If mobile phones are part of the future of radio, the question is how radio can actively engage a smartphone-savvy young audience.

At Next Radio 2013, British radio futurologist James Cridland talked about how people use mobile phones to listen to radio. While radio consumption can be very different in various parts of the world, the overall steady growth of radio listening on mobile phones shows that we should think about how to turn a passive medium into an active experience for radio audiences of the next generation.


“It goes to show how different radio is consumed

in different countries”



Indian woman, mobile phone

Radio listeners in India massively tune in through cell phone FM receivers and mobile apps (photo: Mareen Fischinger)



Develop mobile radio apps

Cridland, who writes and speaks about the integration of radio broadcasting and new platforms, has done research on how mobile phones are used for radio listening. The first conclusion: there’s indeed potential to extend on-air and online radio distribution through mobile apps. According to the 2010 Measurement of Internet Delivered Audio Services (MIDAS 7) of RAJAR, 53% of mobile listeners in the UK have used the FM receiver on their cell phone. From those people, 16% ran a branded app from a station; all others came from so-called aggregator apps.



Mumbai, IndiaResearch local listening habits

With 20+ million inhabitants, Mumbai is India’s largest city, and the fourth most populous metro in the world. Interesting: 94% of all radio listeners in Mumbai tune in through their mobile! Only 16% of the entire Mumbai radio audience listens with a traditional receiver, the RAM Baseline Study Universe Update 2011 of TAM Media Research calculates. “It goes to show how different radio is consumed in different countries in the world.”



Consider hybrid radio technology

No wonder that many mobile radio app developers have seen the light. Apart from being the title of James Cridland and Matt Deegan’s radio conference, Next Radio is the name of the smartphone app that puts FM radio back in your pocket, as the developer says on his site. Based on RadioDNS technology, the device is able to combine an FM signal with additional information over the Internet, such as song data and artist pictures. “It’s a great start for a hybrid radio future.”



“We’re not talking about huge figures just yet”



Absolute Radio network, worldwide mobile radio app usage, users in thousands, visits in millions, 2012 and 2013

Approximately 1 listening session per user per week, like in this case of Absolute Radio – and a relatively short mobile time spent listening – makes radio listening through cell phones not really significant yet (image: One Golden Square)



Focus on iOS applications

Unlike many other radio stations, Absolute Radio is very open about their digital platform data. The June 2013 Engagement Metrics on their One Golden Square blog shows (an average of) 238.000 app installs across the Absolute Radio network during Q2 / 2013. Over half of those were for iOS operating systems – so at least for radio UK stations it might be smart to have a perfect iPhone app. Almost a third asked for the Android, and 1 out of 10 for the BlackBerry version. Microsoft and Nokia devices had a few percent.



Android, Samsung Galaxy, iOS, Apple iPhoneGo broad with Android

Cridland is noticing a similar user pattern in the US, where Android delivers a bigger audience, but Apple gets more time – twice as much as Android. “If you have an Apple phone, you are statistically more likely to be in an office where you’ve got free, abundant Wi-Fi and can actually sit at a desk.” Android offers both expensive and cheaper options, and is more likely to be used anywhere. So it might be good to offer an Android app as alternative.



Don’t expect too much

While UK radio listeners tune in for an average of 3 hours a day (RAJAR, Q4 / 2012), mobile’s share in this is small. “We’re not talking about huge figures in terms of tuning into radio through streaming mobiles just yet”, James Cridland says. One radio broadcaster he spoke with, mentioned an average of ‘12 minutes 46 seconds’ a day, while another operator indicated it’s ‘everywhere from 14-45 minutes across our apps over a typical week’ and that ‘the duration tends to correlate with the station format’. Absolute Radio, which is very open about its figures, reports a total of 241.000 unique users and 1.05 million app visits (June 2013 Engagement Metrics). That makes it realistic to count on 1 app session per user per week.



‘People seem to use apps

mainly to consume, and less to interact’



mobile radio app user behavior chart, James Cridland, Next Radio 2013

The above list, provided by an unidentified commercial station, indicates that cell phone listeners use mobile radio apps mainly to consume audiovisual content, and less to interact with the station (image and photo: Next Radio)



Design multitask-friendly user interfaces

How exactly are people listening to radio with apps on their smartphone? In the UK, Europe and Australia, 75% of mobile radio streams go over Wi-Fi networks; just 25% goes over mobile Internet. “People aren’t using mobile phones to listen to the radio while they are mobile; they’re more likely at home or in the office”, Cridland explains. It’s good to keep in mind that (mobile) listeners usually do something else while they’re ‘listening’. According to one of the broadcasters he spoke with, most app users instantly “hit the ‘play in background’ button so they get rid of the damn thing” and it looks like advertisements are doing “suspiciously well”. [By the way: based on the above graph, people seem to use apps mainly to consume, and less to interact – as social media are in the middle, and traditional media on the bottom of the list. But it looks like apps are a great gateway to a radio station’s website.]



KISS UK logo, mobile radio app iconUse apps for branding

Do radio apps increase audience figures? James Cridland feels like they’re useful branding tools for diary-based markets. “If you have your station logo on your [mobile app] homepage, that is going to increase any brand recall.” But measuring at-work listening is more challenging in PPM markets. What’s Working at Work by Edison Research shows that about 25% of radio listeners at work are wearing headphones.



Promote downloads during weekends

Cridland considers mobile apps important for the future of radio. In every European country “apart from the crazy Dutch”, young people are tuning into radio a lot less than adults [see: New Generation Listeners Live in a Multi-Platform World]. The amount of people who listen to radio on a mobile phone is growing slowly but surely, especially among 15-24 year old people (data: RAJAR, 2010-2012). “People who find your station through places like Radioplayer, TuneIn and other ways, are the people you need to impress.” As mobile apps are mostly installed on Sundays, his advice is to promote radio apps on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, as it won’t be effective at the beginning of the week.



“I wonder whether linear radio

is the right experience for mobile”



James Cridland, Next Radio 2013

James Cridland feels like lean-back broadcast radio should be made more interesting for lean-forward mobile experiences, to actively engage mobile radio audiences of the next listener generation (photo: Next Radio)



Create ‘app-proofed’ radio content

The importance for radio to be present on digital platforms, such as mobile phones, is evident. On the other hand, it doesn’t quite fit the natural ‘plug & play’ aspect of radio. James Cridland signals that cell phones are lean-forward as “you’re always pressing buttons on it”. That’s the opposite of music radio; the least lean-forward medium. “The user interface for radio is great. You press one button and it plays you stuff, and when you’ve had enough you press another button and it stops. I wonder whether linear radio is the right experience for mobile, or whether we should deliver something better.”