Tomorrow, the audience figures for UK radio are released, and amongst those expecting an awkward time of it are the team at Absolute Radio, or Virgin as what it was called. They're expecting a large drop in audience:
Tomorrow's figures are expected to show a drop of about 10% to 15%. Absolute Radio would not comment on the size of the drop until the Rajar figures are officially published tomorrow at 7am.
However, management at Absolute Radio, who met advertising agencies today, said the station remained on course to hit its two-year audience target of 3.5 million listeners.
It's not entirely clear how the collapse of an already-declining audience is "on course" for a massive increase, unless the idea is to cull most of the old audience to make room for new ones. Like when you knock down twenty Victorian terrace houses and cram in thirty modern semis in place.
Apparently, the drop is because of the rebrand:
"We know from our internal research that a significant proportion of our audience still believe they are listening to a radio station branded Virgin," said the Absolute Radio programme and operations director, Clive Dickens.
"We are 15 weeks into our new brand as opposed to 15 years of Virgin Radio and 40 years of the Virgin brand. There has never been a rebrand of this scale in commercial radio before."
This is a bit confusing, though: if the people who are still listening think they're still listening to Virgin, does that mean the ones who have deserted are the ones who did realise the station was now something else entirely? It doesn't entirely give you confidence for the future if the people listening haven't noticed that it's changed.
It's also going to be a bit of an uphill sell to advertisers, isn't it? "Our audience apparently haven't noticed that for the last fifteen weeks we've been using a different name every ten minutes. Would you like to give us some money so that we can tell them about your product?"
It's all down to the RAJAR diary system:
Dickens said: "We strongly support the Rajar diary system, but knowing the name of the station you are listening to instinctively off the top of your head is one of the most important barometers for completing that diary.
"We feel there is a really strong set of explanations as to why we expect to receive a number that has gone backwards rather than forwards in the first 15 weeks. We know it is underreporting. The important thing for a media company like us is to stay focused on the end goal."
Perhaps. But if a listener goes to tick 'Virgin' in his diary, and it isn't there, shouldn't they then go "that's odd... oh, they're called Absolute now, aren't they?" After fifteen weeks, surely they should?