Friday, October 26, 2007

Give me digital - but not BBC Radio 3


Technology is changing the way we listen to radio, but classical network BBC Radio 3 is struggling in the brave new digital world. 15% of all radio listening in the UK is now via a digital platform according to research for the quarter ending September 2007 released yesterday by RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research Limited). The data also shows that digital listening showed a big increase over the previous quarter, and that 1.6% of all radio listening is now via the internet.

The number of adults who claim to have listened to the radio via a mobile phone also showed a marked increase, up to 9.2% in the last quarter. Unsurprisingly radio listening via mobile phone was most common in the younger age groups, with 23% of 15 to 24 year olds listening this way. 2.8 million adults used their mp3 player to listen to radio podcasts in the last quarter, up from 1.97 million in Q3 2006. Listening to digital only services (radio stations which are only available on a digital platform) also increased, up from 4.8 million listeners in Q3, 2006 to 6.2 million in Q3, 2007.

Analysis of radio audiences showed that both BBC Radio 3 and the commercial station Classic FM gained audience in the quarter ended September 2007, up to 1.938m and 5.844m respectively. But these figures are not as good news as they may seem at first glance. This quarter is historically strong for classical listening, with Radio 3 reaching an audience of 2.214m in the same quarter in 2003. The quarter ending September covers the BBC Proms season when the network benefits from huge amounts of free promotion, with virtually every programme in the schedules devoted to plugging the Proms. Charging the monetary value of that on-air advertising back to the Radio 3 cost centre using John Birt's 'internal market' formula would be a very interesting exercise.

Despite the massive 'Proms effect' Radio 3 only increased listener share from 1.10% to 1.20% from Q2 to Q3, whereas Classic FM, without the cross-benefit of the 'world's biggest music festival', increased listening share from 4.00% to 4.30%. The classical audience are not particularly heavy listeners either. Average hours per listener of 6.30 for Radio 3 and 7.30 for Classic FM compared with 10.20 for the the BBC's rock network Radio 1, and 12.30 hours for the talk based Radio 4.

Surprisingly the average hours per listener for Radio 3 did not increase in the last quarter despite the 'Proms effect', and actually showed a significant drop from 6.90 hours in the same quarter the previous year. Sadly this data simply confirms what has already been said here; the Radio 3 schedule changes are missing both the popular and serious music audiences, and the network is increasingly vulnerable to the long tail of internet radio and applications like the Radeo internet player.

RAJAR website is here, and the data tables are here.
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