Digital radio from an advertiser's view

Paul Davies: director of marketing communications at Microsoft UK
Paul Davies: director of marketing communications at Microsoft UK

This coming Monday, Ed Vaizey, minister of culture, communications and the creative industries, will be speaking at the Go Digital Conference in London.

He's expected to be confirming the Government's plans for digital radio and to make announcements about coverage and content. As a marketer who regularly spends on radio advertising, I'm going to be watching this announcement with interest.

This is coming at an important time for radio, and commercial radio in particular. With 90% of the population listening for more than a billion hours a week, radio remains relevant for the vast majority of the UK population. In fact, 56.7% of radio listeners in the UK are already listening to radio via digital platforms every week.*


Consumers are making their own choices and there is a clear upwards trend in acceptance of digital radio, with well over half the population already using it.

This year we've seen record audiences for digital-only stations such as Five Live Sports Extra, 6 Music and Absolute 80s. And with new digital stations being launched all the time, with recent launches from Capital Xtra, Kiss Fresh and Kisstory this is set to grow.

Listeners listen to digital services longer – Absolute Radio listeners spend 21% more time listening than their analogue counterparts. Ofcom research shows that listeners love the clear sound quality, wider choice of stations and ease of use.

Radio is at an important crossroads. To not properly adopt and adapt to the possibilities that digital radio offers, could leave radio out in the cold. As an advertiser, every other medium is moving into a digital age – from outdoor, TV and print, and a new generation of listeners is not using FM or AM radio nearly as much as those who have gone before.

Sixty-one per cent of listening amongst 15- to 24-year-old Kiss UK listeners is now via a digital platform. It’s essential for the medium that radio remains relevant to them, and that means adapting to use the platforms that they’re listening via.

The radio industry also has to limit the costs that dual transmission – broadcasting on both analogue and digital platforms simultaneously – bring. And without certainty, there is a chicken-and-egg situation with the build-out of transmitters leading to improved DAB coverage across the country.

The upsides to fuller digital adoption are plentiful, including real-time customisable content and advertising, as well as enhanced interactivity. At a time when advertisers are demanding more accountability and traditional "radio" is facing disruption from services like Spotify, Blinkbox and iTunes Radio, radio needs to adapt to remain viable as businesses and relevant to listeners.

Digital radio is not just about DAB either. With the continuing massive growth of smartphone and tablet ownership, better data bundles for consumers and faster broadband speeds being rolled out, internet listening is likely to be driven upwards.  And listening via digital television – especially Freeview – is particularly popular amongst younger listeners.

And the possibility of a second national DAB multiplex is very exciting. The existing national multiplex is now completely full, and there is potential for existing and new brands to reach a much wider audience. Audiences love new services and DAB is the only route for new free-to-air services to reach a broadcast audience.

I’ll continue to invest in a radio industry that remains relevant to audiences in an increasingly digital world.

Paul Davies is director of marketing communications at Microsoft UK

* Source: adults 15+, Rajar, digital listeners as a percentage of all radio listeners

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