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Deep Dive 28 Apr 2020 - 4 min read

Market "completely missed" COVID-19 radio surge, now in catchup says Omnicom’s Jo Dick, SCA’s Brian Gallagher

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

Sometimes the market gets it wrong and widespread assumptions that COVID-19 lockdowns were decimating radio listening is a textbook example. Although not captured in radio’s “diary currency”, the usual breakfast and drive primetime segments have been replaced by millions of users live streaming via the web, apps and catch-up shows through the day. Here's how reality beat perception, eventually.

You need to know this:


  • Omnicom Media Group’s head of audio and OOH partnerships Jo Dick agrees with SCA’s Chief Sales Officer Brian Gallagher that “the market got it wrong” on radio listening during COVID-19.
  • Advertisers and agencies understandably but incorrectly assumed radio audiences would be pummelled because of COVID-19 lockdowns and the abrupt end to daily work commutes and listening
  • Instead, the radio commute has been replaced by “audio companionship” through the day, led by surging digital channel listening
  • SCA has circa 1.2 million users streaming SCA content daily and real-time audience listening has already changed how the broadcaster programs. Breakfast slots, for instance, have extended until 10am as households shift their work and live-from-home patterns
  • Although broadcast buyers now want to fast-track an overhaul of the diary measurement system - and more industry-wide collaboration on digital audience data - digital ad buyers are pouring in regardless, trading on impressions Gallagher says
  • Although not quite a proxy for the diary currency, Dick says the digital audience data is “giving us confidence there’s actually more audiences there than before. When the lockdown started and obviously more people were not leaving their houses, some of the commentary that came back to me pretty much immediately was people must not be listening as much to breakfast and drive. Sessions must be down. We went back to the stations to ask what data points they had to underpin those audiences were still there.  
  • Gallagher says not all groups are as proactive as OMG. “For those media buyers that weren’t as proactive as Jo’s team in really trying to research the facts, we’ve been pushing out shape-of-day data to ensure they have that knowledge. We have an extraordinary amount of people listening to us on their computers, apps and increasingly smart speakers, which is a real marketplace for us”
  • Gallagher says in-stream advertising across SCA’s digital audiences and devices is seeing a “tripling in our briefs” from digital media buyers and advertisers           
  • Jo Dick says COVID-19 is the “catalyst for change” to radio’s diary measurement system. She wants to see overnight ratings and data within a year. “We’ve got to start to future-proof that methodology of going out and collecting diaries,” says Dick
  •  Gallagher agrees. “The industry is definitely up for changing the currency, which is why we’re well advanced in terms of the design of a new process. It’s one of the things that has put a handbrake on us”
  • Listen to the podcast below for a lively debate on how radio is going "audio" digital and seeking to state its credentials as a through-the-funnel media channel - from brand building to demand generation. 

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