What five years’ worth of radio data tells us about the industry: Sydney

Over the last few months, Mumbrella has been crunching five years’ worth of cumulative and average audience data from radio stations across the five metro cities. So what do the results show? Zoe Samios investigates.

Eight times a year, the radio industry sits down in front of a series of numbers which define the success of a respective station or program.

Over the next five days, Mumbrella will break down some of the GfK survey’s findings in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth between the years of 2014 and 2018.

The findings are dependent on respondents who complete a paper or online diary for GfK on behalf of Commercial Radio Australia. The paper diary sample requires door-knocking.

Respondents aged 10 years and over are randomly selected from a household, should the household agree to participate. Those that fill out the paper copy are required to place stickers bearing the names of each radio station on blank column headings, after listening to the station for a given period. The electronic diary replicates the content of the GfK paper diary.

In each graph presented to you this week sits five years’ worth of average audience and cumulative audience data, which has been broken out into total, breakfast and drive.

An example of the GfK diary

But to interpret these graphs, it is important to understand what average audience and cumulative audience mean.

There are three key audience metrics to radio ratings, as there are for most media: the cumulative audience over a given period of time, the average audience over a given period of time, and the audience share (which is based on the average audience) over a given period of time. They are all based on the same survey technique and data, and they can all be used to communicate different stories about a station’s performance.

Let’s use an example.

If I listen to Kiis FM Melbourne’s Jase Hawkins and Polly Harding for an hour one day, I would tick the four relevant quarter hour boxes, provided I listened to at least eight minutes of each quarter hour. Because I ticked four boxes in the 5:30am-9:00am slot I would count as four-fourteenths (28.6%) of a Kiis breakfast listener for that day, since the 5:30am-9:00am slot is a total of 14 quarter hours.

If I had ticked one box, I would have counted as one-fourteenth (7.15%) of a Kiis Breakfast listener for the day.

On the other hand, because I ticked at least one box during the breakfast session, I would count as one full (100%) listener towards the cumulative Kiis breakfast audience for that day, as cumulative audience is based on ‘any’ listening.

GfK’s e-diary

Put simply, average audience takes into account ‘how much’ listening I did per quarter hour, whereas cumulative audience takes into account ‘whether I listened at least once or not’. This means cumulative audience will always be bigger than average audience. Average audience data can be aggregated, but cumulative audience can’t be aggregated across stations or day parts as that would include duplication of listeners.

From a radio programmer or sales executive’s perspective, cumulative audience is important, as it quantifies how many people listened at least once during the week and interacted with the station’s brand. From a buyer’s perspective, the cumulative audience quantifies the absolute maximum audience that would be possible with a ‘saturation buy’. But a buyer could also focus on the average audience, as it represents the most likely number of people that would hear an ad, even though it is a much smaller number than the cumulative audience.

So what does this all mean when things on radio change? If a radio business launches a marketing campaign or has a change of on-air talent, it would be expecting the cumulative audience to increase, as it represents reach – ie. it can shows whether people are ‘trialling’ the new station, new format or new lineup. But unlike average audience, cumulative audience does not show ‘stickiness’.

After a period of time on air, the ideal situation for a network programmer would be to have their average audience and cumulative audience numbers grow in the same direction, as it would show listeners were listening more often and for longer periods of time.

Finally, when Mumbrella reports ‘station share’ each survey, this represents each station’s average audience expressed as a percentage of the total radio audience for the same period of time. Some programmers prefer to refer to station share, while others focus on cumulative audience. Stations that have made recent changes will have a keener eye for improvements in the cumulative audience, whereas stations with a more developed strategy will have a closer eye on improvements in the average audience and share.

These surveys account for listening to radio anywhere, at anytime: at work, at home, in the car, via AM/FM radio, DAB+, mobile phone, PC or a smart speaker.

Still following? Let’s dive in.

To start the week, Mumbrella will look at the Sydney metro market.

What did Kyle and Jackie O do to 2Day FM?

GfK has conducted the radio ratings surveys since 2014, however Mumbrella understands there is little to no difference in numbers between GfK and the previous industry provider, Nielsen.

The last survey available on Commercial Radio Australia’s website dates back to survey eight of 2013, which was coincidently the last survey of Kiis FM breakfast hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie ‘O’ Henderson, when they were still with 2DayFM.

Sandilands and Henderson ran 2DayFM breakfast for almost eight years before joining Kiis FM, and have since – for the most part – remained the king and queen of the FM radio dial, for almost every single Sydney survey in five years.

The impact of the move has proved detrimental to the 2DayFM audience. In survey eight of 2013, 2DayFM breakfast had a cumulative audience of 550,000. By survey one of 2014, the cumulative audience of the show fell to 308,000.

Kyle and Jackie O, unsurprisingly, had an enormous impact on 2Day FM’s ratings

The average audience at breakfast in survey eight of 2013 was 95,000. That number fell 35,000 in survey one of the new year, while total average audience of the station collapsed from 46,000 to 22,000.

From an average audience perspective, there hasn’t been much change since for 2DayFM. The lowest average audience for breakfast was 21,000 which occurred in survey three 2015, under the reign of Maz Compton and Dan Debuf.

But cumulative audience has fluctuated more. 2Day FM’s cumulative audience for breakfast under hosts Compton and Debuf fell as low as 226,000.

In the five years, there were close to no major spikes in cumulative audience, despite marketing efforts when new talent arrived. It suggested that after time, listeners were not even trialling the station, and those that did, were not staying around for a long time.

In fact, the most obvious spike in cumulative audience came last year, from 294,000 in survey one to 342,000 by the end of the year. In early 2018, cumulative audience climbed as high as 369,000.

Current hosts Ed Kavalee, Grant Denyer and Ash London are the 11th, 12th, and 13th presenters in the last five years.

As of survey eight 2018, the average audience of 2DayFM breakfast is 40,000, while the cumulative audience sits at 342,000. Total average audience for 2DayFM is 27,000 and cumulative audience has recovered, with the highest results since the defection of Sandilands and Henderson occurring this year. By survey eight, 2DayFM’s cumulative audience was 723,000, compared to 895,000 in survey eight of 2013.

The last five years show the impact loyalty to talent can have on radio ratings. The collapse of 2DayFM breakfast not only impacted that breakfast slot, but the station’s audience as a whole.

With 2DayFM suffering under the defection of Sandilands and Henderson to Kiis FM, it could only have been good news for pair’s new station.

In 2013, Kiis FM’s breakfast slot had an average audience of 30,000 and a cumulative audience of 256,000. Those numbers climbed to 86,000 and 532,000 respectively in the first survey of the year, before rising to 99,000 and 613,000 in survey two of 2014.

Sandilands and Henderson’s audience follows a cycle. Mid-way through each year, the cumulative and average audience numbers drop off, a trend previously cited by ARN content boss Duncan Campbell.

From a breakfast average perspective, the lowest audience for the pair on Kiis FM was in survey five of 2015, where it fell to 69,000, sitting well above the 35,000 on 2DayFM at the time.

Cumulative audience also fell to 475,000 in 2015.

The rise of the music stations

In the last few surveys of 2018, I had a hunch the music stations were doing better than ever before. This was definitely the case in Sydney. A look back on five years’ worth of data reveals the ongoing growth for the Smooth FM brand and station, as well as ARN’s WS FM.

In 2014, Smooth FM Sydney was only two years old, with a cumulative audience of 589,000 at the start of the year, and an average audience of 38,000 at survey one of 2014. By survey eight of 2014, cumulative audience was 667,000 and average audience was 33,000.

At the last survey of 2018, the station’s cumulative audience was at 871,000 and its average audience was 45,000.

WS FM, which has operated in the Sydney market for a lot longer, has also seen modest growth, from a cumulative audience of 640,000 in early 2014, to 769,000 as of the last survey of the year. The average audience is more stagnant – at 44,000 in 2014 and at 43,000 by the end of 2018.

Breakfast hosts Brendan ‘Jonesy’ Jones and Amanda Keller have been on air for 13 years. For the most part, the cumulative and average audiences have been consistent, with the exception of a number of surveys in 2016.

2GB’s strength drived by breakfast, and a woeful five years for former 2UE

2GB’s breakfast show with Alan Jones is one of the highest rating shows on radio at the moment. He has won 216 surveys in a row in Sydney, and his cumulative audience and share reflect it.

Over the years, Jones’ highest cumulative audience was 498,000 – achieved this year – while his highest average audience was in the same survey – 169,000.

Jones’ average audience numbers tends to fluctuate quite rapidly, and fell to a five year low in survey one of 2017 – at 108,000. But that number is still significantly higher than a number of other players in market.

The health of 2GB is a tribute to Jones, and his colleagues Ray Hadley, Chris Smith and Ben Fordham.

While it has had its ups and downs over the years, the station’s cumulative audience has not fallen below 500,000 in at least five years, finishing last year at 556,000. And whoever said controversy doesn’t work clearly hadn’t look at the numbers. Even last year’s defamation loss did not appear to affect figures significantly.

2GB’s average audience has climbed particularly in the last 12 months, despite the ongoing controversy Jones has caused.

Cumulative and average audience data is more telling for Macquarie Media’s other station, now known as Macquarie Sports Radio.

To some, it might be remembered as 2UE or Talking Lifestyle. Now, it is a shell of its former self.

Five years ago, 2UE was still owned Fairfax Media. In fact, it wasn’t until December of 2014 when Fairfax Media and Macquarie Radio announced the merger, as part of a deal which would see Fairfax take a 54.5% holding. That network now includes 2GB and 2UE in Sydney, 3AW and Magic 1278 in Melbourne, 4BC and Magic 882 in Brisbane and 6PR in Perth.

Under its new owner, Macquarie Media, 2UE had been delivering consistent audience numbers. Most surveys, its average audience was above 20,000, while its cumulative audience was more than 250,000.

However in September 2016, Macquarie Media decided it would ditch its news radio roots and move to a new show format, with paid-for lifestyle content set to feature as the struggling station looked to increase revenue.

By survey eight of 2016, the cumulative audience of the station had fallen to 212,000, while the average audience was 18,000. But the worst was yet to come.

In March 2018, Macquarie Media announced it would axe its Talking Lifestyle programs across Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, and replace it with what it would call Macquarie Sports Radio.

So far, the numbers have not been kind. And it does not appear that the change of breakfast show from John Stanley and Beau Ryan, to Mark Levy and Mark Riddell, have heavily influenced results.

As of survey eight 2018, the station’s average audience is 5,000, while its cumulative audience sits at 128,000. National executive producer Michael Thompson says the summer cricket coverage should help. A look at the first radio ratings survey of the year will be telling.

What a move from drive can do to breakfast

In 2011, Nova’s drive show with Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald and Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli moved to Nova Sydney breakfast.

By 2014, the pair were well established. But a look at five years suggests 2014 was one of the worst years for the pair, who fell from a cumulative audience of 495,000 at survey one to 413,000 by survey five. Over the years, those numbers continued to climb, and with it came a loyal following for the pair. The last two years, which has included more of an on-air presence from Nova 96.9’s program director, Sarah McGilvray, has been coupled with some of the best growth for the station.

The breakfast slot’s average audience, which was at 62,000 at the end of 2016, climbed to a five year high of 74,000 at the end of 2018.

The introduction of Kate Ritchie to drive in 2014 didn’t have a significant impact on audience. The first year of Ritchie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold was easily a standout, climbing to a cumulative audience of more than half a million at the beginning of 2015. But the rest of 2015 was riddled with decline, similar to the breakfast slot. From a cumulative audience perspective, the drive show finished its show last year with its highest result in more than three years – at 528,000.

Average audience followed suit, meaning less people were listening, and the amount of time spent had also reduced. But that’s all changed. The last few surveys of 2018 delivered some of the highest average audience numbers for the show in Sydney. At survey eight, the average audience was 69,000.

The combination of a long-standing breakfast show with drive has made Nova the highest performing station in terms of cumulative and falls short to Kiis FM by 1,000, in terms of average audience. At the end of 2018, the station had an average audience of 43,000 and a cumulative audience of 1.043m.

What about the national broadcaster?

Outside of the commercial free to air players sits the ABC with stations like ABC702 and Triple J on the FM dial.

Cumulative audience for ABC702 has declined in recent years. In early 2014, the station had a cumulative audience of 661,000 – a number which has since fallen as low as 568,000.

Overall, it isn’t a massive dip, but it could perhaps suggest that younger audiences are listening to the station and having a ‘go’, as they once did.

The station’s average audience has also suffered in recent years. Falling almost every survey since the second of 2018.

In 2014, ABC702’s average audience was 52,000. It is now 39,000.

The decline doesn’t come from breakfast or drive specifically, as you can see in the graph, but suggests listening to ABC Radio on a traditional radio device has declined in the last few years.

It is unusual, given the familiarity of Richard Glover in drive, who has been there since 1996. Breakfast co-hosts Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck, who were in breakfast and mornings respectively, have also been long-standing hosts.

But slowly, cumulative and average audience has fallen in both breakfast and drive. Average audience for breakfast and drive has fallen off significantly, at are both at all time lows.

At survey one of 2014, drive’s average audience was 61,000, and that now sits at 38,000. In breakfast, the average audience was 102,000, and that number now sits at 77,000.

It’s a less dramatic story over at Triple J Sydney. The station has a national drive show with Veronica Milsom and Lewis Hobba, and a two year old breakfast show with Ben Harvey and Liam Stapleton. Unlike ABC 702, Triple J sits on the FM dial and is targeted at a much younger audience.

Breakfast and drive have similar cumulative audiences, and when long-standing breakfast show presenters Alex Dyson and Matt Okine left in 2016, the numbers slide in both time slots. But those numbers appear to have settled. In fact, despite Milsom’s absence for most of 2018, there was no significant change in the ratings.

This is the first feature as part of this series. See the other markets so far:


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