Monday, 11 May 2009

Commercial radio and RAJAR: the truth is out there (somewhere)

Is it me, or is it becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile the numbers in the latest RAJAR radio ratings data with the write-ups of those numbers in the trade and consumer press?

Commercial radio regains share from BBC”,
said the headline in Media Week.

Commercial radio share drops 40%”,
said the headline in Broadcast.

Commercial radio’s share of listening still falling”,
said the headline in Marketing Week.

Commercial radio’s audience …. grew from 31.2m to 31.5m listeners a week”,
said The Telegraph and, using precisely the same wording, said the BBC.

Commercial radio’s market share dipped slightly to 41.6%,”
said a different story in The Telegraph.

Commercial radio had an audience of 31.5m adults, increasing its reach and share of the audience compared to the previous year,”
said The Independent.

These reports appear contradictory and inconsistent. This is partly due to poor reporting, but it also because there are a number of different metrics used to measure the audience for radio (and thus for commercial radio). These include:

Commercial radio’s weekly reach amongst adults (15+) is up quarter-on-quarter (from 61.5% to 62.1%) and up year-on-year (from 61.6% to 62.1%). In the long term, the trend still appears to be downward.

Average hours per adult (15+) listener to commercial radio are down quarter-on-quarter (from 13.7 to 13.5 hours per week) and also down year-on-year (from 13.7 to 13.5 hours per week). The long-term trend is downwards.

Total hours listened to commercial radio (adults 15+) are down quarter-on-quarter (from 427m to 426m hours per week) and are up year-on-year (from 424m to 426m hours per week). The long-term trend is downwards.

Commercial radio’s share of total radio listening (15+ adults) is down quarter-on- quarter (from 42.2% to 41.6%) and up year-on-year (from 41.1% to 41.6%). The long-term trend is downwards.

As can be seen from the above graphs, the numbers naturally oscillate across time, regardless of their long-term trends. This makes it easy each quarter to pick out at least one measure that shows a gain, either quarter-on-quarter or year-on-year or both, and highlight that number alone in a
press release. There is always some number, whatever it is, that is going to be ‘up’ rather than ‘down’. Without placing that solitary ‘up’ number in any context, many journalists simply jump upon the press release and proclaim that everything is ‘up’. And so it was this quarter.

It would be great to be able to report that commercial radio in the UK had turned the corner and was bouncing back, attracting more listeners for longer periods of time, and trouncing the BBC. Unfortunately, the facts say otherwise. The only thing that some of these ‘up’ headlines in the press prove is the sector’s ability to spin a good yarn. However, an industry that believes its own PR is an industry in trouble.

Complacency is a large part of the problem that has led the commercial radio industry to where it is today – not a particularly happy place. If all this fake positivity around the RAJAR results simply encourages further complacency in commercial radio, it could hasten the death of the industry.

Everybody likes to hear good news. Nobody wants to be a bad news bear. But for an industry to be taken seriously, it needs to be imparting factual and accurate statements about the state of its health.

To its credit, only The Independent had the temerity to
ask: “Why are radio audiences rising, and how come the industry is in crisis?

1 comment:

dpomic said...

Great to put the several measures in perspective--visually over several years to show the longer term trends.
Which the others--releasing and reporting--should do.