BBC Losing Audience, Younger Listeners, to Commercial Talk Radio

4th January 1956: BBC Radio presenter, Cliff Michelmore, reads a request during a recording of 'Housewife's Choice', a popular music programme with over six million listeners each week. (Photo by John Firth/BIPs/Getty Images)
ohn Firth/BIPs/Getty

The BBC’s radio stations have seen weekly audiences fall while commercial and digital radio are enjoying a rise in popularity with listeners.

The British public licence-funded broadcaster, home to several talk and music stations, has seen an overall fall in audience with the number of people listening each week falling by 1.6 percent to 34.3 million listeners, reports The Times.

Listenership for pop music station BBC Radio 2 has dropped 4.7 percent to 14.6 million, while talk radio station of record Radio 4 — which hosts the early morning Today programme that sets the establishment news narrative for the rest of the day — has experienced a 5.1 percent drop to 10.6 million.

In comparison, commercial music radio has seen an increase on 0.7 percent to 35.8 million, including Smooth, Kiss, and Magic radio stations.

As well as losing listeners, the BBC is also losing some of its top talent to commercial radio including Eddie Mair who moved to LBC — home of the radio shows of Nigel Farage, Nick Ferrari, and Maajid Nawaz.

More people are also listening to digital radio than at any other time before, with the Wireless Group’s Virgin Radio, talkRADIO, and talkSPORT seeing the number of listeners growing by three percent year-on-year.

The figures come at a time for the broadcaster when it is facing an “existential crisis”, according to the left-wing Guardian, over its failure to connect with younger listeners and viewers.

Figures have found that one in eight young people consume no BBC content at all — despite the near-ubiquity of licence fee payers given that possession of a television without a licence can result in penalties up to a prison sentence — with the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom putting it down to greater variety in commercial radio stations and new technology.

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