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A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
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Online radio listening

Posted on Saturday, October 24th, 2009 at 1:29 pm. #


[The original posting of this was hijacked by a well-known industry harasser. I'm reposting it here so you can read it without the bile.]

Back in 2002 the Capital Radio Group took the step of releasing their online audience figures for streaming radio.

A quick Google search doesn’t reveal the actual figure, but it was a very long figure, in the billions possibly. On looking into the figures more closely, it turned out that it was quoted in terms of total seconds of audio streamed. Across all Capital Radio Group stations. Including archive audio as well as live audio.

The figures were completely useless. It was impossible to compare them with Virgin Radio’s figures, where I worked at the time, and impossible to compare them with the BBC, who were beginning to also publish their own figures; let alone the obvious comparison with RAJAR. I attended a few ABCe meetings to try and rescue this incompatibility, before the ABCe realised that Virgin Radio were no longer members of the organisation, and politely asked us for some money, which we didn’t have.

Since then, it’s been difficult to compare online audience figures. There are differing methodologies, and the plethora of differing streaming technologies don’t help either; and while third-party streaming measurement companies do exist (and are becoming increasingly sophisticated), radio’s reliance on RAJAR as its primary trading currency – which already includes online listening – means that stations generally wouldn’t pay third-parties for expensive monitoring.

All that has changed – and changed this morning.

The BBC has published online statistics (for radio only, oddly) for quite some time now, using its own iStats tool, and other pieces of software, to calculate these figures. Working with colleagues across the corporation, I was keen to share the methodology behind these figures with commercial partners: firstly, because the BBC had clearly done a lot of thinking in this area, and secondly, to enable sensible referencing between numbers for other broadcasters. In short, I was really keen to ensure that we didn’t have a new broadcaster quoting total aggregate seconds at me.

It might have finally come to fruition after I’d left, but I’m delighted to note that the ever innovative Absolute Radio have today published their own stats; and the methodology they’ve used to produce them. They’re not completely comparable; but they’re in the right ballpark; and are using the same language as the BBC to enable easy reference. Adam Bowie, the station’s strategy man, has blogged about that this morning. Kudos and pats on the back are also due to the BBC’s Alan Phillips and Alex Giletti, who I know worked this through – and all those on the BBC’s MMB (that’s the Multiplatform Measurement Board, I think) who agreed the principle after reading a scrappy paper that I wrote in Alan’s absence.

Internet radio listening in the UK is compartively tiny. But if we can use the same language, and work out our numbers in the same way, it will help internet radio, and multiplatform radio of all guises, gain the traction it deserves.

And, lest we miss the obvious, it’s another example of agree on technology, compete on content.


Nick Piggott
commenting at October 24th, 2009 at 1:43 pm

This is certainly the kind of issue where the whole industry benefits for collaboration and agreement. Indeed, anyone around long enough will remember that the inconsistencies between JICRAR and The BBC Radio Survey were what spurred the creation of RAJAR, a joint Commercial Radio – BBC body.

My only niggle with this is that there are *other* things going on in this area, and it’s a bit off of Absolute to go splashing it as apparently something innovative for them, particularly as other companies have been very restrained about claiming credit for other industry beneficial co-operative initiatives. That kind of behaviour nibbles away at trust, and trust must be at the centre of these joint activities.

That said, Absolute seem to be prepared to trade some good relations with their colleagues in the radio industry in return for a bit of a PR splash at the moment. Maybe they feel a bit unloved?

Steve Martin
commenting at October 24th, 2009 at 9:23 pm

This is a tad off-topic, though not half as off-topic as some recent comments.

All the podcast stats I’ve ever seen published have been quoted as downloads, rather than listens.

Given that the vast majority of Podcast listening is, I gather, done via iTunes and iPods, that an iPod knows when you’ve actually listened to a podcast and that the iPod to iTunes interface is pretty good, why can we not get reliable podcast statistics for actual listening?

James Cridland
commenting at October 25th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

@nickpiggott – it might be the case that Absolute is forcing change here – both with this measurement stuff, as well as comparemyradio.com and others. As long as it’s done in a sensible, non-destructive way – as I think is the case here – then I don’t particularly see any worries.

@smartin – an iPod certainly reports back to iTunes what has been listened to; and in the case of audio books, does store information about where in the audio the user has got to. However, given that iTunes automatically stops downloading after a set number of un-listened episodes, it’s probably fair enough to argue that download statistics are good enough – and, in any case, they should be entirely comparable between providers.

Gavin Harris
commenting at November 6th, 2009 at 6:17 pm

It’d be great if there was some form of software that was created that was universally accepted as a way of generating listening stats – that could be used by the current big players, and also the smaller players.

I’d be quite happy to participate is sharing listener figures in a common format – at the moment, many of the smaller net stations seem to quote some incredible figures! At least with this, everyone would be quoting their listener figures in a way that could be easily compared with other stations.

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