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The MIDAS touch

Earlier this week, RAJAR, the official body for measuring radio audiences in the UK, released the results of their MIDAS survey for 2018 Q4. From a podcast perspective, the Q4 MIDAS results have a few key takeaways worth unpacking.

Earlier this week, RAJAR, the official body for measuring radio audiences in the UK, released the results of their MIDAS survey for 2018 Q4. Bit of background before we go any further: RAJAR stands for “Radio Joint Audience Research,” and MIDAS for “Measurement of Internet Delivered Audio Services.” (The jazzy acronyms are a thing; they also have a consumption report about 9-14 year olds called JAMJAR, aka “Junior Audio Measurement Joint Audience Research”). The organisation’s highest profile releases are concerned with radio station audience figures — people in the broadcast biz take great notice of “the RAJARs” as a way to see how they’re doing with listeners — but since 2013 they’ve also been providing this quarterly consumption data for internet audio services.

From a podcast perspective, the Q4 MIDAS results have a few key takeaways worth unpacking. Firstly, the research, which surveyed 2,332 respondents in November 2018, found that 6.5 million adults or 12 percent of the UK adult population listened to a podcast in an average week. That’s up only slightly from the 11 percent reported in Q1, and an incremental change worth noting. That figure has fluctuated a bit through the year: Q2 came in at 12 percent and Q3 at 13 percent. Basically, there was no big leap in podcast listening in the UK in 2018.

There’s also still a gender gap among those who listen regularly to podcasts, with male listeners making up 63 percent of the total. It’s of note, also, that in this dataset this seems to be a more pronounced trend with podcasting vs other online audio options; radio “listen again” services breakdown to 53-47 men/women and music streaming as 54-46.

This is in line with what Edison’s research has found in the US, though Edison did publish a blog post at the end of 2018 observing that there does seem to be a “closing the listening gender gap”. I don’t think there is enough data in the MIDAS report to make a similar claim here, especially since this number has also fluctuated ±5 percent or so throughout the year. If I was going to speculate as to why the gender disparity was greater in Q4 (winter) compared to Q2 (summer), I would probably say: football. [Editor’s Note: That’s soccer for you Yanks in the crowd.]

Radio’s demographic problem is also pretty starkly present in this data. I’ve touched on this a few times before in previous newsletters, mostly because it’s the consumption trend that the new BBC Sounds app is aimed at fixing, but it’s useful to see it laid out in numbers rather than in anecdotes. Just under half of people aged 15-24 still listen to live radio, a figure which rises to 59 percent for 25-34s and to 77 percent for 35-54s. That’s a pretty scary generational drop off for radio providers who are yet to get into podcasting.

It could be said though that if radio has a young people problem, podcasting has an older people one. Audio’s “reach” among people aged 55+ breaks down like this: 93 percent live radio, 9 percent radio catch up, and 5 percent for podcasts. That’s a market to expand into that some are clearly targeting already — Audioboom in the UK have just this week announced the launch of Too Late To Die Young, which they say is the first podcast to be firmly aimed at the over-60s.

Something I really appreciate about the MIDAS research is the way in which it differentiates podcast listening from radio catch up services. Long time readers will know that I’ve been bothered for a long time now by the blurring of the boundaries between audio made solely or primarily for internet distribution vs broadcast radio content that is repurposed for download later. Until very recently, the BBC only put out the latter, but branded this as “podcasts”. About 4 million people or 7 per cent of UK adults, use radio catch up or listen again services, and it makes up a 1 per cent share of all audio consumption. As the podcast market here expands, I think it’s important to keep these distinctions clear (especially because the lion’s share of catch up content will be from the BBC, ie not monetised).

Finally, I note that only 1 percent of podcast consumption is happening via smart speakers, a data point that has remained steady through all four 2018 MIDAS releases. I know it’s trendy to get excited about smart speakers as the new audio frontier, and I do think some of that enthusiasm is warranted, but data like this always acts as a good check for me. They’re not yet a major podcast distribution device in the UK, and should be considered in that light. I’ll revisist this opinon once the 2019 Q1 figures are out — perhaps the Christmas gift wave will bump up the figure a bit.