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A record month for Audio and Music's websites

David Vitty, Fearne Cotton and Chris Moyles

Following the headlines in March's iPlayer stats pack that we published last month, I wanted to share some more details and insights about BBC Network Radio's interactive performance, as it was a record month for us. They say events drive reach, and plenty happened on the Radio websites in March that helps prove the adage. Reach to all BBC Radio sites hit 3.7 million average weekly unique browsers*. And if you factor in A&M's music and events websites, such as Music and Radio 1's Big Weekend, we recorded an overall reach for all BBC Audio and Music sites of 4.3 million UK average weekly unique browsers. That's an all-time high for us.

Online interest in Chris Moyles' marathon 52-hour broadcast for Comic Relief was a big part of this, pushing traffic to the Radio 1 site to a record 2.4m average weekly UK unique browsers. Live footage from the studio, carried on the Red Button, attracted 2.84 million viewers. And then there was Fearne Cotton. Her offer to appear in a swimsuit if the total raised by Moyles topped £2 million caused a surge of traffic that helped crash the Radio 1 site for a brief time. So, events do drive reach, and we've learnt some useful lessons there about capacity planning. On top of this, there have been about half a million clicks to view the section of the programme again via the website, and at Radio 1's official channel on YouTube.

We've had a superb month for live online listening. And although live listening via the internet still accounts for a relatively small amount of all digital consumption, we know people find it convenient to stream radio at their desks: compared to consumption via analogue platforms, online radio listening doesn't fall away so dramatically after radio's 'usual' breakfast time peak. In March, we recorded 29 million requests for live streams, 18% up on this time last year. Record performances across BBC network radio contributed to this, including 5 live sports extra, which nabbed 1.3m live stream requests for its World Cup Cricket coverage. Did I say... events drive reach?

We broke more records with our podcasts, delivering 12.3m successful downloads to UK subscribers in March. The Archers topped the list of our daily podcasts, with Scott Mills in second place. Interestingly, although Radio 4's landmark series A History of the World in 100 Objects ended last autumn, its podcasts remain popular enough to make it the 5th most popular daily podcast title in March. This is evidence of the demand there is for making podcasts available for longer and of the public value we can create by opening up the archive. First indications from the Desert Island Discs archive are also very encouraging. I've just had a first sight of April's podcast results - they're looking equally promising, including several hundred thousand successful downloads of our Royal Wedding 2011 podcast. This included a lot of interest from users in English-speaking countries around the world such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. It's another good example of how events drive reach.

A final, encouraging thing to note is the steady growth in reach to A&M's websites optimised for mobile devices. We've done a lot of work over the past 2 years to improve the usability of those sites, including automatically tweaking the pages to suit the device in question, and adding the ability to stream live radio for many devices. Devices are becoming easier to use too, and the performance since the start of this year suggests that the effort is now paying off: significant numbers of users now accessing A&M's content via mobile. March was a great month for this. There was growth across the board, with new sites for Radio 4's Desert Island Discs and Radio 1's Big Weekend contributing to the increase. And there was especially strong growth for Radio 1 and 1Xtra, where all mobile devices are now covered with key services and where fans used their phones to join in the fun with Moyles & Co for Red Nose Day.  Which all goes to show... well, you know what goes here.

* Unique Browsers: this is the term we use to describe a single computer accessing our websites. It's not the same as measuring 'people', and it's not a perfect proxy - but is the closest we have for now. One 'unique browser' is counted for every distinct 'cookie' which has visited a website within a given timeframe. In the BBC, this timeframe is one week. A cookie is a small piece of information that a server sends to your computer to identify that computer on its return. Whenever you clear your cookies, as some people regularly do, your computer is issued with a new cookie when you return to a website.

Alan Phillips is senior business manager, BBC Audio & Music Interactive


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am posting here because, since the closure of the iPlayer Forum, there seems to be no way to raise technical issues associated with internet radio. Two queries placed via your contact form have elicited no improvement or worthwhile response.
    Radio5Live streams via the Reciva portal are subject to split-second breaks every few seconds. This has been happening for the last two weeks. Apart from attempting to raise this with the BBC I have also tried to raise the matter with Reciva (no response) and Sangean (the manufacturer of my IRs) although the problem is not associated with them, being reported by people around the world AND in the UK.
    Current issues associated with the BBC (R5L, On Demand, AAC streams, etc.) can be found here:
    Sorry to hijack your blog, but what else can I do?

  • Comment number 3.

    We have not had any general postings of problems relating to the streams mentioned in your post - indeed, I have just tested all the streams to make doubly sure nothing has slipped through the net. I do not experience the issue that is described, however I am aware of the timeout issues regarding older Reciva firmware and our Windows Media servers and I wonder if this is related. I would recommend you speak to Reciva in the first instance, and check that your devices are updated to the latest Firmware available. Unless someone can give me the URL to a stream that they can hear not working both on their device and on their computer - then it is difficult to determine what the issue is. You can email me at firstname dot lastname

  • Comment number 4.

    Sorry - I just realised that I forgot to sign off that reply -

    Alan Ogilvie
    Platform Manager

  • Comment number 5.

    A few points, Alan:

    Interesting to hear you have settled on the new metric of 'average weekly unique browsers'. Given that you are receiving approx 9.5m iPlayer requests per week (= 38m/4), this looks like the average visit results in approx 2.5 (= 9.5m/3.7m) requests, which doesn't seem to correlate well with the 'over 4 programmes' as reported in the March performance pack pdf.

    Page 9 of the pdf says 0.4m users per day, but I can't see how that aligns with the page 11 figure of 1.9m per week.

    On the 75% live versus 25% on-demand catch-up split, can you talk me through the sums for an indication of what the split is (taking Radio 4 for example) between live versus catchup where the live includes non-iPlayer (i.e. 'steam radio') usage.

    Finally, do you have any indication, once a programme has been requested, of the proportion of the programme actually listened to?


  • Comment number 6.

    #5 Hello Russ, I asked Alan for a reply to your comment. This is what he wrote:

    "We switched to average weekly unique browsers back in 2007. As I said in the post, 'Unique Browser' is an imperfect proxy as a measure of the number of people coming to your sites, but it's the best we have at the moment. One thing we were able to do, however, was to move to a weekly measure instead of monthly as a way to counter the effect of cookie churn. Here is the original BBC press release we published at the time. The 3.7m figure you refer to is the March figure for entire world traffic to our radio station websites – that's not the same as the reach just to our audio streams. The iPlayer pack shows that for radio, average weekly requests from UK users in March were 8.54 million, and average weekly users 1.88m. Divide one by the other and you get 4.5m requests per user.

    Turning to the daily vs weekly unique browser data, the 1.9m figure on p11 is for just one week in March (other weeks in March didn't do quite so well!). However, the point here is that the unique reach figure over the week does not include repeat visits during that period from the same browser. So, assuming at least one browser visits more than once during the week, the weekly reach will always be less than the sum of the daily reach figures... (cont)

  • Comment number 7.

    (continued - had to split because of character limits)

    "...Unfortunately we can't mix our server-based measurement of requests for live and on demand content with what I take you to mean measurement of live linear radio. The latter is measured by RAJAR's diary system, which is a very different methodology. So we'd be trying to mix apples and bananas. What I can tell you is that although March showed an overall 25:75 split between on demand and live requests, it varies by network. Speech-based networks tend to have a greater proportion of on demand requests compared to the music networks. So, for example, 16% of Radio 1's total online listening requests in March were on demand, whilst for Radio 4 it was 57%.

    Finally, as to the proportion of the programme consumed, yes we do capture that data. But with more than 1,000 programmes made available every week, it's not something I can give a generalised ‘one-size fits all' answer to. Producers use this data to help them understand what keeps people engaged with our content when streamed online."


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