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UK Digital Radio listening overtakes analogue

Digital has overtaken analogue as the main method of listening to the radio in the UK for the first time.

The UK radio industry hailed a major landmark today, with digital listening reaching a new record share of 50.9%, up from 47.2% a year ago, according to RAJAR Q1 2018 listening data released today.

This compares to 47.2% in Q1 2017 and to 24.0% in Q1 2010 when the Government’s Digital Radio Action Plan, which outlined a programme of work to progress digital radio take up, was launched.

With the 50% digital listening threshold now met, it is anticipated that the Government will undertake a review to assess digital radio progress and determine next steps in due course. Speaking at the Tuning In commercial radio conference yesterday, Margot James, Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries, said “the 50% share will be an important milestone for radio” and confirmed that Government will “work closely with all partners - the BBC, commercial radio, Arqiva, car manufacturers and listeners - and subject to this will make some further announcements.”

Successful turnaround for digital radio
It marks a major turnaround for the fortunes of digital radio in the UK: just a decade ago, numerous digital-only stations were being closed down, among them speech station Oneword, with excess bandwidth used for the infamous Birdsong station. Commercial operators were reluctant to spend any more money on digital services.

In a scheme supported by the Government, a substantial roll-out of new DAB transmitters followed, as well as new multiplexes to carry new services. Additionally, the number of cars with in-built DAB increased, and the proliferation of smart devices aided the advancement of online / app-based streaming. Major players in the radio industry have launched a number of new "brand extensions" to existing analogue stations, while smaller independent operators have launched new, specialist and niche stations on the Digital 2 (Sound Digital) multiplex and local 'small-scale' DAB services.

The stats
Digital listening share is comprised of listening across all digital platforms - DAB in homes and in cars, Apps and online (which includes the growing number of smart and voice-controlled speakers)
and DTV - and this is the first time that listening to digital has been greater than analogue platforms- FM and AM.

Overall, digital listening hours grew by 7.8% compared to Q1 2017. The greatest amount of digital listening takes place on a DAB radio which now accounts for 36.8% of all listening and 72.2% of digital listening, with hourly growth of 8.9% year on year. Online and Apps now accounts for 9.3%  of all listening and 18.3% of digital listening, with the greatest percentage hourly growth of 17%. Listening via digital TV meanwhile accounts 4.8% of all listening and 9.4% of digital listening.

63.7% of adults now have access to DAB digital radio at home, plus millions more are listening via the expanding range of smart and voice-controlled speakers. Additionally digital radio is in over 11
million cars on the road, equating to 33% of all cars in the UK, and 90% of all new cars registered have digital radio fitted as standard [Source: CAP/SMMT Q1 2018].

What the radio industry says
Ford Ennals, CEO, Digital Radio UK, said:
“This is a landmark moment for the radio industry and for listeners alike. Digital platforms now account for the majority of all radio listening for the first time. The digital transition is good news for radio and is helping our industry compete more effectively in a digital age. We look forward to continuing to work with broadcasters, the supply chain and Government on delivering radio’s digital future and the upcoming digital radio review.”

Bob Shennan, BBC Director of Radio, said:
“We are extremely proud of our digital-only stations like 6Music and 4 Extra which continue to go from strength to strength and have introduced millions of listeners to new ways of listening digitally to their favourite BBC stations. Digital radio has brought great success to the radio industry, and our priority now must be to work together to harness the full potential of existing and new digital technologies to ensure radio remains a relevant and vibrant force in listeners’ lives.”

Ashley Tabor OBE, Founder & Executive President, Global, said:
“We are delighted that digital listening continues to grow right across the UK. We’ve invested more than ever in digital transmission, growing digital listening with new digital only stations like Heart 80s, Heart Extra and Smooth Extra, as well as expanding the UK’s biggest and most loved commercial radio brands like Heart, Capital, LBC and Radio X, and developing innovative new mobile products like Global Player which drive digital listening and enhance our content even further. Across the board, we have made a significant investment in the digital growth of our brands, and it’s great to see that reflected in today’s results including highest-ever reach for Radio X, Capital XTRA and Heart 80s.”

Dee Ford, MD, Bauer Radio said:
“It’s a good news day! Our digital listening share which at 60.7% leads the whole UK radio industry is the result of our skilled programmers and on-air talent understanding what audiences really want from our audio brands. We’re always working with consumer insight to develop new radio products and digital services to build on the evident love for Magic, Absolute Radio and KISS. 
“Our new national digital brand, Hits Radio, will launch in June and will broadcast across the nation from Manchester. Hits Radio will have a personality and playlist like no other radio service and will offer UK listeners yet another reason to tune into digital radio. We’re proud to play such a strong role in enriching the listening experience for UK consumers and growing the digital listening habit.”

Michael Hill, Radioplayer Managing Director, said:
“These figures mark a significant shift in the way the UK listens to the radio. Although 50% is just a number, this feels like an important moment. With analogue listening now a minority activity, there can be no doubt that radio has a bright digital future, and Radioplayer is proud to be part of that. We saw our own internal figures rise to a record 7.6 million listeners in March, so we were pretty sure that the RAJAR numbers would echo that.”