The radio ratings in four charts you've not seen before
Welcome to Unmade, written while you were sleeping on Wednesday morning.
Happy Grilled Cheese Day. Is it that time of the year already?
Today’s writing soundtrack: Aqualung, by Jethro Tull.
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Radio ratings realities
You can get quite used to the status quo, and that includes accepting the oddities of the way the radio ratings data is reported.
That has resulted in the current polite consensus around focusing discussions on percentage share of the listening audience in a particular market - not an actual number.
So with yesterday’s release of the second set of ratings for the year, you’ll have mostly read the usual headlines about 2GB’s Ben Fordham maintaining his lead in Sydney with an 18.9% share, or 2Day FM’s Morning Crew nudging upwards to a 4.2% share. Saying Fordham’s average audience is 148,000, or that The Morning Crew’s is 33,000 doesn’t seem quite so impressive does it? They certainly aren’t TV numbers.
Indeed, it’s the opposite of how TV audiences are reported each day with an actual number for every show, while average station share gets a secondary headline.
Bizarrely, in the publicly released radio numbers, there’s no at-a-glance sense of who’s on top across the country. The curious reader is left to piece it together by examining the data for each of the five metro markets in turn.
A further anachronism is the fact that regional data emerges at different points of the year, and in different formats. By contrast If you want to know how last night’s episode of The Project rated across the country, you’ll know before lunchtime today. If you want to know how many people across the country listened to Kate, Tim & Joel on Nova last night, well, you may actually never know.
With Southern Cross Austereo and Australian Radio network now offering both metro and regional outlets to advertisers, that begins to look increasingly out of date. Boomtown’s (excellently articulated) argument for a greater slice of the advertising pie for the regions would be helped by greater visibility of the audience numbers.
And then there’s the digital listening data. Last year we started to see more information about podcast listening via the Australian Podcast Ranker. And cumulative audiences for individual DAB+ stations is now publicly available if you look hard enough.
Which is plenty to get the teeth into beyond yesterday’s headlines.
Graph 1: Breakfast audience across the metro markets
So let’s focus today on the most competitive timeslot of the day. None of the major commercial networks offers a networked breakfast show. Yet. However, the slot commands the biggest audiences and is where the advertising dollars tend to land.
Here’s how they stack up…
Despite lacking a station in Adelaide, Nine Radio is the only single network reaching an average of a third of a million listeners during breakfast each day.
Nova is the top FM choice if you want to reach a mass audience across the five capital cities at breakfast time. And ARN’s Kiis is not far behind.
Graph 2: Breakfast talk
In large part, Nine’s big lead is thanks to Ben Fordham on 2GB in Sydney and the double act of Ross Stevenson and Russel Howcroft on 3AW in Melbourne.
Fordham overtook his team mates for the first time in yesterday’s numbers. He averaged 148,000 listeners for the 5.30am to 9am slot, which amounted to 18.9% of the available audience. The Ross & Russel show saw its slice of the Melbourne audience fall from 22.5% to 18.9%, declining to 147,000. It looks like their worst performance since Howcroft replaced John Burns.
It’s worth mentioning, by the way, that one drawback of the numbers is that the publicly available data covers the 5.30am to 9am slot. While that is indeed Fordham’s shift, Stevenson and Howcroft hand over to Neil Mitchell at at 8.30am, so it’s not quite a direct comparison.
Looking back over the last year, the 3AW breakfast audience has drifted away since the height of the pandemic, while Fordham has gradually made the show he inherited from Alan Jones his own.
While we’re on the subject of talk radio, checking Nine Radio’s other two metro markets, 6PR’s Gareth Parker (averaging 26,000 listeners) and and 4BC’s Neil Breen (28,000) are both still struggling for traction in breakfast.
Both men recorded their worst numbers since being given their respective roles.
Graph 3: Organisations’ metro reach at breakfast time
Other than Nine, the other media companies own two networks each. Southern Cross Austereo is the only company with two FM licences in all five capital cities, for the Hit Network and Triple M.
Nova Entertainment operates Nova across all five markets and Smooth is available on FM in Sydney and Melbourne only.
In analogue broadcast, ARN networks Kiis (under various brands) in all five, and Pure Gold to four.
And of course, public broadcaster the ABC has a pile of licences for Triple J, Radio National, News Radio, ABC Classic and local.
So let’s stack them together to get a sense of their influence as organisations…
As you’ll see above the ABC clearly has greatest reach, mainly thanks to its local city stations, and Triple J. Of its city stations, ABC Sydney and ABC Melbourne have the biggest audiences, averaging 83,000 and 68,000 at breakfast time. In totality, more than half a million Australians are listening to ABC radio during the breakfast shift.
At some point the ABC should be asking itself some difficult questions about the poor reach of what should be its flagship Radio National.
Of the commercial players, ARN has the biggest impact, despite Pure Gold being absent from the Perth market.
And Southern Cross Austereo is only a fraction ahead of Nova in last place, despite SCA owning two licences in each market, and Nova’s Smooth only being available in Sydney and Melbourne.
Graph 4: The CADA sandbox
Presumably to save blushes, there is still less ratings data available about the DAB+ broadcast digital radio stations than there is for FM and AM. That’s 13 years on from the launch.
While data is not released on average listening numbers at any specific time, DAB+ stations’ cumulative audience numbers for reach across each week are now published.
To help bump it up, the DAB+ stations also get to include their internet listening in the number.
Sydney has the most DAB+ listeners, with a total cumulative audience of 885,000. This is just ahead of Melbourne’s 852,000. The number is 450,000 in Brisbane, 368,000 in Perth and 256,000 in Adelaide.
A fascinating dynamic to watch will be how ARN’s rebrand of The Edge to CADA fares. ARN is attempting to create a national digital brand out of what was previously primarily a broadcast station for Western Sydney.
The final numbers for Edge Digital before it became CADA offer an intriguing baseline on the multimillion dollar marketing efforts. Omnicom agency Mango Communications has been hired to do the PR.
Edge Digital is currently one of just two DAB stations in the country with a cume above 100,000 in any given market. The 103,000 it achieves in Sydney is surpassed only by sister station Kiis 90s, which pulled in 109,000.
The top digital station in Melbourne, with a cume of 96,000, is Gold 80s which is also ARN owned. In Brisbane the DAB penetration is even less, but once again it’s an ARN station top, with 97.3 The 90s delivering a cume of 72,000. And it’s the same story in Perth too, with 96FM 80s top with a cume of 58,000.
ARN is there in Adelaide too, with Mix 80s top, with a cume of 24,000.
And speaking of SCA’s digital efforts, there’s not much sign of its investment in the Australia Today Steve Price show, which is streamed live, paying off. The Australia Today cume is 19,000 in Sydney, 16,000 in Melbourne and just 4,000 in Brisbane. At 39,000 in Brisbane, the cume of Coles Radio is ten times that.
With only two surveys down, we’re too early in the year to draw too many conclusions just yet. But one things I will be watching out for are whether the hints of green shoots for SCA are real. Perhaps it’s finally hit rock bottom.
More on that in the next survey, I suspect.
Tuesday saw a second day of falls for The Unmade Index of ASX-listed media and marketing companies. After yesterday’s fall of more than 0.9%, the index is edging. back towards a 10% fall on its 1000 point opening at the start of the year.
Out of home company Ooh Media is now well below its previous $1bn+ market capitalisation, while Nine is once again below $5bn.
Time to let you go about your (short) week.
We’ll be back tomorrow with the next audio chapter of my book Media Unmade.
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Have a great Wednesday.