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Which online audio service reaches 6.7m UK users per month?

This is a guest post from Duncan Child – Associate Director / Head of Radio, at media agency – Starcom MediaVest.

Much like when TV arrived, many thought that radio’s death knell would be rung by digital and online audio services. The likes of MySpace Music, Pandora and, alongside the huge libraries of personal music on iTunes and mp3 players have not stopped radio growing. But what about the new kids on the block, Spotify and We7? Both are pulling in large numbers of UK subscribers, and the PR machine, particularly for Spotify, seems to herald a complete change in the way audio content is consumed. I believe that both these services can be considered successful in creating an audience, with 1.5m and 1.4m monthly listeners in the UK. However, 6 months after launch, Radioplayer – the joint online player created by commercial radio groups and the BBC – has just reported 6.7m monthly users.

This headline stat is pretty impressive, but it should be noted that while Spotify and We7 communicate content to all their respective listeners, Radioplayer features content from 282 Stations, made up of BBC, commercial, community & student. There are also differences in usage, with the likes of Spotify taking something of a middle ground between radio with a lean back listen, and iTunes etc with more lean forward content.

What is Radioplayer?

The Radioplayer concept is designed to allow listeners easy access to a variety of radio content, with the ease of channel switching on analogue and DAB sets coupled with advanced search functionality based on station, programme, location, presenter and topic. It features both live and previously recorded content.

How are people using it?

Rajar figures for Q2 2011 show that 3.2% of all listening is via the internet, but the new usage figures show that 13% listeners use it at some point. The easy take out is that people aren’t using Radioplayer for all their listening. This fits with the industry’s belief that listeners do not mind what platform they’re receiving the content on, as long as they can actually receive the content.

Delving further into the detail, we can see that Radioplayer usage differs quite significantly from the norm. The morning is still important, but whereas the traditional radio peak is around 8am, for Radioplayer it falls at 9am. The working day is then particularly strong for the online service – as people tune in via their work computers. It then dips at the end of the working day when traditional radio sees its second spike for evening drivetime, before gaining its own spike after the travelling period when listeners are once again at home.

The listening in work story is strengthened by the fact that Radioplayer sees dips in usage at the weekend, bank holidays and other holiday periods.

Radioplayer has also been able to start showing the effect of appointment to listen moments. Special music events and having popular artists in the studio has seen doubling or trebling of normal traffic. There are also spikes created by local news events, with the London riots giving LBC six times their usual traffic.

The future

Radioplayer is also looking to the future in how it is delivered. With the recent enhancements to Facebook Open Graph now allowing apps to share what people are listening to, Radioplayer is doing just this.


This social media integration is of particular interest in reference to key events driving incremental listening. A great example of this was when One Direction visited Real Radio North West. The station saw three times its usual traffic, and attributed this in part to the band Tweeting their fan base to let them know about their appearance. If people see a spike in friends tuning into the station, it is hoped this will drive them to follow.

This leads to the question of how station choice will be affected by having easy access to numerous brands. The reduction of barriers will inevitably lead to increased switching, but with radio generally consumed as a secondary medium with low levels of channel surfing, we would not expect to see a dramatic change to session listening patterns.

What may see greater change is the repertoire of stations that listeners choose. Offline, listening choices are very much determined by the availability and quality of signal of stations within a geographic area. Radioplayer democratises this to an even greater extent than DAB, offering an even playing field unlike the analogue arena where the BBC has the majority of prime, national FM bandwidth. During August for example, Absolute found 40% of their referrals came listeners previously tuned to BBC stations. This is a stat unlikely to be replicated in analogue listening due to Absolute’s transmissions being on the AM band outside of London.

Alongside this geographic “quality” factor is the geographic “content” factor. While local content is still in great demand on Radioplayer, it opens opportunities for listeners to access stations supplying genres of content that may not be available locally on analogue. While this may trigger some switching, it is also hoped that it will actually grow total radio listening as current non or low users discover that they can access relevant content.

Commercial opportunities

In terms of commercial opportunities, at the moment each station sells their own inventory separately, with formats such as pre roll audio and video, fixed banners and integrated MPUs (solus or carousel). Stations are pushing for longer term sponsorships rather than individual placements.These are all interesting opportunities in their own right. Pre rolls are a great way to deliver an audio ad when attentiveness is likely to be high, and the display elements provide easy response paths for those hearing audio content.

However, the future starts opening up more possibilities. Absolute are currently testing streaming to registered listeners, which will allow much greater targeting opportunities on a geographic and demographic basis. There are also third party suppliers looking into this area. If enough listeners can be encouraged to sign up, or data can be gleaned from supply side platforms, this opens a path to look at this opportunity in the realm of real-time buying as well as more strategic options.

 This article is published with permission from