Careful what the numbers tell you

Above: a billboard in London in 2011

For the last four surveys in Australia, Commercial Radio and Audio has been publishing audience figures that breakout online audio, adding two extra pages marked “BY RADIO TYPE” to the number pack for each capital city. They’re interesting to read; Australia is the only radio market (I think) which publicly splits out broadcast vs online per station.

As you might guess, speech-led radio does very well streaming online. At breakfast in Sydney, for example, 27% of all radio streaming is to right-leaning talkback station 2GB, and 12% to ABC Radio Sydney. The all-platform breakfast market leader, the music station KIIS1065, can only manage a 9.8% online share (it has a 17.1% share on broadcast radio).

This leads to some changes of priority for radio stations, and I’m not entirely sure how helpful they are to audiences.

This week, I’m waking up to ABC Radio Brisbane, with a big ticket giveaway for Sir Paul McCartney (who’s playing Brisbane on Nov 1 in a concert that went on sale in August and still isn’t anywhere near sold-out). The only way to enter the giveaway is to download the ABC Listen app, find ABC Radio Brisbane, scroll down to the picture of Paul “thumbs aloft” McCartney, and enter the code-word of the day into the app. It’s a fairly transparent push to get more installations of the app, and therefore to grow ABC Radio Brisbane’s online share (8.4%, as opposed to 6% overall). (It also, if you don’t mind me saying so, sounds hellishly clunky on-air).

Nine Radio, the owner of 2GB, gives “streaming share” equal prominence to overall share in its press releases. Which is fine (they’ve certainly something to shout about here) but it’s quite a lot of focus to give a relatively small platform.

Because - and I think this is a little misleading - the share of listening between broadcast radio (AM/FM/DAB+) and online isn’t given anywhere in these releases.

There’s a little glimpse at the truth with the cumulative audience figures. 2GB (the number one for streaming, let’s not forget) reaches 701,000 people weekly on AM/FM/DAB+, and just 169,000 people (24%) weekly online. In total, 2GB reaches 756,000 people, showing that 15% of people listen to both.

But, the total hours spent with online vs broadcast? Nowhere to be seen.

Someone quietly contacted me with these numbers late last year. At that point, the figures suggested that online radio listening in Australia was just 18% of the total. But looking at the CRA figures, you’d never know that online radio listening was so small - it’s given equal prominence to broadcast radio which is still more than four times as large.

It’s a bit more misleading when you look at the DAB+ survey numbers, which the CRA publishes separately.

Those contain a long list of barely listened-to stations: only quoting cume, since total share would look embarrassing. You’d assume, by looking at these figures, that the #1 DAB+ station in Brisbane is Smooth, with 88,000 listeners (4.2%), followed by 973 KIIS 90s with 60,000 (2.8%).

But, this is misleading too. The majority of DAB+ listening is to the big simulcast stations also carried on AM/FM. You’d never know, though, because these figures don’t mention the biggest stations on DAB+ - 4BC, ABC Radio Brisbane, B105, Nova, etc.

As a result, many journalists - or even radio executives - think that DAB+ is a failed experiment, and that nobody bothers with it.

So, it might be interesting to know that while online radio accounts for 18% of all radio listening in Australian capital cities, DAB+ accounts for… 20%.

It’s quite hard to listen to the radio for any length of time without hearing a promotion for ABC Listen, the iHeartRadio app, LiSTNR, or the 4BC app. You’ll never hear DAB+ mentioned on-air by any of the big services. Yet, in spite of that free promotion for apps, DAB+ does better than online streaming. Except, it seems nobody wants you to know that - not publicly, anyway. (These numbers are available directly to the stations).

At Radiodays Asia, one Australian radio executive I spoke to was baffled that I was telling them that DAB+ was bigger than streaming in Australia. And who can blame them, if the only numbers they have are presented in this way?

Here’s how the UK does it. Can we have the same in Australia, please?

And a plea to all radio broadcasters out there - please don’t focus on growing the 18% to the detriment of the 82%. Owning a big stick that transmits, free, to your local area is your unique point of difference. There are perhaps 40-50 other stations there. Why would you want to promote listening on a device that costs your listeners money to listen, is the same place you listen to Spotify and YouTube Music, where there are thousands of other stations, and where you have no competitive advantage?

(PS: to give them their due, the survey 6 CRA release points out that in the latest survey period “nearly 4.2 million people listened to commercial radio via a DAB+ radio and nearly 3.6 million listened via live streaming”.)

Not that I can listen to commercial radio on DAB+ in Brisbane in my car any more, mind you. After a software upgrade to the commercial radio multiplexes, my Toyota car no longer picks them up properly, and I can no longer listen to any commercial radio in the city. Here’s a tedious video, if you can help.

Apparently it’s just my car, one set of people slightly evasively tell me, while another set of people tell me it’s an issue for all 2015 Toyota vehicles and they’ve had multiple reports.

The ABC stations (which are on a separate multiplex using Paneda, rather than commercial radio’s Factum Radioscape) sound just fine, though. And, as an added bonus, none of the ABC stations contain advertising for tiles. So, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I can no longer listen to any commercial or community stations on DAB+ any longer. That’s a shame, but that’s progress, I guess.

  • Happy 50th birthday to commercial radio in the UK, with LBC and Capital celebrating this month. And, happy 100th birthday to radio in Australia, with 2SB (now ABC Radio Sydney) celebrating next month.

  • Talking of LBC, nice 404 error page you got yourself there.

  • A shame to see UK DAB Networks, a small-scale DAB operator in the UK in places like Winchester and Basingstoke, go into liquidation. Ash Elford is an excellent man with his heart in the right place. He sees this as a failure; I see it as a success to keep running those services for as long as he has.

  • Here is a random Dutch man walking around IBC in Amsterdam, if you missed it.

  • Disappointing to note lots of people leaving BBC local radio (cost-cutting), while the BBC is funding Elon Musk’s hate-filled Xitter website.

  • The Nicky Campbell “Radio 5 Live on BBC News Channel” show has been halved in length. You might remember I took a look behind the scenes not so long back.

  • Matt Deegan listens to a radio station running AI-generated local news. In Australia, there’s an AI-voice doing news on Disrupt Radio, too. I’m a little reticent about using AI to produce editorial - RadioGPT, Futuri’s service, has clear human oversight throughout the process, and I think that’s required. Keri Jones has the right idea - he tells us to treat AI as an intern who needs their work checked.

  • In Australia, SBS Radio has a new schedule. It’s removed BBC World Service from DAB+ between 11am-5pm. Probably means more listeners will find the excellent ABC News Radio though.

  • Nothing to do with radio corner: if you like long and tedious travel blogs, then this is very long and tedious … And I’ve been rather enjoying using Kagi, a paid-for search engine, rather than Google for search. There’s a free trial (no card needed) which is worth giving a go.

Want to supercharge your radio show? Here’s a £1 week-long trial of Show Prep - from a world class radio consultant and the best show-prep writer in the UK. Great for UK stations, or for English-language stations everywhere, too. (ad)

Coming up…

I’m speaking at the following events…

  • Medientage München (Oct 25-26)
  • Audiodays Denmark (Oct 27)
  • Podcon MX, Mexico City (Nov 9)

Would be excellent to see you at one (or more!)


Thank you to Broadcast Radio, Clyde Broadcast. Richard Hilton and James Masterton, Brun Audio Consulting, Soma FM and Media Realm’s MetaRadio.

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