gains, while Clyde and Moray Firth both fell.
However, Clyde still has more listeners than all six BBC services combined and it is this level of performance that, over the years, has contributed to Scotland being the strongest performing RAJAR "Region" for commercial radio and, conversely, the BBC's weakest.