Is radio flattening the listening curve during the COVID19 pandemic?

Last week’s ratings survey gives some hints as to the way listening patterns are changing during this period of shutdowns and working from home.

Adding to data already available from streaming analysis (see our earlier reports: SCA, ARN) and a recent CRA study, the ratings data gives some more clues as to what is happening, so here at radioinfo we have been speculating about what the info tells us.

We believe radio is flattening the curve at breakfast, increasing it during the day, and that the shape of the curve has changed during drive and evenings.

The content chiefs we spoke to yesterday after the ratings results are thinking along similar lines.

When we talked to to ARN’s Duncan Campbell we asked him if he is was aware of any significant changes in flattening the Breakfast and Drive curves and whether daytime listening is up.

“Yes absolutely. We’ve seen quite a bit of evidence of that to be honest with you. That’s to be expected I would’ve thought the commutes to be pretty much gone or been reduced dramatically. At work listening is a strength of GOLD, for example, it’s very strong there. It varies from station to station.

 “Through our monitoring of iHeart Radio, we’ve seen an increase in listening to smart speakers.

 “The highest ever stream starts in a month last month, and the highest ever monthly active users. So, there’s certainly a shift going on in terms of platforms and in terms of day parts. But the good news for radio is that we’re still there. That’s the main thing.”

Nova’s Paul Jackson told us:

“Instantly we were kept super focused on this moment in time where people are at home.

“We expected more radio listening would happen. We saw very quickly that lots of the big stores were selling out of smart speakers. And we saw growing digital numbers as well that were increasing by 25, 30 percent, 40 percent on some of the Nova stations.

“Then we saw a lot of that across the middle of the daytime, not necessarily the traditional breakfast and drive. But also it was going in and out and at times it was sporadic – people coming in for a fix of radio to feel good. Later they’d worry about checking things , socials, do something else, helping the kids with their homework, that kind of thing. Then coming back in for a bit more radio.

“I think you have various touch points in the day where your radio played a role in all that – all types of radio, music through talkback.”

SCA’s Dave Cameron said:

“Routines are being completely upended for our audience. We’ve seen from our own data on catch up and podcasts and live streaming, some incredible results from an increase mainly in it at-home listening.

“We’ve been reasonably flexible in terms of how we approach this from the programming point of view. We’ve swapped around some shows. The HIT network put in Hughesy and Ed, the Drive-time show into workday for a pop-up week last week.

“We’ve extended out a lot of our breakfast shows til 10:00am, given that there is later listening and less of a commute on the roads. We’ve changed the way we’ve approached promotions and tactics. We have a lot of segments popping up. There’s a few on the HIT network now that Gemma (Fordham) has been running about things like mindfulness for three minutes.

“It’s fantastic for us to be creative in a crisis. This is where we’re really reminded ourselves about radio’s ‘unfair advantage’ which is companionship and what we can do to be really flexible around our programming… so, we’ve pretty much thrown everything out and we’re building a schedule day by day at the moment.”

We have sourced information from various stations and mixed it with our examination of the cume and average audience data from survey 2 and plotted what we think is happening. We analysed data from the whole survey period (which was all that was available to us), but we suspect that if we just looked at the past 4 weeks the trends would be even more striking.

We think breakfast listening remains strong, but that people are getting up a bit later than usual so the early peak has flattened. After breakfast the fall off is not as marked and day time listening is higher and more steady, with TSL increased in all daytime shifts. Drive time listening no longer has a commuter peak and then the numbers seem to fall off gradually, as they usually do into the evening. Normal trends are shown in blue and our Covid Survey estimates are in green.

If we were to add in audio listening at night (podcasts and catchup), we suspect there would be a significant rise in the evening graph, but we have confined ourselves to radio listening for this analysis.

Our analysis of cumes and averages confirms our theory and reveals that total average audience across the five cities is up.

Average audience is the average number of listeners tuned to a radio station per quarter hour in any given time period. Usually expressed in thousands. (Sydney examples pictured right).

•   Sydney: Average audience this survey is 539,000 per quarter hour, last survey it was 498,000. Average audience is up significantly in breakfast, morning and afternoons, but not so much in drive, evenings or weekends.

•   Melbourne: Av audience is 565,000 up from 538,000 last survey. Av audience is up significantly in morning and afternoon, slightly up at breakfast and roughly the same in other shifts.

•   Brisbane: Not much change in average audience overall (this 230,000, last 232,000), or by shift.

•   Adelaide: An increase in average audience in the market (this 145,000, last 135,000), with breakfast, morning and afternoons showing small increases, while other shifts have not changed much.

•   Perth:  Overall average audience is up, 219,000 people this survey compared with 201,000 last survey. Breakfast mornings and afternoons all show significant increases while other shifts show only slight increases.

Cumulative audience (cume) is the total number of different people who listen to a station for at least eight minutes (one quarter-hour) during any time period. Cumes illustrate audience size, as they estimate the unduplicated number of people reached by a station at least once during a particular time period.

•       In Sydney the overall size of the radio listening audience increased from 4,466,000 last survey to 4,472,000 this survey.

•       In Melbourne  there was no change in audience size, which was steady at 4,461,000 people in both surveys.

•       In Brisbane the audience size rose slightly by 2000 people, from 2,002,000 to 2,004,000 people this survey.

•       In Adelaide the listening audience size decreased slightly, down by 2000 people from 1,098,000 people last survey to 1,096,000 this survey.

•       In Perth the audience rose slightly, up 4000 people from 1,666,000 last survey to 1,670,000 this survey.

Looking at the averages and cumes by shift, the pattern is not totally consistent, but we conclude that breakfast listening overall is steady, but probably peaks later, and that mornings and afternoons are significantly up. In most markets the usual increase in listening that happens in drive is no longer so significant, as fewer people are picking up kids from school or commuting home from work. Evenings consistently dropped across the markets, with Sydney cumes down 128,000, Melbourne down 39,000, Brisbane down 42,000, Adelaide down 34,000 and Perth down 33,000.

Our speculation is based on the publicly released figures and some data we put together from various sources.

What we do not have available to us are whole of market quarter hour breakdowns, so we can’t be sure.

The rolling survey began in February, whereas lockdowns happened from March and were enacted with differing levels of severity and differing timeframes in various states. We do not have access to the data to be able to break out the March and April figures separately, which we suspect would show more marked trends.

It’s clear that radio is playing an important role during this uncertain time, that listening is increasing, and that many advertisers are following the advice of our recent sales articles and trying to maintain their ad spend so they can recover more strongly when the restrictions lift. Given the huge drops in revenue in other sectors of the economy, radio has fared pretty well so far revenue wise, with figures just released showing a drop in revenue of 12%, much less than many other industries.

What do you think? We welcome your views in the comments section below, on our social feeds, or to [email protected].





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