Has digital radio come of age?

This week, the third DAB+ radio ratings survey of the year was released. As we look back on the figures, Zoe Samios explores the current state of the digital radio market and asks if it's reached maturity.

This time last year, a report on digital radio uptake released by GfK revealed DAB+ digital radio reached 3.5m Australian listeners.

At the time, Joan Warner, chief executive officer of Commercial Radio Australia, attributed the growth to more than 30% of new cars installing DAB+ digital radio devices, making digital radio available to the mass market.

The report also showed 26.3% of Australians had listened to radio via a DAB+ digital radio device in the first three radio survey periods of the year.

A year later, the results prove digital radio is growing.

DAB+ is an international digital radio standard, on air in more than 40 countries globally.

Among its benefits are clear reception, high sound quality, news and weather updates, pause and rewind, no sign up, no subscription fees, and no data usage.

After the first three reports of 2017, there are 3.8m DAB+ digital radio listeners in the five metropolitan cities in Australia and 832,426 vehicles have been sold across 36 brands with DAB+ digital radio devices in place.

This is expected to increase again, with digital radio services currently being trialled in Canberra and Darwin, and The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) completing regulatory arrangements for digital radio to be made available in Hobart.

ACMA has also been asked to facilitate the rollout of digital radio in regional areas.

Currently, Australia’s commercial DAB+ digital radio network is quite extensive, with the Australian Radio Network, Southern Cross Austereo, Nova Entertainment, Capital Radio, Macquarie Media, SEN116, Tabcorp, RSN and RadioTAB, all offering a range of different stations tailored to consumer needs.

Source: Commercial Radio Australia

National DAB+ digital radio figures

The DAB+ digital radios survey, which was released earlier this week, shows the cumulative audience for digital-only stations – that is the total number of different (unique) people who listen to a DAB+ only radio station in that market for at least eight minutes, in a defined period.

Survey three, which ran between 5 March to 8 April and 23 April to 27 May, of the DAB+ stations’ cumulative audience figures suggests increased use and interest in the platform nationally.

Nova’s Coles Radio was the most-listened-to digital radio station across the country with 172,000 unique listeners Monday to Sunday, between 5:30am and 12:00am, across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.

The significant growth could be attributed to the introduction of live presenter, Miriam Young, who now hosts the show The Studio Monday-Friday 3pm-6pm and Sat and Sunday 11:00am-12:00pm, taking song requests.

The station’s biggest audience was in Sydney, where it achieved a cumulative audience number of 74,000.

Across Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, Coles Radio sat between 34,000 and 40,000 unique listeners.

Southern Cross Austereo’s Easy Radio placed second across the country. It posted a cumulative audience of 133,000 across the five metro cities, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, making it the station’s most successful survey on the year.

SCA’s Buddha came in third, with a cumulative audience of 130,000. Despite its success at the beginning of the year, it reported a loss 12,000 unique listeners from survey one.

The network’s Oldskool Radio reached 114,000 unique listeners while OMG! had 102,000 unique listeners Monday to Sunday.

OMG! reported its biggest growth of the year, up 6,000 unique listeners from survey two.

For the ARN, Edge Digital, which doesn’t run in Perth, reported a cumulative audience of 99,000.

Edge saw the majority of its listeners come from Sydney, reporting 75,000 in the one city.

ARN’s 80s IHeartRadio and 90s IHeartRadio proved successful in Melbourne, with 47,000 and 39,000 unique metro listeners respectively.

80s IHeartRadio had a total of 112,000 unique listeners while 90s IHeartRadio had 102,000 unique listeners across the country.

Both 80s IHeartRadio and 90s IHeartRadio reported their lowest survey of the year so far.

Nova’s Koffee, which does not have audience figures for Perth or Adelaide, attracted a cumulative audience number of 81,000, remaining relatively consistent in comparison to the first two surveys.

EON’s Sports Radio network, which was axed live on air on May 27, had 28,000 unique listeners. 

Digital radio station, Aussie, which only runs in Melbourne, achieved 71,000 unique listeners.

Triple J Unearthed jumped from 132,000 to 152,000 metro listeners between survey two and three.

Other notable results included Kinderling Kids, which airs nationally with 62,000 unique listeners and Smooth Digital, airing in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, with 51,000 unique listeners.

“A mainstream audio platform”

Dave Cameron, head of national content and development at Southern Cross Austereo says the latest results suggest DAB+ digital radio is becoming a “mainstream audio platform”. 

“It is starting to take a hold us a mainstream audio platform. I think there’s a couple of reasons for that.”

“When you think about the time spans and some of these audio platforms and how long it’s taken, digital radio is on track to continue to grow.”

“The more that the DAB receivers go into cars the more we continue to integrate DAB+ stations into Radio App, which is now in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the more people realise the diversity of these stations are available to them,” he added.

Dave Cameron: Digital radio a ‘mainstream audio platform’.

Cameron says while FM was still had the majority of SCA’s listeners, DAB was the “future for new stations”. 

“While FM is absolutely the platform for majority of our listening, the FM dial is full and DAB is really the future for new stations, more offerings, better equality,” he says.

He noted other benefits such as data charges as reasons for a potential shift.

While Cameron believes DAB+ is a growing success, he still thinks more education is needed.

“There’s still a big education to happen in the market, to clients, to agencies, particularly education and persuasion to car manufacturers,” he says.

“Volatility of numbers”

The national GfK radio ratings show a level of consistency between each network and their stations across each metropolitan city. 

However, for DAB+ stations, the numbers are more volatile.

Coles Radio for instance, is incredibly popular in the Sydney market, but places third in Melbourne, as the 80s IHeartRadio and Easy Radio take the lead.

Chemist Warehouse Remix, with only 4,000 unique listeners in Sydney, had 24,000 listeners in Melbourne.

One of the biggest drops is Edge Digital, reporting 75,000 unique listeners in the Sydney market, but just 15,000 in Melbourne, 6,000 in Brisbane and 2,000 in Adelaide.

Cameron attributes the inconsistencies to smaller audiences.

“It’s down to volatility with smaller numbers.

“The greater the audience, the more consistent the numbers become.

“It’s not a smart thing at this stage to break DAB+ numbers apart state by state. There would be a lot of questions you certainly couldn’t answer as there are smaller listening numbers at this stage.

“But certainly as the platform grows, the numbers get bigger, the audience gets bigger and products and brands become more consistent. That’s where you’ll see really strong stories in and around DAB+ channels.

“The numbers still are quite small when you chop it down market to market and stations can individually bounce around in specific markets, but when you start to have a look at the overall national cumes story, and that growing survey on survey, year on year, that’s the really key thing to look at.

“That shows while we are not at saturation yet like the UK, it certainly shows that the more DAB stations are becoming accessible through manufacturers putting DAB into the dashboards, radio app, now on the dashboard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, the more people are realising their options.”

Differences in content and advertising opportunities

Compared to traditional radio formats, DAB+ digital radio is predominantly music based, however the introduction of a talkshow host on Coles Radio suggests potential for other stations to expand beyond current formats.

Cameron says there is large freedom in creating new formats for digital radio stations, which can be tailored based on what the consumer wants.

“We can create whatever we want with those formats.

Commenting on SCA’s formats, he says: “At this stage most of the SCA formats are music only, until we can reach a certain commercial benchmark that allows us to create more shows and more unique original content on them. So at the moment they are music based which are really strong formats.”

He says advertisers and commercialisation of the platforms is imminent.

“There’ll be far more integration points for sponsorship and commercialisation. You can start to develop up more niche content offerings that are attuned towards client approaches, or attuned towards a specific client brief,” he says.

“The opportunities are endless towards what we can actually do with these formats and the content for the future.”

Nova Entertainment and ARN were unavailable to comment on the results.


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