According to new figures, radio listening on connected devices (via online and apps) was up by a third year-on-year in Q3, from 9.6% to 13%. With digital generally on the rise, advertisers are discovering new ways to target listeners.
Radio Joint Audience Research (Rajar), the body jointly owned by the BBC and the Radiocentre charged with measuring UK radio audiences, releases a quarterly report outlining the state of the industry.
The figures for the three months ending 15 September 2019, said 'weekly reach' – "the number of people tuning into a station in an average week" – was at a 20-year high.
Nine out of ten people (88% of the UK population) reportedly tuned in to live radio each week for an average of 20.4 hours. This excludes digital audio services such as Spotify or podcasts.
Siobhan Kenny, Radiocentre chief executive, said that "radio continues to hold the nation’s attention against increasing competition in the news and entertainment sectors", and pointed to the growth in commercial radio.
She added: "It’s a good time for listeners – and a good time for advertisers to look at what radio can do for their brands.”
Rajar said commercial radio has hit its biggest share of the market for more than 20 years. Its share of listening hours hit 48.1%, up 5.3% year-on-year from 45.7% -outlining a declining share at the BBC.
Digital listening (across DAB and digital TV) was up 8.4% year on year to 52.4%. Figures showed 65% of the population reportedly tunes into digital radio every week.
Capturing much of the commercial growth exhibited in the research, media and advertising group Global remained the top commercial broadcaster with a record share of 24% – 25.4 million weekly listeners.
Heart was deemed the nation's largest commercial radio station brand with another record, 9.8 million weekly listeners, up 150,000 in a year. This was followed by Capital (8.1 million) and Smooth (5.8 million).
Ashley Tabor-King OBE, founder and executive president of Global, said: “Today’s Rajar numbers are a magnificent testament to every Globaller that’s worked so hard to bring about a huge amount of change during this period."
In the last quarter, the network launched two new national breakfast shows: The All New Heart Breakfast with Jamie Theakston and Amanda Holden (4.6 million weekly listeners) and Capital Breakfast with Roman Kemp (3.7 million weekly listeners).
Bauer Media, which has heavily invested in digital, achieved a record 18.4 million listeners, up 1.1% year-on-year.
Top brands were Absolute Radio, which saw its highest ever audience (4.9 million up, 1.4% YoY), followed by Magic Radio network (4.2 million, up 3.6% YoY) and Hits Radio (6.7 million, up 3.8% YoY).
Dee Ford CBE, group managing director radio, Bauer Media, said: "We are thrilled to see our long-held strategy of investing in exciting and engaging digital products continuing with purpose: 72% of Bauer’s listening is now delivered via a digital device versus the industry average of 57%."
The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky grew 0.3% on the quarter to 1.1 million a week. It's enjoyed respectable growth after launching in January with an ad-free format.
Thanks in part to the new show, the digital-only Virgin Radio station is now reaching 1.64 million – up a whopping 303% year-on-year.
A total of 3.1m listeners tuned in across the TalkSport network. It upped its women’s football coverage with the Women’s Fifa World Cup during the summer.
Wireless chief executive Scott Taunton said: “In a traditionally quiet summer quarter, I’m very pleased with the performance of our national brands. At Virgin Radio, Chris continues to drive growth for his own show - with the ad break-free format creating more space for great celebrity chat and live music - and that’s driving a lift across other parts of the schedule.
“TalkRadio continues to set the pace for Brexit analysis and posts another record result. And TalkSport has performed solidly in a summer without a major men’s football tournament - and with our GameDay schedule, we’re delivering more live Premier League matches than ever before."
Taunton also predicted greater growth with the imminent release of the TalkSport app.
Commenting broadly on the results, Craig Eastwood, head of planning at the RadioWorks Group, said that Brexit had had its impact on the Rajars.
"Both LBC and TalkRadio have seen spikes in listenership as a result. LBC’s Nick Ferrari has bagged the top spot in the battle of London breakfast shows, and TalkRadio's reach is up almost 57% year-on-year.
"Many have anticipated that talk stations will underperform due to the sudden popularity of podcasts (9.4m weekly reach), but this quarter’s results clearly state otherwise."
He added that LBC is to launch a 24-hour news channel later this month, indicating at the continued health of the format.
He added: "Moreover, as digital continues to grow (56.8% share), smart speaker ownership has seen a slight increase to 28%. With Black Friday and Christmas on the horizon, smart speakers are sure to be a popular gift again this year, so we expect to see more listeners accessing their favourite stations through voice and an increase in bespoke smart speaker campaigns in 2020."
Aled Schell, senior planner at The Specialist Works, noted quarter-on-quarter declines across the board, including "average individual hours per week, which were at an all-time low of 20.4 hours." Listenership is down about one hour a week since 2012.
"It will be interesting to see if this continues into the next quarter and if it does, how the media industry may change its approach to the medium – if at all."
He suggested the repetition of commercial playlists and the increasing podcast hours of radio presenters like LBC's James O'Brien as reasons.
Amy Bradshaw, head of client partnership at VaynerMedia London, said that among the 28% of UK adults who claim to own voice-activated speakers, there's an opportunity for us as brand marketers to reach consumers in innovative ways."
She added: "We're also excited to see targeting and measurement continued to be improved across digital audio platforms where we can dynamically reach various interest-based audiences and on the backend see the effectiveness of our ads.
"We're seeing more and more efforts made by other 'traditional' channels like radio beef up their measurement offering in the wake of digital such as OOH tracking people who are in billboard vicinities and TV utilising things like Sky Ad Smart. Radio and digital audio need to keep up. "
Michelle Morgado, director at media and marketing consultancy Ebiquity, said the radio format remains attractive to brands.
"The four most important attributes of an advertising medium are targeting, return-on-investment, triggering a positive emotional response and building brand salience, all of which radio performs well on despite being under-valued compared to other media lines," she said.
The growth in app and online radio listening is increasingly offering more options for brands in an increasingly burgeoning digital audio industry.
"The rise in digital has created a fragmented audio media landscape with many players, such as music streaming services to podcasts, coming to market to get a piece of the pie. Therefore it’s important that advertisers be aware of what digital audio truly means to their media plans."
She urged a test-and-learn strategy to see how to optimise spend.