Cumulative Audience is the Money Metric that deserves more respect

Comment from Peter Saxon.

In the aftermath of GfK Survey 5, I spoke with a number of CDs and PDs. One thing they could all agree on was the extraordinary growth in cumes. They were delighted – not just for their own stations but for radio as a whole.

Indeed, Duncan Campbell, ARN CCO, noted in his media release that 87% of commercial stations had increased their number of listeners. Last week CRA, which now stands for Commercial Radio and Audio, confirmed that radio listeners, across the nation, had increased by 900,000, year on year.

When I called Sue Carter, CD at GOLD104.3 she said, “You know, we were literally just discussing the phenomenal amount of radio stations in Melbourne currently with a cume of over a million. I can remember the days when we were like, OMG, there’s two stations over a million.” Now there’s five. Sydney has three.

The chart below from Survey 5, 2022 shows Australia’s eight stations with a million+  listeners.

Even the Head of Content at Nine Radio, Greg Byrnes, was raving about his network’s rise in cumes. “What’s really pleasing today is that that network cume figure (in Survey 5) of over two million, surpasses the figure in Survey 7 2020, which was at the height of COVID when we were doing extraordinary numbers.”

I say, “EVEN Greg Byrnes” because until quite recently, the perennially leading stations such as 2GB and 3AW spoke only of audience “share,” which values time spent listening (TSL) over numbers of listeners, as being the true benchmark of a station’s effectiveness in commanding an audience.

Some cynics (says he, looking in the mirror as he shaves and dictates to Word) may suggest that this hitherto staunch defence of “share” was due the fact that if cume were the measurement by which stations were ranked in surveys instead of share, 2GB and 3AW would find themselves relegated to 6th or 7th place behind stations such as GOLD, FOX, NOVA, KIIS and smooth.

While this long running discourse regarding the merits of cume versus share, may seem academic, the move towards cume as the new king of radio ratings, in my view, is an important shift in focus. And, admittedly, a change in my own position in this debate.

Here’s why.

Simply ranking stations by audience share as the headline result of each survey only tells the public and the advertising industry which station was first past the post, but nothing about whether radio, as a whole, is growing or contracting as a media option.

As the table below shows, the vast majority of metro stations in each city has enjoyed an increase in listeners between Survey 5 last year and Survey 5 of 2022 – putting the mock on those who believe that radio is dead.

The competition for market share should not be between radio stations, first and foremost. The real contest is between radio and other media. First, let’s bring more customers (both listeners and advertisers) to radio and then use “share” as an internal competition for the industry.

Ben Lattimer, Head of Programming Nova 96.9 and 91.9 and National Shows, puts radio’s rise in listeners down to increased opportunities for them to listen.

“You can listen to radio now on a lot more platforms and used to be able to. So, you know, smart speakers. The penetration continues to go up. Um, and even though people are using smart speakers for a variety of things, radio is pretty key. And people are also learning that their smartphones are radios as well. I think people are listening to not only more radio but more radio stations. That’s one of the main reasons why we’re seeing that lift in cumes.”

Having worked with the car industry, I know that Toyota dealers are keen to win a Dealer of the Year Award for bragging rights amongst their peers. But what they, the car industry and the public, are really interested in is, how many Toyotas were purchased against other makes and models and whether car sales, in general are up or down. Those are the real “money metrics.”

Peter Saxon