Capital investigates fall in London listeners

Capital Radio has called in an outside research company to investigate the disastrous drop in listeners to its flagship Capital FM station in London.

The company has been struggling to understand the latest quarterly listening data, published in October, which showed that Capital FM's market share had plummeted to just 8.8 per cent, its narrowest ever lead over its nearest rival in London, Heart 106.2, which is owned by Chrysalis. The number of listeners are the key statistic used to price advertising slots, so the figures from Rajar, the radio industry body, set off alarm bells in the City.

Capital has now commissioned Leapfrog, a qualitative and quantitative research group, to see whether a break-down of the figures shows where the problem lies. Leapfrog, based in Windsor, will look within Capital FM's core listener group of 15 to 44 year olds, to see which part of it has been switching off.

The Rajar figures showed that Capital FM had an audience of 2.6 million for the three months to mid-September, down 124,000 listeners on the previous quarter and a fall of 267,000 year-on-year. Total listening hours for the station fell by more than 20 per cent on last year. Worse, listeners to the key Chris Tarrant breakfast programme fell from 1.76 million to 1.6 million. The show is said to account for up to 15 per cent of group profits.

Some people at the company have suggested that Capital FM is losing listeners on the outskirts of London to other stations because of its focus on serving central London.

Kelsey Offord, head of strategic marketing at Capital, said the Leapfrog study was part of an annual health check the company performs on its main stations. She said it was not designed to look at an inner versus outer London split.

"This is internal research. They [Leapfrog] will interrogate the Rajar figures for clues. They will look to see if there are any differences within our key demographic," she said.

The listening statistics concerned City analysts so much that JP Morgan, for instance, cut its earnings forecast for 2003 by 16 per cent as a result.

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