Why radio’s digital journey has reached a critical stage

Why radio’s digital journey has reached a critical stage

2022 saw a surge in radio audiences ‘going digital’. This is welcome news for advertisers who are looking for new audiences, better targeting and more efficient media.


Increased digital listening across different devices is leading to new opportunities for advertisers and more innovation by radio networks.

The latest UK radio audience figures revealed digital listening now makes up a 67% share of weekly listening, according to Rajar.

This means that every week 41 million adults aged 15+, or 74% of the population, tuned in to radio via a digitally enabled platform such as digital audio broadcasting (DAB), digital TV audio (DTV), online, app, or smart speaker in Q4 2022.

Nearly a third (31%) of people aged 15+ claimed to listen to live radio via a smartphone or tablet, which increases to 36% for those aged 15- 34, and slightly drops to 29% for those aged 35+.

Magazine and radio brand Bauer has leaned into this digitisation trend and recently turned its Absolute Radio Network fully digital as of 31 January.

The Bauer Audio network also continues to lead the market in digital listening as 75.3% of all of its listening across its stable of radio stations comes from digital sources. This is above the industry average of 70.7%.

This all comes as welcome news for advertisers who are looking for new audiences, better targeting and more efficient media in a challenging inflationary environment.

This was highlighted by Demi Abiola, business director at media agency m/Six&Partners, who told The Media Leader that the last year has seen “an evolution in technology” in the radio industry.

Abiola explained advertisers were demanding more targeted and data-driven advertising opportunities, which was leading radio stations to increase their use of data, analytics and technology to offer more personalised experiences and customised content for listeners.

Similarly, Sam Austin, head of audio at Goodstuff Communications, pointed to increasing interest in interactive and voice-activated ads via smart speakers as a new trend amongst clients. “It adds an extra layer and gives someone options. It ups engagement and attention,” Austin said.

Speaking specifically about client Subaru’s latest campaign she said choosing an interactive audio ad format “made less budget work harder”. Austin also stressed the importance of altering audio ads to be heard on digital devices. “You have more people listening digitally with laptops and apps and smartphones and the ad has to be completely different,” she said. “Ads need to adapt. The ads do not need to be as shouty.”

The expansion of audio into digital has seen an increase in audio being bought programmatically in 2022, according to indie media agency the7stars’ head of display and audio activation Michelle Sarpong. This will continue into 2023, Sarpong said, as audio ad sales houses would continue to “push digital platforms” to offset growing pressure on linear airtime this year.

This was echoed by Devora Mateeva, business director at Publicis Groupe agency Starcom, who revealed she was seeing clients’ growing interest in audio advertising as a result of audio inflation being “well below market average”.

“Audio has become even more relevant for tactical campaigns, due to enhanced audience or regional targeting efficiencies,” Mateeva said. “Brands are also increasingly turning to audio given that it’s very cost-effective at building reach.”

DJ moves: a listening boon or bust?

The last quarter saw a slew of DJ moves to different timeslots and stations across commercial and BBC stations.

Global’s LBC launched a new weekend schedule with Labour MP David Lammy, ex-BBC journalist Lewis Goodall, former BBC reporter Sangita Myska and LBC’s Westminster editor Ben Kentish taking new slots from 9 September 2022.

Between Q3 2022 and Q4 2022, LBC’s weekend hours decreased by 3% from 5.91 million to 5.75 million, impacts went down by 2% from 21.71 million to 21.34 million, and reach stayed mostly flat at 1.44 million.

From 5 September 2022 Omah Howards, former Bauer KISS weekend DJ, moved to Global’s Capital XTRA Evening show.

Total hours, impacts and reach went up between Q3 2022 and Q4 2022 for his new slot.

Hours and impacts both went up by 66% from 191,000 to 317,000 and 763,000 to 1.27 million respectively. Reach went up 29% from 197,000 to 255,000.

Scott Mills left BBC Radio 1 towards the end of August 2022, joining Radio 2 after Steve Wright stepped down from his afternoon show.

He started his new show on Monday 31 October between 2pm and 4pm.

Between Q3 2022 and Q4 2022, total hours and impacts went down by 4% each, while reach decreased by 2%.

Hours went from 14,938 to 14,288, impacts from 57,751 to 57,154 and reach dropped from 5,795 to 5,680.

Another part of the BBC Radio 2 shakeup included Craig Charles and Tony Blackburn losing their regular slots, and Drag Race star Michelle Visage taking on a Friday to Sunday show between 7pm and 9pm.

This started on 15 July 2022. Since Q2 2022 hours spent, impacts and reach have all gone up at least 20%.

BBC Radio 2’s weekend hours sat at 3.20 million in Q2 2022, and went up 22% to 3.92 million in Q4 2022.

Impacts went up 22% from 12.80 million in Q2 2022 to 15.66 million in Q4 2022, while reach went up by 20% from 2.08 million to 2.50 million.

Growing weekly on-demand music and podcasts listeners

The latest Rajar data also revealed the number of people aged 15+ that listen to on-demand music services and podcasts once a week or more, alongside radio.

Out of the three channels, on-demand music grew its number of listeners most during 2022, while radio and podcasts stayed mostly flat.

A total of 17.32 million adults 15+ listened to an on-demand music service once a week or more in Q4 2021, which jumped to 21.80 million people in Q4 2022. This breaks down to an addition of 4.48 million listeners, or a shift from reaching 31% of the population to 39% of the population.

Meanwhile, people listening to a podcast once a week or more jumped more than a million listeners from 9.22 million in to 10.83 million, or 17% of the population to 19% of the population over the same time period.

Overall radio reached 50 million adults or 89% of the population across the UK and on average a listener tuned in to 20.3 hours of live radio per week. This percentage reach has been mostly consistent since Q3 2021.

This points to an “increasingly competitive radio market” with the rise of online platforms and streaming giants like Spotify and Apple Music, Abiola said.

Sarpong echoed this as she said as podcasts continued to grow in popularity, the market would become more competitive as the likes of Spotify continue acquiring exclusive shows and new sales houses start to emerge.

Commercial networks like Bauer and Global are increasingly incorporating podcasts into their content offerings, one of the most popular since last summer being Global’s daily current affairs podcast The News Agents with ex-BBC journalists Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall.

Abiola said podcasts had become an “extremely popular advertising platform” as it enabled brands to reach specific audiences through targeted sponsorships and in-show advertisements.

BBC: ‘hard to find many sunny spots’

Commercial radio continued to take a higher share of all listening relative to the BBC, sitting at 50.2% compared to 48.0% the same for the same quarter last year.

In total, commercial radio reached 38.1 million people each week during the last three months of 2022.

However, the BBC grew its share against commercial radio after two quarters of decline, going from 46.7% in Q3 2022, its lowest ever level, to 47.1% for in Q4 2022.

Jason Brownlee, founder of audio research company Colourtext, said it was “hard to find many sunny spots” in the latest Rajar figures for the BBC.

For instance, both BBC Radio 1 and Radio 2 continued to lose market share both quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year.

Meanwhile, BBC Radio 4’s market share had “recovered somewhat” from last quarter but was still down year-on-year.

BBC Radio 5 Live listenership was “flat” year-on-year, a fact that Brownlee predicted “will disappoint some in view of the recent World Cup coverage”.

In addition, BBC Local continued to decline with its share down both quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year, leading Brownlee to say the new plan for BBC local radio was “a tough climb ahead”.

However, he added: “National commercial radio brands seem to be consolidating their recent listening growth into something that’s beginning to look like a trend. Nation commercial radio market share now stands at 24.9%, up both quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year, which is great news for the sector.”

Demi Abiola, Sam Austin, Devora Mateeva, Michelle Sarpong and Jason Brownlee will be speaking at Adwanted Events’ Future of Audio Europe on 1 March. Find out more here

Adwanted UK are the audio experts operating at the centre of audio trading, distribution and analytic processing. Contact us for more information on J-ET, Audiotrack or our RAJAR data engine. To access our audio industry directory, visit audioscape.info and to find your new job in audio visit The Media Leader Jobs, a dedicated marketplace for media, advertising and adtech roles.

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