UK RADIO has seen its digital audience share jump to 50.9 per cent for the first time, boosted by voice assistant devices such as Amazon's Alexa.
The latest quarterly figures from RAJAR show that one-in-two listeners are now using DAB (digital radio) or online streaming. The other fifty per cent are still using analogue radio.
Radio analysts will now be looking to see if the government twitches on the dormant debate over switching off FM and AM, a process that has long since happened in some countries, but was taken off the UK agenda until a majority had switched organically.
With youngsters most likely to listen on phones, and most of the major radio players (BBC, Bauer, Global) offering an Alexa service on top of the general radio apps such as TuneIn and RadioPlayer, it does seem more likely that we will a continuing rise in digital radio.
It is unlikely, however, that any analogue shut down would happen before 2020 - the BBC, which recently switched back to a localised radio network output after networking key shows for several years, has already indicated that it sees any imminent switch off of analogue would be considered premature.
The government will need to consult with the transmitter management company, Arqiva, in-car and domestic radio manufacturers and (whispers) the listeners before anything would happen, and had previously indicated that the process would be triggered by the 50 per cent milestone.
Meanwhile, digital-only stations continue to grow significantly. Radio 6 Music, saved from closure as part of the BBC's cost-cutting plans, is now boasting a record audience of 2.5 million listeners, whilst London station Chris Country, which originally began as an internet-only brand has seen its listenership grown from 23,000 to 34,000 - that's nearly a 50 per cent rise quarter-on-quarter.
Chris Stevens, founder and programme director at Chris Country told INQ: "These days it's so important to be where your audience are. Traditionally that's been terrestrial radio, but the increase of smart speakers and smartphones mean that people can listen in so many ways. For us, we don't want people to ever have to struggle to tune in, which is why we created an Alexa app a few months ago."
And for Stevens, the rise of the smart speaker this year has been tangible: "We've noticed a large increase in smart speaker usage since Christmas, and while DAB is a great way for us to be discovered, smart speakers an undoubtedly an essential part of the radio landscape."
We figure that internet only stations must prove a great springboard for new formats - but its digital radio formats such as DAB, DVB, apps and voice assistants that are the biggest opportunity, and Stevens agrees.
"When you're internet only, people are less likely to stumble across you. On digital radio, we're between Capital FM and Classic FM - it's great for discovery, and with DAB being in over 90 per cent of new cars, fans of country keep finding us," he said.
Meanwhile, Radio 1 continues dropping its audience, despite a huge online presence. This could be to do with the sheer number of people outside the target listenership that used to listen to Radio 1 on analogue, but with the arrival of DAB/Alexa, have switched their allegiance to something more personal to their tastes.
Or it could just be bloody Grimshaw. µ
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