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5 live's bumper digital figures in detail

By James Cridland for media.info
Posted 20 May 2015, 6.00am edt

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It's the day before the RAJAR figures are released, but BBC Radio 5 live has been busy: last week they released a long press release (below) about their online audience figures on the election, including their video of Joy the spitfire pilot.

Unusually for the BBC, they included some actual audience figures for listening online; and I thought it worthwhile to look into these figures to see what they are actually saying.

To start with a bit of clarity for US readers: "digital" and "online" are, in the UK, different. Digital radio is radio carried on DAB, DTV and online, and while the press release claims "bumper digital listening figures", it actually talks about online.

Live listening

On Friday morning [May 8][...] there was a peak of 136,000 requests to listen live to the station online – three times higher than the average for that slot.

A "request to listen live" is just that - an anonymous request to connect to the online stream. This doesn't mean that there are 136,000 different people listening; just that there were a total of 136,000 stream requests during the period. (I clarified that 'peak' referred to a peak of total listening requests for that slot when compared to others in the week.)

We've all experienced listening to a stream via a mobile phone and getting cut off. When you reconnect - either automatically or manually - that's normally counted as another stream request. And, naturally, when you stop listening and return to the station later, that's another stream request.

I checked with a number of other streaming stations, and discovered that in a typical 24 hour period, a station with a 48kbps stream has an average of three stream requests per listener. If you stream at 128kbps, that number doubles.

This 136,000 listening requests figure is just over a 4 hour period - but one that includes higher than normal mobile use, thus higher than normal disconnections. My guess is that 136,000 stream requests means, at best, 68,000 listeners (an average of two requests each). That is still a lot: many stations will do a fraction of that.

"That slot" is the 5 live breakfast show, which runs between 0600-1000. RAJAR's reach for that programme on a Friday morning is 1.28m. So, the online audience for this programme was an impressive 5.3% of their total audience. (To put this into context, over a whole week RAJAR claims that 15.5% of us normally listen to radio online.)

The BBC claims that this was "three times higher than the average", which points to the normal online audience being 22,600 for that programme. That's still a lot, too: though research I did a few years ago points to typical time spent listening inside a radio station app being less than three minutes.

So, the BBC are right to crow about these figures. For me, they're impressive. I'd think, though, that they might surprise many in the industry for appearing really low - online is widely held to be the most popular way of listening to the radio, even when in reality it is a tiny amount.

On-demand content

Earlier this month, 5 live secured exclusive radio broadcast rights to the much-anticipated Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight. Despite it taking place in the middle of the night UK time, it was the most listened to sporting event online on 5 live this year with 243,940 online requests.

Perhaps it was because the match took place in the middle of the night that the fight achieved so many online requests: because this figure includes on-demand listening as well as live.

Sport is the most popular content on the BBC iPlayer for radio; and to put that into context, the Manchester Utd vs Manchester City football game last year achieved 295,300 listen requests.

These are impressive, if not record-breaking, figures.

A video of Second World War veteran Joy Lofthouse [..] was watched by 170,000 people on the 5 live section of the BBC website. [..] The video went on to reach 2.5 million people on 5 live’s Facebook page.

I asked for clarity here. In fact, 170,000 people saw the page on the 5 live website (and may or may not have played the video); and 2.5 million saw the post on 5 live's Facebook page. The BBC don't have total play figures for the video on their own website; when I last checked, Facebook reports 403,000 plays.

Those are still impressive figures for a piece of content; but highlights the need for clear reporting. It also highlights that the radio station's own website did only 6.8% of the traffic that Facebook did; and as far as I can see, this was an organic post on Facebook and not a paid-promotion. It underlines what an incredible traffic generator Facebook is, and why we need to focus on it.

(Later - see this comment which is a really helpful definition of what a Facebook video play really is.)

A postscript

As I finished working on this piece, 5 Live contacted me again, and said:

For further clarity, these [I presume they mean the live figures I saw earlier] are the numbers that come into the BBC website – either through BBC Sport or BBC news or straight to 5 live. They don’t include additional listening that we get via the BBC Sports app, or by external platforms such as the Tune-in radio app. They give us indicators of overall audience performance.

Well. If these figures are website-specific and don't include apps, they don't include the BBC iPlayer Radio app, the Radioplayer mobile app, nor TuneIn. (I asked for clarity on this, but the BBC were unable to come back to me before press time).

The vast majority of online radio listening is still done on desktop; but if you read slide 8 of the latest BBC iPlayer performance pack it shows that in January mobile devices accounted for 36% of all listener requests.

So the figures for live listening above could be, at a minimum, 36% higher. If they aren't included. (I actually suspect they are.)

Things we can learn from all this

I'm really grateful for the BBC releasing these figures: and the regular performance packs. They show openness and transparency that the rest of the industry could learn from. I've long argued that the BBC should open up all of its research for others (after an initial period).

  1. RAJAR only gives us quarterly figures. Online figures could be radio's equivalent of television's "overnights" - a bellweather of how well programming is doing, and a great tool for programmers
  2. Online radio listening is probably much smaller than most people think. I'd caution against quoting numbers in press releases, therefore.
  3. It's really important that the figures are produced like-for-like: unique users vs listeners, rather than "listening requests" which could be many times out
  4. If you release numbers for 'online', ensure those numbers include all online platforms; and careful not to conflate "people looking at a page" with "people playing a video".
  5. Facebook is massive, isn't it? Wow.

Press release:

BBC Radio 5 live flying high thanks to Spitfire pilot and the election

A 92-year-old former Spitfire pilot and a fascinating end to the General Election campaign have helped BBC Radio 5 live achieve bumper digital listening figures.

A video of Second World War veteran Joy Lofthouse taking to the skies again, 70 years after she last flew a Spitfire, was watched by 170,000 people on the 5 live section of the BBC website. It was made by the 5 live Breakfast team who played it on air during the programme on Thursday May 7 – on the eve of events to mark the anniversary of VE Day. The video went on to reach 2.5 million people on 5 live’s Facebook page.

Last Thursday was also polling day for the 2015 General Election so the video of Joy provided a break from weeks of political news. But once the polls closed and the results were coming in, 5 live saw soaring digital figures again. On Friday morning, as the country woke to news the Conservatives had secured a majority in the House of Commons, there was a peak of 136,000 requests to listen live to the station online – three times higher than the average for that slot.

Jonathan Wall, controller BBC Radio 5 live, said: “Last week was pretty special for 5 live. Our story about Joy Lofthouse had a big impact on our listeners just as the country was marking the anniversary of VE Day. Then our brilliant election coverage reached its climax with the shock exit poll and the results showing a victory for David Cameron. The following morning we had a huge audience listening to us for the latest news.

“I’m enormously proud of the efforts of our teams. We produced 22 hours of live rolling coverage on Friday. In the run-up to polling day, we came live from a mosque in north London, a Glasgow tower block and a caravan park in Anglesey. We’ve been to every corner of the country hearing voters’ concerns and putting their questions to politicians. I’m really pleased we’ve seen a surge in digital listening, which suggests our audience is enjoying what they’re hearing.”

Earlier this month, 5 live secured exclusive radio broadcast rights to the much-anticipated Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight. Despite it taking place in the middle of the night UK time, it was the most listened to sporting event online on 5 live this year with 243,940 online requests. The station is pioneering new platforms as people choose to listen in different ways. Its short form service, In Short, now has a million hits each month.

Meanwhile, 5 live’s reporter Nick Garnett has won plaudits across the media industry for his reporting from Nepal following the massive earthquake. Nick reported live into the Breakfast programme as a teenage boy was rescued. He was able to broadcast using a smart phone.

You can watch the video of Joy in the Spitfire here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02qt65y

You can hear Nick Garnett reporting on the rescue of a teenage boy here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02q9phl

More information

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and 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. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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Comments

2 years, 4 months ago

While the Facebook numbers are impressive (and a reason I now no longer work 5 days a week in radio but instead help businesses use Facebook) - it's worth remembering...

A Facebook “video view” is defined as a view of three seconds or more.

Anyone who uses the Facebook app (and hasn't switched off the auto play function - i.e. most people), that video will play automatically. If they happen to scroll over it for 3 seconds without watching it, it counts as a view.

So 403,000 plays is impressive - but I don't believe the video has been paid attention to 403,000 times.

I can't wait for the day that the phone's front facing camera will track your eyes, and know where you are looking.

David

PRO2 years, 4 months ago

That's amazingly useful detail, David - thank you.

And, naturally, a "listening request" might be defined - we don't know - as any request that sends data back, which could be less than a tenth of a second of audio.

2 years, 4 months ago

Great news for 5Live that there is a great surge in digital listening, in that case why are they still broadcasting on AM Medium Wave.? When I listen to 5Live its either Online or on DAB Radio

2 years, 4 months ago

It would be interesting to see more detail from the BBC but suspect they wouldn't release too much info.

We assuming they're not counting unsuccessful requests in that figure, every connection made successfully will have a line logged for connected and one logged when disconnected - if they're counting anything else then that's going to cloud the data.

Is that number based on unique IP address or just total, if it's total then, again it's not a whole lot of use.

Most output from analysis of the logs can see what the average connection time is per request, match that up with unique successful requests and you might get some worthwhile data.

2 years, 4 months ago

Unfair cynicism?

I don't know about you guys but I'm really not in the habit of pressing (or even accidentally pressing) play on an audio or video item and NOT watching or listening to it for considerable amount of time (or even in its entirity). I can't remember the last time I ever dismissed an audio or video item after just three seconds or so. If I press play, it's almost always because I want to.

2 years, 4 months ago

Oh - and David, I miss your morning show.

PRO2 years, 4 months ago

Martyn said:

We assuming they're not counting unsuccessful requests in that figure, every connection made successfully will have a line logged for connected and one logged when disconnected - if they're counting anything else then that's going to cloud the data.

Well, that's an assumption; and things are greyer than that. What constitutes a "connection"? Five seconds? Two seconds? 100 bytes? This is the difficulty of using "listening requests" as a metric, since it is relatively meaningless: it's impossible to get either 'total number of listeners' nor 'total time spent listened' from that.

I recommend to the digital teams I consult with that they feed back data to their programming teams using "reach" and "hours" wherever possible; because otherwise it's impossible to compare.

Is that number based on unique IP address or just total, if it's total then, again it's not a whole lot of use.

If it were based on unique IP address, it won't be a whole lot of use. I have three people who live in my house; they'd count as one IP address.

Alternatively, if I listen on my mobile at home and then on my mobile on the way to work, I'm two unique IP addresses. And if I get cut off on my mobile and reconnect, I'll be three unique IP addresses.

A better way would be to measure by unique devices. The examples above would be then correct. However, hardware internet radio devices and most third-party apps don't have support for cookies, so you can't measure those properly; and if I listen at home on my internet TV and then in the car on my mobile, I'm still being counted twice.

I'm genuinely not trying to attack the BBC for these figures. They're really useful, since - as they say - they give an indicator of overall audience performance. The important thing here is "they had three times as much traffic on the day after election day than they do normally". Trends are very valid from this data. Actual figures can give a false reading, though.

Art said:

I don't know about you guys but I'm really not in the habit of pressing (or even accidentally pressing) play on an audio or video item and NOT watching or listening to it for considerable amount of time

I use Facebook on my mobile, where I simply scroll up through my newsfeed and video auto-plays, silent until I click it. What David has highlighted is that if I am seeing three seconds of a silent Facebook video, even when scrolling up my newsfeed and reading other things, that counts as a view. I've not pressed anything, accidentally or not: it's simply played.

Again: I don't think this is either unfair nor cynical. It's important to have a proper understanding of what these figures really mean. Facebook is really large - but the viewing figures aren't the same as we might expect from the radio.

2 years, 4 months ago

And if I get cut off on my mobile and reconnect, I'll be three unique IP addresses.

Unlikely, very few mobile operators assign public IP's to devices (I only know of one or two for certain, and they're not consumer facing). Most have a number of public gateways and NAT everything behind that. So I guess it's even more useless. Chances are if you and I were in the same locale, on the same network, listening to the same stream - we may very well be coming from the public source address.

Unique requests during a certain period might give a more accurate picture, with perhaps an error of margin of how many people live in the average home? so what; +/- 3 ;-) Of course, that wouldn't take into account people listening online at work - I've worked in places where multiple members of staff are independently streaming the same station via their PC's with earphones in.

I generally agree with the your main point, it's probably not wise to bandy about numbers, reminds me of the early web Hit Counter, adding up every single request to the webserver.

This PAGE has 33390484405 HITS. Impressive!

Question is, could it ever be equal or more accurate than RAJAR Diaries?

2 years, 4 months ago

p.s I'd implore everyone to turn off autoplay for videos in facebook and in browser.

2 years, 4 months ago

Facebook are trying to push their video platform over YouTube right now.

If you put a Facebook video on your page and a YouTube video on your page, the FB video will be served to many more users news feeds than the YouTube video (I'm talking post reach, not video views here).

The cynic in me suspects the auto video playing and 3 seconds for a view is done on purpose to make people think they are getting more views than they actually are. I've switched off auto play but it's hidden deep down in menus and has a habit of resetting itself.

Of course if you analyse your page insights you can see at which point a viewer dropped off from the video. Very rarely does anyone make it to the end which is why tell businesses, unlike movies and tv, don't save the important/crux of the whole piece right till the end of the video.

2 years, 4 months ago

Oh - and Art, thank you!

2 years, 4 months ago

Hi all. I'm digital editor at 5 live. Really interesting discussion. As a former deputy and news editor at New Media Age, and a contributing digital editor to Marketing Week, I completely get the challenge of accurate reporting (and how multiple methods can muddy waters) having worked in and written about this space for far too long!

The actual play figures for Joy on bbc.co.uk/5live (In Short) are 167,000 (and climbing) - these are people who've listened to or watched the clip. Just under 100,000 watched at least 75%, with the average duration at 1m 43secs. Given the full clip is 2m 23secs long, we can be pretty confident in saying it was a highly engaging piece.

In Short - i.e. on bbc.co.uk - remains our focus, but we (like everyone at the BBC and beyond) are exploring how we use Facebook and other non-BBC platforms to for hosting content natively and for driving referrals back to bbc.co.uk. It’s great that the numbers for Joy – and more recently Bradley Wiggins overtaking a fellow cyclist – are so good, but for the reasons you’ve discussed above the Facebook autoplay feature must be taken into consideration.

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