Absolute loses fifth of listeners after dropping Virgin Radio brand

LONDON - Absolute radio's audience shrunk by more than one fifth in Q4 2008, following its rebrand from Virgin Radio in September.

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Clive Dickens Absolute.mp3

The station, which rebranded on 29 September after Virgin Radio's acquisition by Times of India group, posted a 23.6% decline in reach year on year in Q4.

In London, the station's reach is down 7.4% quarter on quarter and 11.2% year on year.

However Clive Dickens, Absolute radio's programme and operations director told Media Week that the decline was expected. He argued that the fall was partially due to misattribution by listeners who fill in the Rajar diaries - despite Absolute's labelling in the Q4 Rajar diaries being supplemented by a bracketed reminder which reads: (was Virgin Radio).

"Rajar is a self completion diary and we know a significant percentage of audiences even last week still believed they were listening to Virgin Radio," he said.

"The reality of the situation is the Absolute brand is in its infancy and the recall of the brand is always going to reflect that change from a 15 year old brand like Virgin Radio."

Dickens stressed he was not looking for a review of the measurement system and that he fully supported Rajar, but said he saw it as a challenge, as the whole industry trades on Rajar numbers.

He insisted that Absolute radio is still on track to hit hits audience target of 3.5m listeners by the end of 2010 or the beginning of 2011. The Absolute network, which also includes its digital stations - Absolute radio Classic Rock and Absolute radio Extreme - currently has an audience of 2.2m.

Elsewhere in the commercial market, Global Radio's Galaxy network experienced a boost in reach and was up 43.7% year on year but down 0.5% on the quarter despite the addition of Galaxy Radio in Scotland to the network.

The Heart Network was up 107.3% in reach year on year. This does not include any of The One Network's rebranded stations yet however. The next Rajars for Q1 2009 will include some of those figures.

Bauer Radio posted a 1% increase in its total reach year on year, moving from 24% Q4 07 to 25% Q4 08. Its Big City Network of local stations was up 1% year on year, recording 29% reach. The total Kiss network was up 7.9% in reach year on year, as was total Magic, at 3.8%.

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