The commercial radio sector’s diminishing success in competing for listeners against the BBC remains one of its most pressing problems. In 1998, commercial radio’s share of listening was 51.1%, but that figure is now down to 42.4% [RAJAR Q2 1998 versus Q3 2009]. Conversely, the BBC’s share has increased from 46.8% to 55.0% over the same period. The long-term decline in commercial radio’s market power looks like this in recent quarters [see graph below]:
Now, if we extract listening via DAB from the total for all digital platforms, we observe two phenomena [see graph below]. Firstly, commercial radio is badly losing the battle for DAB platform usage to the BBC by a ratio of 1:2. Secondly, commercial radio’s performance on the DAB platform is worsening over time. It is the combination of these two trends which is dragging down not only the commercial sector’s share of digital platforms, but also its overall competitive performance against the BBC.
The data suggests that, far from the DAB platform helping the commercial radio sector compete more effectively against the BBC, the absolute opposite holds true:
• The average adult with a newly acquired DAB radio uses it for listening in a way that effectively reduces the commercial radio sector’s overall share of listening versus the BBC
• Acceleration of DAB usage will only serve to accelerate the decline in commercial radio’s share of radio listening versus the BBC.
These outcomes are hardly surprising when one considers industry data which show that:
• DAB radios are purchased predominantly by older people (the average age of a DAB radio receiver owner is 46, according to RAJAR)
• Older people listen to BBC radio much more than to commercial radio (BBC radio accounts for 63% of radio listening amongst over-45s, according to RAJAR).
The paradox is that stakeholders in commercial radio continue to push for DAB to be adopted by consumers as quickly as possible, even though the inevitable outcome will be to reduce further the commercial sector’s listening share, handing the BBC even more of a competitive advantage.
So why exactly does the notion continue to be voiced by significant players in commercial radio that the DAB platform is itself the answer to the sector’s present lack of competitiveness with the BBC?
[Data source: RAJAR. Statistical note: The graphs above to do not sum to 100% because the minimal amount of platform data released by RAJAR is ‘rounded’ (hours listened to 1,000,000 per week; listening shares to 0.1%) and the listening apportioned to the BBC and commercial radio sometimes does not sum to the total for a platform. Part of this shortfall may be accounted for by ‘other’ listening (neither the BBC nor commercial radio) which is not itemised by platform. Data for individual quarters are therefore somewhat inconsistent, though the trend over several quarters is likely to be indicative.]