Rajar Q2 2018: Largest commercial stations buck downward listening trend

Four of the five most popular commercial radio stations nationally grew their audiences in the last quarter, despite overall radio listening taking a downward turn.

Rochelle Humes is part of Heart's latest line up of presenters
Rochelle Humes is part of Heart's latest line up of presenters

The top station nationally – Global-owned Heart network – reached 8.66 million listeners each week, according to the latest Rajar figures for the three months to 24 June. 

The network’s audience was up 2.8% on Q1, 2018, while its Global stablemate Capital also posted a small quarterly expansion of 0.2%, taking its weekly listeners to 7.42 million. 

Overall, the Heart brand - which added new presenter Rochelle Humes to its weekend line-up earlier this year - surged to 9.76 million listeners, representing its biggest reach and growth of 2.7% on the previous quarter. 

Kiss’s 1.9% growth to 5.63 million listeners nationally allowed the Bauer-owned network to leapfrog Global’s Classic FM, which was the only one of the five largest stations to see a dip in its audience. 

Shrinking to 5.15 million listeners – a fall of 7.6% on the previous quarter and 10.9% slide year-on-year – Classic’s loss of followers left it only slightly ahead of Smooth, which attracted an audience of 4.95 million, up 0.1% on Q1. 

In London, Kiss reclaimed its crown from Capital as the most listened to station with an audience of 2.09 million each week, representing a 7.1% increase on the previous quarter, and 1.9% upturn on Q2 in 2017. 

The upturn across the largest national stations was not representative of the radio sector as a whole however, with total numbers of weekly listeners falling at both commercial stations and the BBC.

A total of 35.5 million people tuned into commercial radio each week in Q2 2018, compared to almost 36 million in Q1, and 35.9 million a year ago.

Meanwhile, weekly BBC listeners totalled 34.5 million this quarter, down from 35 million in Q1 and the same time last year.   

Adrian Trickey, AV business director at Mindshare UK, said: "Despite a slight drop in overall listening figures this quarter, radio clearly continues to play a vital role in augmenting the listening experiences of UK consumers, with almost 90% of the population tuning in to their favourite channels each week." 

And the Rajar figures show that commercial radio grew its share to 45.7%, up from 44.9% in the last quarter, and 45% year on year, which Tom Drummond, head of radio and OOH at Initiative highlights as an indicator of the health of the sector. 

"Commercial figures are in a really good place, and there’s finally something to go and talk to the markets about," added Drummond. 

Steven Ballinger, managing director - commercial & trading at Dentsu Aegis Network, agreed: "It’s great for advertisers to see that the share of commercial listening has grown since Q1 2018, meaning these stations are closing the gap on the BBC. 

"What’s really interesting to see is that the share of in car listening has grown to 64% of all adults from 24% in Q1 2018. This is a wonderful opportunity for advertisers reach listeners in a captive environment." 

Meanwhile, digital listening now stands at 50.2%, up 1.5% year on year. 

"The stations are really performing. Digital platforms can be used to target people in a different way and that can only benefit commercial radio," added Drummond. 

The increased focus on digital was reflected in the launch of a new logo from Wireless Group – which owns stations including Talk Sport, Talk Radio and Virgin Radio – to coincide with the latest Rajar results.

The aim of the new logo is to reposition the business as a digital audio company with investments in DAB, digital content and streaming audio services 

Georgia Taunton, group business director at Radioworks, said the positive digital results bode well for commercial radio: "It’s immensely pleasing to see yet another solid set of results for digital radio, remaining above 50% of the adult population. This ultimately secures a promising trajectory for the future of audio." 

And Mindshare’s Trickey told Campaign that the "trend toward digital dominance is only set to continue".    

"This signals good news for advertisers, as greater investment in these channels can only mean more opportunities to connect with British consumers on a personal level and with more immediately relevant content," he pointed out.

Breakfast shows continued to put in a strong performance, with Capital leading the pack in London with more than a million listeners tuning in each week for the 6-10am slot with Roman Kemp, Vick Hope and Sonny Jay.

Kiss London, LBC 97.3 and Magic London all experienced an upturn in the capital in breakfast listeners too, while the departure of Christian O’Connell from Absolute Radio on 18 May might have contributed to the station’s 18.1% drop off in its London breakfast show audience figures over the quarter.

However, nationally, Bauer's Absolute Radio breakfast show was a hit with listeners, the most popular station in the UK, pulling in a weekly audience of 2.15 million, up 6% on the previous quarter and up 16.6% year on year.

Drummond said it would be "interesting" to see any change in the figures once new Absolute breakfast presenter Dave Berry – who took over the show on 4 June – had been on the airwaves for a full quarter. 

Siobhan Kenny, CEO at Radiocentre said: "2018 is turning out to be a great year for commercial radio, with recording breaking revenues and, as today’s Rajar figures reveal, almost 36 million people tuning in every week. Radio brands score very highly on the trust barometer while new ways of listening via connected devices are providing interesting ways to connect with audiences."

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