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The future of radio advertising

There’s no denying, 2019 was the year of the podcast, so where does that leave radio? Marwan Al-Hashimi, Empire's founder, shares his outlook for 2020.

Radio Advertising

At the start of the last decade, radio was in its prime. It was peoples’ number one source of entertainment and news. Whether it was what they were listening to in the car on the way to work, in the office or supermarket and, of course, on the drive home, radio was a constant. However, with the rise of digital entertainment, cars now all come standard with Bluetooth and auxiliary connectivity and more and more people are embracing podcasts and internet and music apps. Does this mean radio faces an inevitable decline?

Counterintuitively, there still appears to be a huge audience around the globe that relies on FM radio. In the US alone, 272 million people still listen to radio (from a total population of 330 million). Even in this internet age, radio still rules the world. And, that’s because it was traditionally always a source of local information. It has been passive and catchy – its biggest differentiator from other media. And today, that still holds true.
When Apple radio arrived, many said that this meant the end for radio. But clearly it didn’t, and that’s because people want radio in their content mix. They want to hear their local content, information and news.

Audible advertising
The problem I believe is that the word ‘radio’ is somewhat misleading. What radio is, in its purest form, is audible content. So FM transmitting, DAB, internet, satellite, podcasts are all in the audio business. And from what research tells us, people clearly like variety in their audio mix. That being said, it would be foolish for radio not to change with the times, and the rise of the podcast should not be ignored.

Podcasts VS Radio
In a recent survey conducted by Censuswide, it stated 19% of the adult UAE population is tuning in at least weekly to podcasts. In listenership figures, the UAE is on par with the UK, and closely behind the US, which is currently the world’s premier podcast market. 93% of people who listen to a podcast finish it, which means that there is a huge potential for brands to tell their stories to a captive audience.

With the average daily smartphone usage in the UAE clocking up to 6.5 hours, podcast consumption has been able to slide seamlessly in to the digital era and reach many new adopters. UAE show’s such as The Dukkan Show attracts a monthly listenership of up to 20,000, whilst other podcasts such as The Two Vegans, When Women Win and Gulf News: Dirhams & Dollars are increasing in popularity.
Podcasts and internet radio are just other ways of consuming content and there’s no reason a radio station couldn’t offer all of that. A great example of this is Dubai Eye 103.8, which now also offers internet radio as well as podcasts. It’s not alienating its longtime listeners, but they are embracing the new age. This approach is delighting their existing audience and attracting new, younger listeners too.

Radio advertising’s evolution
At the end of the day, radio, or any other medium will always have a role. Just like people will continue to listen to content, they will continue to view content. As the media industry, it is our job to keep up with how they prefer to do so.

The radio reality is that in this current climate, some radio networks continue to grow while unfortunately, others struggle to keep up with change and technology and are not creating engaging content with quality coverage. This, of course, is affecting the make-up of the radio landscape. Radio stations have shut down and I foresee more stations closing their doors if they don’t embrace change. That being said, good quality stations will continue to sustain and grow because their listeners are still engaged. Unlike print, they aren’t going anywhere.


Radio is essential for all media plans because it’s cost-effective, has a high reach and delivers impact. In difficult markets, it flexes its cost-effective side. In a strong market, its compelling delivery cuts through the clutter to deliver reach and memorability.

Of course, advertisers need to focus on the right stations for their audience and the products or services they’re promoting. Agencies and clients often choose stations based on personal preference or price point – it’s an easy trap to fall in to. Neither of these ensure you are going to reach your target audience. And if you don’t, does price or personal preference really matter?
Although a lack of innovation may see some stations closing, I still foresee the radio industry growing in 2020, even if slowly in this challenging economic climate. In comparison to print and TV which will both continue to decline. Because of its cost effectiveness, I foresee an even bigger appetite for spend on radio in the coming year. With the loss of some stations, agile stations have an opportunity to enjoy a bigger piece of the radio pie.

Would you like to chat to us about radio advertising? Feel free to contact us.