Has mobile killed the radio star?

The decline of radio listening has been predicted for decades. The arrival of television, games consoles, CDs, personal stereos, music television, iTunes, iPod, Pandora and Spotify cover several generations of threat. Today, ‘Is mobile killing radio?’ adds another headline-grabbing threat. Is it finally true?

Who owns a smartphone?


Certainly, the younger generation love their smartphones. Today, around nine in ten 15-24 year olds in the country have one, and they spend over three and a half hours on it each day.1Ofcom Communications Market Report The young love listening to music on their mobile devices too. The Ipsos MORI Global Trends Survey reports that 44% of adults across the 20 countries in the study listen to music on their smartphone, with Brazil being the highest at 61%. With the likes of iTunes and Spotify apps, our mobiles have greatly enhanced access to music.

People love listening to music on their mobile devices

The 15-24 age group has long been attractive for radio advertisers and media brands to target. Whilst tuning in to commercial stations makes up the majority of their radio listening, this group is increasingly elusive to reach through traditional media channels. Just over £0.5bn is forecast to be spent on radio advertising in the UK in 2014; an annual increase of 6.8% that will make it the sector’s best performance for over ten years.2http://expenditurereport.warc.com/FreeContent/Q2_2014.pdf However, by the end of this year in the US, more money will be spent on mobile phone advertising than on radio, newspaper and magazine advertising combined.3http://pando.com/2014/07/02/in-2014-more-money-will-be-spent-on-mobile-ads-than-newspapers-magazines-and-radio/ The ubiquity of the mobile phone, and in particular the iPhone’s arrival in 2007, has changed both listeners’ behaviour and advertisers’ spending.


Yet radio has survived because radio stations have recognised that the mobile phone has become an increasingly powerful device that can connect them to their listeners. Social media are now well established as very popular ways for listeners to interact with their favourite radio stations and presenters, and vice-versa. However, they can potentially disconnect them too.

Radio’s switch to a digital format also changed many things – but not always as quickly as initially forecast. Back in 2009, the government published its Digital Britain report, which set a target date of 2013 for the digital share of radio listening in the UK to exceed 50%. This would then trigger a full digital switchover in 2015, meaning you would no longer be able to listen to national stations on FM. Since then, the growth of digital across the UK has been steady but slow and, with the current digital listening share at 38%, the switchover date may now be as far away as 2020.

Digital radio listening – 15-24s

But for 15-24s, online and mobile are now the most popular form of digital radio listening, even exceeding DAB radio. This group’s digital share of listening is also higher than that of the total population at 44%. The arrival of the RadioPlayer app has enhanced radio’s accessibility to smartphone users.

One of the fascinating changes in media over the last decades has been how, rather than new formats destroying old ones, a more complex and much more diverse landscape has been created, with old elements persisting or thriving for longer than pundits and trends experts predict. The habits of these 15-24 year olds, such as mobile phone radio listening, suggest that digital and mobile services have not killed the radio. They are nourishing it.

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