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Slipping Into Uncertainty And Making It Pay

Uncertainty is a rude force on conventional media wisdom. The audience wants their expectations fulfilled, except when they don’t. They want to see, figuratively, their reflection, so long as it’s very pretty. Then, too, they want to find what they’re looking for, preferably without major expense or lifestyle change. Uncertainty brings out frustration but only for a moment.

row row row your boatCommercial broadcasters were pleased, generally, with the Q1 RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) radio audience estimates released this week. Their overall reach share in the national survey was up, 44.6% from 43.2% year on year. Among the ad-important 15 to 44 year olds, it was up to 59.2% from 57.5%. On top of that, the aggregate BBC reach share was down to 52.8% from 54.1%. The “gap” between the BBC and commercial radio is 8.2%, the lowest for the Q1 period in more than a dozen years.

National channels are of strategic importance to both the BBC and UK commercial broadcasters for different but similar reasons. For the BBC those national channels, most of which have been around for generations, are a significant part of the overall service package for license fee payers. Commercial broadcasters, now in full digital embrace, need to waken media buyers with attention limited to online and mobile prospecting. Radio has become such an non-entity that major UK general interest media doesn’t cover it, unless there’s a scandal.

For operators, local stations are expensive and annoying. The aggregate reach share for BBC local stations has fallen to 6.7% from 7.5% year on year. Ten years ago it was 10.6%. Local commercial stations, on aggregate, reach 28.6%, roughly the same as last year. It was 31.4% ten years ago.

In the national standings, BBC Radio 2 remains on top with 18.3% reach share, down from 18.6% one year on. News-talk Radio 4 is second, still, with 12.5%, up from 12.0%. Sports channel Five Live slipped to 7th place, 3.6% reach share, down from 3.9%. Alternative music hipster favorite 6Music is 10th nationally, posting best ever 2.3% reach share, up from 2.1% year on year.

Long a figure for derision BBC Radio 1 held 4th place in the national survey, steady year on year at 5.6% reach share. Commercial broadcasters and media buyers they love were quick to point out how the channel - and morning (breakfast) show host Nick Grimshaw - have been bleeding gross body count (reach) since politicians forced it to confine itself to a very narrow demographic group - officially 15 to 29 year olds - by chasing away anybody older. BBC radio strategists responded by targeting mobile phone using teens, hard for traditional survey methods to measure. Taking the wide view, BBC director of Radio and Music Bob Shennan noted in a statement (May 17) “massive” radio listening “across a variety of devices… despite huge changes in the sector.”

National commercial channels were, generally, up a bit, down a bit or unchanged. There were two notable exceptions. The Heart national network held 3rd place, dropping to 6.3% reach share from 6.7% one year on. Talk channel LBC jumped to 1.9% reach share from 1.5%. Both are owned by Global Radio.

Heart is a national network of standard brand up-beat A/C stations with joking DJs, give-aways and lots of ads. A year ago a “Who’s on Heart” mobile promotion kicked in, largely to create a database for advertisers. Folks needed to pay through their mobile phone carrier to play.

LBC also relies on listener-contact. Talk show hosts go to the phones for the best of conspiracy theories and other rantings. "No one is under any illusion that LBC will do very well with the political uncertainty,” said media buyer Havas Media UK publishing manager Rich Hall, quoted by campaignlive.co.uk (May 17).


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