BBC World Service audiences hit record levels

MUMBAI: BBC World Service now attracts 163 million weekly radio listeners to its 33 language services – a record audience for the world's best-known and most respected international broadcaster, according to figures announced today.

The new weekly audience figure, compiled from independent surveys around the globe, is an increase of 14 million on last year's figure of 149 million. In India there are now 17.6 million listeners - a rise of 1.2 million. This continues the trend of increasing audiences in the country and follows a rise of 4.8 million last year. This is the second annual increase in the country and follows a dramatic drop in overall radio listening in India and a ban by Indian regulators on local FM stations carrying news from foreign broadcasters. This resulted in a drop of over 12 million listeners between 1995 and 2002.

The new figure equates to around 50 per cent more listeners than any comparable international broadcaster. This new figure breaks the previous BBC World Service record audience of 153 million in 2001.

BBC World Service director Nigel Chapman says, "This record-breaking audience is an outstanding achievement against the background of fierce competition, fast-developing technology and rapidly changing audience demands in many media markets. The challenges ahead for BBC World Service remain formidable, as they do for all broadcasters, but this is a strong and welcome indication that we are not only strengthening our impact in priority areas but are flourishing in the multimedia age."

More than 10 million extra listeners are listening on the higher quality audibility of FM through partner stations and the BBC's own relays around the world. BBC World Service is now available on high quality FM sound in a record 150 capital cities out of a total of around 190 – up from 145 last year.

Shortwave and medium wave listening also showed an increase of around five million, particularly in rural areas in parts of East Africa and SE Asia (Burma, India and Nepal), which are among priority areas for BBC World Service.

The BBC World Service audience figure contributes to a combined record global weekly audience of more than 210 million individuals to all the BBC's international news services – BBC World Service radio, BBC World television and the international-facing online news service; some of whom are using all three media.

This combined figure includes a record 65 million weekly viewers for BBC World – the commercially-funded international television news channel. Online audiences to the BBC's international facing news sites have also shown significant rises.

The sites attracted around 500 million page impressions a month in March 2006 compared to 324 million page impressions in March 2005. This is a rise of over 50 per cent over the year. The site now attracts around 33 million unique users each month, up from around 21 million unique users a year ago.

Global audiences to BBC World Service English language broadcasts have risen to 42 million, up from 39 million last year. BBC World Service's audiences in Africa and the Middle East are now 73.6 million – up 7.6 million. An even bigger increase of 7.9 million BBC radio listeners was recorded in the Asia and Pacific Region of the world which now has 61.1 million in total.

Burma - Measured audiences in Burma rose by 6.7 million listeners to 7.1 million. This rise is as a result of improved access for the independent survey takers, who are now able to measure audiences nationwide rather than sample cities.

Nigeria - BBC services in Nigeria gained 3.6 million listeners, raising the total to 23.8 million. This figure means the BBC has more than regained the 1.5 million listeners it lost last year after a Government ban on local FM stations rebroadcasting news programmes from foreign broadcasters in 2004. Listeners have turned to shortwave broadcasts, as the ban is still in place.

Tanzania - Listeners to the Swahili Service in Tanzania rose by 2.7 million to 12.9 million. This follows a drop of 1.3 million last year.

Nepal - There was an increase in listeners to the BBC Nepalese service of 2.6 million to 3.7 million, fueled by recent events.

Indonesia - Audiences in Indonesia rose again. There are now 6.4 million listeners - a rise of two million. This follows a rise of 1.2 million listeners last year.

Bangladesh - Audiences fell in Bangladesh by 4.4 million to 8.6 million. This follows a rise of 2.6 million last year. The BBC is working with Bangladesh National Radio to develop FM distribution in Bangladesh.

Pakistan - Audiences in Pakistan fell by 0.9 million to 8.5 million. BBC World Service is looking to develop local FM partnerships to mitigate this loss.

The new World Service global audience estimate is derived from a programme of independent audience research over a four year cycle. This year's figure incorporates new data from 26 countries – some 71 per cent of this year's audience (some 66 per cent of last year's audience).

It includes data on people listening to World Service directly via short wave, MW, FM satellite, cable and the internet or via local broadcasting partners on MW and FM. The surveys are carried out by independent market research groups and comply with international standards of audience research.

There is some crossover of audiences who use both shortwave/medium wave and FM methods of listening. But listeners who use more than one method of listening are only counted once.

BBC World Service is funded through Grant-in-Aid from the Foreign Office. The grant for 2006/7 is £245 million.

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