2022 in commercial radio – a year of innovation and change

Matt Payton, CEO, Radiocentre, looks back at 2022 for RadioToday.

At the end of the year it’s natural to look back and think about everything that has changed over the past twelve months, personally, professionally and in the world around us. Each year has its own landmark moments. But 2022 felt especially momentous, with upheaval and historic events coming one after the other. 

It’s easy to forget that at the start of the year we were still living with Covid restrictions and the ‘partygate’ scandal that would bring down the Johnson government had yet to emerge. However, by October we were on our third Prime Minister and fourth Chancellor in a matter of few months, reflecting the political upheaval and economic turbulence that followed. These changes alone made 2022 unique. The fact that this year also saw the death of Her Majesty the Queen after 70 years on the throne meant that it felt truly unprecedented and historic.

Radio comes into its own during these turbulent times, playing a crucial role for millions of people and not only providing trusted news and information, but also companionship and entertainment. We also saw this during the pandemic where audiences came to rely on their favourite stations even more.

The different roles (or ‘need states’) delivered by radio and digital audio were considered in detail by Radiocentre’s new Generation Audio report. This delved into the complementary roles played by live radio, podcasts and streaming, which goes a long way to explain why listening across all audio has continued to grow and outstrip expectations.

For commercial radio, this helped underpin its continued popularity and led to some landmark moments this year, where it posted record audience reach of 38 million people each week and its highest ever share of listening at 51%. Advertising revenues also bounced back ahead of pre-pandemic levels. In 2021 total income was £718.7m, which was a new record high. Despite the economic uncertainty this is expected to grow again for 2022.

This backdrop is cause for optimism for radio, especially when you add into the mix the innovations from radio groups in podcasting, subscription radio, brand extensions and digital advertising solutions, along with the migration of audiences to online platforms. 

Yet we can’t afford to be complacent, especially considering the challenges and threats on the horizon. The fact that around a quarter of all radio listening is online (and over half of that is now on smart speakers) is a testament to the adaptability of radio and provides great opportunities to connect with audiences and advertisers.

However, it is also a step into unknown territory if tech companies like Google and Amazon, which dominates the UK smart speaker market, have the power to intermediate radio. For this reason, together with the BBC, we have been asking Government to establish a set of ground rules on how radio content can be offered, accessed and commercialised. A Media Bill addressing this is now expected in 2023.

This is something where we are working in partnership with the BBC due to our shared interest. Although this doesn’t change the fact that we also think some of the BBC’s own activities need to be more tightly regulated by Ofcom, given its status as the biggest single operator in UK audio.

Alongside these major policy issues, Radiocentre continues to do all it can to help provide resources and evidence of radio’s effectiveness for advertisers, especially during difficult economic times. Our advertising team do this brilliantly, from rolling out research, trade marketing to running our Tuning In events. While our clearance team are leading the battle on unnecessary terms and conditions in radio ads, as well as ensuring radio remains trusted and verifying that all ads are legal, decent, honest and truthful by clearing nearly 29,000 scripts every year. 

We at Radiocentre want to play our part securing the value of radio for the future, so it is vital we build on all this work in the year ahead. Radio and audio have continued to succeed in a complex and fragmented media world by evolving, innovating and investing in the future. That work doesn’t stop now, especially if we want to have more record years and enhance the UK’s reputation as the best radio and audio market in the world. 

So all that is left for me to say on behalf of everyone at Radiocentre, is we wish you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year. You can read more about what we have been up to in 2022 in our review of the year.