Digital fails to usurp FM as main way to consume Irish radio

Listeners here have stayed loyal to analogue methods, Ipsos MRBI report shows

FM dominates the Irish radio market, in contrast to the experience of some other European countries. Photograph: iStock

Irish radio remains an FM affair despite the advent of multiple digital devices and apps, with the time spent listening through the FM band clocking in at about 15 times higher than the time spent consuming live Irish radio through digital methods.

FM accounts for a whopping 12.5 million of the 13.3 million hours a day Irish listeners collectively spend "tuning in" to Irish radio stations, a report by Ipsos MRBI has found.

Just 5.9 per cent of the time spent listening to Irish radio by people aged 15-plus is done through digital devices. Although this figure is higher among just 15-24-year-olds – standing at 17.2 per cent – the ongoing importance of FM to the industry emerges loud and clear from the Radio in a Digital World report.

The figures are based on the most recent Joint National Listenership Research (JNLR) survey conducted by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of the radio and advertising industry.


The dominance of FM in terms of listening time is partially explained by the fact that people who listen through FM car radios or traditional home sets tend to do so for longer each day than people who listen through smartphones and other digital devices. The reach of FM also remains way out in front, however, with almost 77 per cent of Irish people listening to Irish radio on FM each day compared with 8.4 per cent doing so through digital devices. Digital reach has increased, but only from 7.2 per cent in 2015.

"Routines are very hard to break," said Damian Loscher, managing director of Ipsos MRBI. "Around the edges, there are behaviour changes, but they are happening relatively slowly."

Radio apps

Only 20 per cent of adults have downloaded a radio station app, according to the report. Among digital devices, mobiles are the most popular for listening to radio with a reach of 4.8 per cent, followed by PCs/laptops on 1.9 per cent, smart speakers on 1.7 per cent, listening through a TV set on 0.6 per cent and Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) devices on just 0.5 per cent.

Ipsos MRBI began tracking the reach of smart speakers for radio consumption in January 2020, and its research up until the end of September suggests 66,000 Irish people use such speakers for this purpose. Mr Loscher said he suspected they have since overtaken PCs/laptops for radio listening and that this will be confirmed once the face-to-face JNLR survey can resume post-lockdown.

Mr Loscher said digital had made only modest inroads in the Irish market, in part "because FM is so big". This stands in contrast to some European countries including Norway, which controversially switched all national FM radio to digital-only in 2017; and Switzerland, which is eyeing a complete switch to digital by 2024.

UK situation

In the UK, where DAB technology has been adopted by listeners, digital means overtook analogue consumption of radio three years ago. The UK government previously said this milestone would trigger a review of FM radio, but there is little sign that it will pursue a switch-off plan in the near future.

The Ipsos MRBI report also highlights that the daily reach of Irish radio remains ahead of the leading audio streaming service Spotify, even among younger listeners. Some 69 per cent of 15-24-year-olds listen to Irish radio daily, while 38 per cent use Spotify.

“Radio is a ridiculously robust medium,” Mr Loscher said.

While the proliferation of smart speakers and increasingly sophisticated car audio systems may have some impact on FM listening in the next few years, any regulatory intervention similar to that in Norway is likely to be “much further down the road”.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics