How much radio listening is on-demand?

We look into the figures for the BBC and UK radio as a whole to discover exactly how much of their radio listening is to catch-up, listen-again, or podcasts.

By James Cridland
Posted 10 June 2014, 5.55pm bst

RAJAR's main survey measures live radio listening on any platform: but it doesn't measure on-demand listening. However, RAJAR's MIDAS 2014 survey does look into usage of podcasts and other listen-again services.

MIDAS is based on a significantly smaller sample than the main RAJAR survey - 1,477 people (as compared to RAJAR's 100,000+ respondents). However, it's interestingly detailed about where people listen to podcasts, on what device, and catch-up content.

It claims that "listen-again" (streamed catch-up radio) accounts for 1.5% of all radio listening; and that "podcasts" (downloaded catch-up radio) accounts for 1.3%. In total, therefore, 2.8% of all radio listened-to is on-demand.

A different data point is the BBC, who regularly publish data from their iPlayer on-demand website, in the form of monthly performance packs. March 2014's figures show 72 million requests for radio content, of which 21% of requests (15m) are on-demand, and 79% live.

How do podcasts compare to the iPlayer? Podcasts aren't included in the BBC iPlayer Performance Pack, and while the BBC used to publish data on their website, they haven't done so since 2012. I asked, though, and discovered the latest podcast download figures: 22,086,337 BBC podcasts were downloaded within the UK in March 2014.

Podcast downloads are, often, automated: and one of the issues about podcast stats is that we can't easily measure how many people listen to podcasts after downloading. The MIDAS research claims that 66% of downloaded podcasts are listened-to: and if that holds true of the BBC's podcasts, that means that roughly 14.6m podcasts are listened-to a month: comparing nicely to the 15m pieces of on-demand radio listened-to using the iPlayer. So for radio, podcasts are just as popular as iPlayer.

The main RAJAR survey says that 6.4% of total radio listening, in hours, is done via online or using apps. It's not particularly valid to compare listening hours to total requests for programmes: but if you did that, the figures are that on-demand radio accounts for around 2.6% of all requests for BBC Radio content: coinciding nicely with the MIDAS data. (MIDAS meaures all podcasts, not just those from RAJAR radio stations, incidentally).

Many people claim that on-demand radio is the future: the BBC Radio Explorer prototype appears to think it might be, as well as the Swell personalised radio player. What's clear from these figures is that on-demand radio is still a comparatively small part of radio listening: but that it is growing. 22m podcast downloads and 15m requests for on-demand radio every month are significant figures.

Many claim that radio is "live and local"; however, these numbers are neither live, nor, mostly, local. However, if the future of radio relies on a shared experience and a human connection, then on-demand radio is here to stay, and another part of where I believe the future of radio is headed: a multiplatform mix of live and on-demand content.

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James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.