Digital radio station listening: a blip in time saves 6?

The dramatic upswing in BBC 6 Music’s listening during the first quarter of 2010 did not appear to have a knock-on effect on the BBC’s other digital stations [see graph]. 1Xtra was up slightly but still lower than it was in 2009. Asian Network dropped further and is now listened to less than part-time station Five Live Sports Extra.

In the commercial radio sector, Planet Rock recorded its best quarter yet and cemented its lead over all its digital-only competitors (BBC 6 Music excepted) [see graph]. Its continuing success only confirms that consumers prefer real programme content to the digital music jukeboxes whose performances are little more than limping along.

Even with this most recent quarter’s boost from BBC 6 Music and Planet Rock, total listening to digital-only stations has still shown almost no growth for three years [see graph]. Without the coincidence of those two successes, the latest quarter would have proven another disaster.

The question is what the next quarter will look like. We have seen listening to BBC 6 Music rise temporarily before at times when the channel has been in the press. Attracting listeners is only half the job. Keeping listeners is the much harder part.

Does the BBC 6 Music listening blip change the bleak outlook for digital radio stations? Not at all. Why? Because, even after this sudden upswing, 6 Music still attracts only two-thirds of the volume of listening to Radio 3, the BBC’s least listened to analogue national network. 207% of almost nothing still equals very little.

3 thoughts on “Digital radio station listening: a blip in time saves 6?”

  1. Hang on a minute – is there a reason that you're only counting a selection of commercial digital stations (where are NME, Absolute 80s, Chill etc ), and only stations that broadcast exclusively on digital, other than to skew your graph to your point of view?

    What about stations like Kerrang!, Xfm or Kiss that broadcast on digital platforms where they can't be heard on FM?? There are 3.3 million Kiss listeners nationwide, and only 2.3 listening on FM, 1.2 million Kerrang! listeners and only 321k listening on FM; nearly half a million Smooth listeners not listening on FM; 200k XFM listeners; 200k Gold listeners; 500k for Galaxy; 1.3 million Sunrise listeners.

    For lots of us outside London, DAB is an ideal platform to access stations and formats unavailable in our local areas on FM.

  2. Thanks, Michael, for making some good points.

    The graph showing total digital-only station listening does include NME, Absolute Classic Rock, Chill, Fun Radio, Yorkshire Radio, NME Radio, Panjab Radio and Absolute 80s. The other graph showing individual commercial stations did not include these additional names because their audiences are lower and their inclusion would have made the graph unreadable.

    On your second point, unfortunately RAJAR does not publish separate data for out-of-area stations available on digital platforms. I agree that these stations attract considerable listening and wish we could measure their performances too.

    I assure you that there is no intention "to skew your graph to your point of view". These graphs represent the RAJAR data available to anyone from their web site. If anything here was "skewed", RAJAR would rightly have contacted me and complained.

    In fact, the source for these graphs is a spreadsheet that was originally compiled by the Digital Radio Development Bureau which they shared with me, and which I now update quarterly.


  3. Thanks for the clarification.

    The back-of-the-envelope figures I put in my first post come from subtracting the Rajar figures for those stations' ILR areas from the equivalent Total UK figure, so there is Rajar data available, although I accept that the larger totals would include fringe FM listening, online and DTV as well as DAB.

    I think it's also fair to say that, if you listen to Kerrang! on DAB in Leeds, Newcastle or London, you don't think you are listening to an "out of area" station, just a new station that's there on your DAB set. And, of course, these existing stations benefit from having proper programmes – unlike the jukeboxes you mention.

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