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Rajar: UK hits record 36.1m commercial radio listeners, Evans boosts Virgin Radio 700%


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

May 15, 2019 | 6 min read

Radiocentre has said commercial radio owners' investment in new talent and brands has seen the industry’s ratings reach a new high of 36.1 million listeners for the first quarter of 2019. (Read Q2 2019 results here).

Commercial radio grows in UK

Commercial radio grows in UK

Rajar, the body responsible for measuring radio audiences in the UK, has reported that there are now 1.7 million more people listening to commercial radio stations than the BBC radio networks combined – BBC Radio 4's audience decline was noted at 750,000 in a year.

It comes one day after the UK government embarked on a radical review of digital radio, which it said accounts for 52% of all radio listeners.

This is the largest lead that commercial radio has ever had over the BBC. Epitomising this perhaps is BBC Radio 2 host Chris Evans move to ad-free Virgin radio, or Simon Mayo’s move to Bauer Media’s recently launched Scala.

The positive stats from Rajar claimed that 66% of the population listens to commercial radio stations each week - and 89% to radio overall. It added that total listening hours for commercial radio were up 1.6% year-on-year.

This was largely driven by national stations and brands, rather than regional output, as a rule of thumb.

Siobhan Kenny, chief executive of Radiocentre, said: “We are constantly reminded of the challenges that radio faces in a digital age, whether it is from new forms of listening or shifts in advertising.

“But it’s clear from these figures that the investment from stations in talent, brands and great content is helping radio to continue to resonate with audiences in a big way”.

Radio and advertising giant Global celebrated its channels Heart, Capital, Classic FM and Smooth taking the top four spots. It noted LBC gets highest ever reach in its 47-year history (more than 2.3 million weekly listeners) – an increase of 90,000 listeners in the past year – as a particular high point.

Ashley Tabor, founder and executive president of Global, said: “I’m immensely proud to see a really strong card for Global again as we now achieve the top four commercial radio brands across the UK with Heart, Capital, Smooth and Classic FM. It’s fantastic to see Capital Breakfast with Roman Kemp retain its position as No 1 commercial breakfast show in London for reach, whilst LBC leads the pack for hours and share with its unmissable coverage of an ever-changing news agenda.

"With our recent launch of Capital Breakfast nationwide and preparation for the roll-out of Heart Breakfast on 3 June across the UK, it’s hugely encouraging to see strong performances to support pivotal moments in Global’s history. These figures from the Global portfolio signal our focus on reaching and engaging with listeners right across the UK. Congratulations again to an amazing team at Global.”

Bauer Media noted that its reach was 17.7m (which was up 1.1% year on year). In the period there were two new channel launches in Scala Radio and Country Hits Radio that it hopes to scale up in the next quarter.

It said that digital reach achieved a record high at 13.7 million – (growth of 14.3% YoY). Dee Ford, group managing director of radio, Bauer Media, said: “This is a great set of results for commercial radio, digital product innovation is underpinning commercial radio’s highest ever reach.

"The significant step up in Bauer’s lead in digital listening reflects our continued commitment to bringing listeners fresh, new, unique radio services complementing our powerful big brand portfolio – listeners love them, and so do our advertisers. Our latest 2019 launches, Scala Radio and Country Hits Radio, will record their first set of figures next quarter.”

Meanwhile, News UK's Virgin Radio saw traffic up "seven-fold" during the first 10 weeks of Evans' breakfast presenting gig.

The ad break-free show, delivered by partner Sky, secured 1.05 million, around 4.5 million weekly listening hours which was a five-fold growth quarter-on-quarter and seven-fold growth year-on-year for the year in the same spot.

The chief executive of channel-owner Wireless, Scott Taunton, said: “This is an exceptional set of results for the new Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky. The breakfast slot has grown its audience to over one million listeners - seven times what it was in the last quarter - while Virgin Radio UK has trebled its overall audience year-on-year thanks to Chris and our friends at Sky. This is the first milestone in our ambition to become the UK’s leading commercial digital station and we are all delighted.”

Luke Bradley-Jones, Sky chief marketing officer, went into greater detail about the unique partnership with Virgin Radio: “When we started to talk with Chris and the Virgin Radio team, the ambition was to create a brand new listener experience. Creativity sits at the heart of this partnership and we are proud of what we have jointly achieved so far. We look forward to building on the initial success with new ways of bringing brilliant shows on Sky to life. Starting next week with a live OB direct from the French Riviera, as we launch season two of our hit show Riviera. Listeners will literally live the experience through the show plus a lucky few will be joining Chris and the team as they live the dream in Monaco.”

Across Virgin Radio UK, the talkSPORT network and talkRADIO, Wireless reached 4.9million listeners in the quarter - a gain of 1.2m listeners on the previous four months.

The Drum has explored the need-to-know audio advertising trends of 2019. It notes that radio hit record revenue levels of £700m in 2018 in the UK.

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