Contrary to popular belief, radio is not exactly dying. In reality, it still commands the attention of a significant chunk of the population in both the US and the UAE.
It's easy to get carried away by the hype digital media services like Netflix and others bring to the table.
Even in the US, where this kind of media has years to marinate and seep into the culture, radio (and TV) still commands a sizeable chunk of attention spans.
Radio, the 21st-century underdog, even eclipses TV in terms of weekly reach, according to a recent Nielsen study reported by Statista.
(Graph by Statista)
According to Nielsen's findings, 227 million Americans aged 18 and older listen to the radio at least once a week, equaling a reach of 92% of the adult population. Television came in a close second with a weekly reach of 87%, while 78% of U.S. adults now use apps or browse the web on a smartphone in a given week.
"While radio does win in terms of sheer reach, TV remains unparalleled with respect to average daily usage," Statista said. "According to Nielsen’s measurements, U.S. adults spend an average of 4 hours and 21 minutes a day watching TV, which is more than 2.5 times the amount of time they listen to the radio."
"Even though the rise of smartphones and streaming services has changed the way people listen to music radically, there is still one place where the good old radio still reigns supreme: the automobile," the statistics aggregator continued. "According to Edison Research, 52% of American drivers listen to the radio most often while in the car, while only 15% prefer to listen to music they own (be it physically or digitally) and 12% listen to online audio, e.g. using a streaming service or online radio."
(Infographic by Statista)
MENA still traditionally-inclined, media-wise
Regionally, with the predilection for traditional radio and TV, TV channels like MBC and radio channels like Dubai Eye still capture our interest.
In Q4 2018, a Nielsen study found that radio remains exceptionally strong in the UAE, with a total reach of 93%, where listeners logged 61.5 million hours of radio listening across all seven Emirates in an average week, with each listener tuning in for a weekly average of 7 hours and 58 minutes.
Radio remains pretty much a staple of 9-5 work culture. The study found that radio usage peaks between 7am and 10am (morning commute), 2pm and 4pm (school pickup) and 6pm and 10pm (end of workday commute and drive to recreation destinations) during weekdays, with consumption dropping by 50% on weekends.
Radio reach and time spent listening were found to vary by location, with 91.8% of people in Sharjah listening for 9 hours and 13 minutes, while 90.1% in Dubai listened for 7 hours and 58 minutes. In Abu Dhabi, 99.9% listened for 6 hours and 34 minutes.
The radio market has become much more aggressive
Despite formidable listener figures, increasing competition, mounting costs and stagnating advertising money have put pressure on the radio sector.
Last month, UAE-based Indian Malayalam radio station Asianet shut down operations, the fourth Malayalam station to shut down in three years, Gulf News reported. It had been running for 18 years, and one of the first of its kind.
K.K. Moideen Koya, the founding programme director of Asianet Radio, cited to Gulf News increasing competition in the Malayalam radio market, mirrored by unchanged advertiser revenue that has had to be shared by all stations in this niche field.
He also mentioned that “the fee [to use frequency] has been increasing every year."
"We are paying up to AED 4 million ($1.089 million) [in] licence fee[s] per annum, which is not affordable in the current market conditions,” K. Chandrasenan, managing director of Abu Dhabi-based Pravasi Bharathi 810 AM, told Gulf News.
It would seem that in the current UAE radio climate, only stations with major funding can stay afloat, as costs and competition rise.