The RAJAR audience figures have just been released for the last quarter of 2010, and as always, there’s plenty of excellent analysis online from the likes of James Cridland, Matt Deegan and my former colleague Adam Bowie.

While mobile provides a particular challenge for monitoring due to the split between FM and data streaming depending on the phone and the listener, it does provide a figure for listeners who say they’ve listened via a mobile device, and overall it’s up 4.1 percent on the previous quarter to 13.3 percent, with the highest percentage at 30.7 percent for 15-24 year olds.

And yet in terms of the actual hours consumed on mobile handsets, it’s a tiny proportion of the total hours of radio listening, as noted by James Cridland, so why would radio stations bother releasing mobile radio applications? This question has particular relevance in light of the recent data limit introduced by T-Mobile, which highlights how data usage can be problematic for stations in the UK.

There’s a simple, if counter-intuitive reason…

It’s not about listening

Obviously advertising and sponsorship deals are still predominantly sold on reach, or in this case downloads and usage, and this will continue to be the case for a long while, even as brands and advertisers move towards more targeted and effective models.

But there are two more key reasons for producing good quality streaming radio applications:

— Discovery:

The app economy has appeared as a direct result of consumer smartphone adoption, whether you use an iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Nokia handset. And the first thing you tend to do with your new phone is get online and see what you can download for it – music has always been a popular search term and applications are no different.

So although it’s particularly useful for genre-specific stations, anyone can benefit from an application which is promoted and marketed effectively via the app stores, and given the millions downloading new applications on a daily basis, the cost of development of a fairly simple application is pretty cost-effective when compared to a significant advertising spend, for example.

That mobile user might only listen to the application once for a few minutes, but if they like what they here, the likelihood is that they’ll reappear via DAB, FM or TV listening in the near future. And it’s also a great entry point for other digital products which are cross-promoted, such as podcasts, or non-listening applications.

— Shareability:

Everyone is seemingly aware of the value of online word-of-mouth promotion. When friends recommend a product or service, you’re more likely to rush to it.

But that same mechanism has been in existence since the beginnings of mankind – we just didn’t have ways to measure it until it popped up via Facebook, Twitter, blogs and forums.

So how do you encourage people to share radio waves with their friends? By using the one device which is highly personal and with them 24/7.

If I want to explain to someone why I’m a fan of a particular radio station, I don’t have to spend ages describing it, or trying to get them to go home and switch on their radio (by which time they’ll have forgotten the name or the frequency). I can simply give them my phone and headphones, open an app, and let them sample it for themselves without any particular effort on either part.

Again, that tiny amount of listening time isn’t likely to move the needle on mobile streaming statistics, but if they enjoy the station, they’re going to reappear under the DAB, FM or TV column for the future.

I completely agree with the analysis that radio is a multiplatform product, and that digital streaming on both the fixed internet and mobile platforms is nowhere near a core way to enjoy radio broadcasts – for live radio which is cost-effective for both broadcaster and listener, you need a transmitter. The use of home and office wifi via your mobile may hide some mobile listening, but even then, it’s still a small minority at the moment.

But in terms of digital discovery, shareability, and the consumption of other digital listening options such as podcasts, or increasing interactivity with listeners via non-streaming applications, then the most obvious and effective gateway is likely to always be via the obvious audio route.

Dan Thornton is a freelance specialist in digital content and digital marketing, having worked online for over 10 years. His blog is at