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By John Helmer, Moscow

Classical music has been one of the features of Russian national identity and patriotic sentiment since the 1917 Revolution, especially among the self-professing intelligentsia of Moscow and St. Petersburg.  That meant Tchaikovsky alongside Pushkin; Shostakovich and Prokofiev beside Gorky and Sholokhov.

Even during the past twenty years, the classical music audience on Russian radio has continued to grow, while in the rest of Europe similar audiences have been dwindling. But now, after five years of war against Russia and contracting state budgets and incomes, are listeners still tuned in? Or is the audience for Russian classical music doomed because the ears are aging, then dying off; or because young ears use digital streaming instead of traditional radio?

Radio Orfei — heir to the Fourth Programme of the Soviet All-Union Radio and since 1991 the state-funded classical music broadcaster – insists its music audience is defying the trend that is eating away at BBC Radio 3, KulturRadio of Germany, and France Musique. But the commercial radio audience measurements for Moscow suggest otherwise, at least right now. They show that Radio Orfei can no longer be counted in the Top-40 of Moscow radio stations. Worse, its audience reach has slipped below one percent of the total radio audience.  By contrast, BBC 3’s audience reach is currently at four percent.

On the other hand, a new report by a London-based consultancy says digital streaming isn’t the death knell. “Despite classical music’s timeline beginning somewhere in medieval times, it feels like its time is about to arrive again,” reports Keith Jopling of Midia Research.    “While the classical music genre accounts for just five percent of the global recorded music market…classicial music is opening up, with ‘mood-based’ playlists on streaming services reaching many millions mor, often younger listeners drawn in by the music’s ability to evoke mood, emotion, or offer something truly different to the more popular genres of the day.”

Midia issued its report in June after surveying 8,000 adult music consumers in the US, UK, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Mexico, and South Korea. The work was sponsored by IDAGIO, an online classical music subscription service. 

The first surprise result is that as a genre classical music doesn’t do as badly as might be expected. It turns out to be the fourth most popular genre, almost equal to Country, and far ahead of R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz, Heavy Metal and the rest.  

Source: https://www.midiaresearch.com/

There are other surprises. Overall, in Midia’s international count, 35% of the music audience  listens to classical music. The biggest audiences, proportionally, are in Mexico and Austria; the German and American audiences lag behind.  The South Koreans lead as the national audience most likely to concentrate on the music by sitting down at home and listening. Majorities of the audiences in other countries play classical music in the background whilst they do other things. 

Source: https://www.midiaresearch.com/

On the international average, the devoted classical music audience (aficionados in the Midia terminology) is more male than female. The difference in enthusiasm and taste between men and women is explained in the charts by their answer to the survey question – how important is the musical genre?  Women turn out to be more eclectic; they shift between genres according to their mood; they also don’t go as often to classical music concerts. Because men are more committed, they are also keener to move from radio to streaming for the classical music performers and performances they want. 

The average age of the male and female audiences is the same – 45. But the biggest group (41%)  is over the age of 55. Still, another 30% of the classical music audience is under 35. According to Midia, “almost one in three consumers aged 25-34 listen to classical… among 20-24 year olds, a quarter of them listen to the genre… The cliché image of classical music fans being older, traditionally minded and closed to other forms of music does not tell an accurate story. Instead, we see ‘traditional’ classical fans being joined by a large number of youthful and digitally savvy consumers, who listen to classical as part of their wide music and cultural tastes.”

Source: https://www.midiaresearch.com/

In Moscow BBC Radio 3 is the state-funded classical music broadcaster most often compared to Radio Orfei. The British audience measurements indicate that, compared to other European state broadcasters,  Radio 3 draws the largest national audience – about 2 million per week, listening for an average of 6 hours per week. Audience reach is the term which audience and ratings surveyors use to mean the exposure of a person or household at least once to a media source measured daily, weekly, or monthly


Source: https://www.rajar.co.uk/ The comparable measurement of BBC Radio 3’s audience in March 2015 showed a weekly reach of 2.084 million; there’s been a slight decline over time of 2%. The audience proportion has remained stable at 4%. The average hours per listener were also stable at 6 hours, with total hours almost unchanged. For the historical comparisons, click to open

Radio Orfei last reported an audience measurement in 2015 of 389,000 per month for Moscow; that represented an uninterrupted rate of growth over the preceding decade.  Radio Orfei’s marketing department conceded that its audience trailed BBC Radio 3 numerically, but was ahead of the French, German, Spanish, Danish and Czech radios.  


Source: http://johnhelmer.org/  Audience reach as reported in the survey means the exposure of a person or household at least once to the identified radio broadcaster measured daily, weekly, or monthly

Alexander Sharikov, a professor of media studies in Moscow,  has compiled a more detailed report of Radio Orfei’s audience characteristics, and of the trends between 2005 and 2015. His report, published last year, can be read here (Russian) here.

On the daily reach measurement, Sharikov confirms the audience growth trend for Orfei between 2005 and 2015:


Sharikov’s comparison of the Russian classical radio with its European peers shows that on the daily and weekly measures, compared to the market total,  Orfei’s audience trails both the British and German radios; measured weekly, Orfei’s audience catches up though it still trails the BBC.

Source: https://gitr.ru/ AQH, Average Quarter-Hour Persons, is the standard survey measurement of the average number of persons listening to a particular radio station for at least five minutes during a 15-minute period; AQH share means the percentage of the AQH for a particular radio station compared to the rest. Audience reach is the term counting the total number of different people or households exposed, at least once, to a medium during a given period.

In 2009, Sharikov reports, an all-Russia opinion poll found that for adults older than eighteen,   20.5% said they liked to listen to classical music broadcasts; 57% said they preferred popular and rock music. By 2016, Sharikov estimated a total population of almost 27 million in the eleven regions (including Moscow and St. Petersburg) in which Radio Orfei can be heard.  He acknowledged that the only available survey data for Orfei’s audience in that area which he was able to analyze came from 2015. While these figures confirmed the near-tripling of the audience over the decade from 2005 to 2015, the daily audience reach by the end of the period was just short of 132,000; that was no more than 1.2% of the total radio audience.

According to Sharikov, the monthly figures look much bigger and better. He estimates monthly reach for Orfei in 2015 to have been about 606,000, or almost 6% of the total audience. The proportion of university students and adults with higher degrees in Orfei’s reach is several percentage  points higher than their proportion in the audience at large. Although this means that classical music may be the choice of the Russian intelligentsia, still, according to Sharikov “the vast majority of the highly educated population of Moscow does not listen to Radio Orfei.”

At present, the Mediascope Radio Index is the standard audience measurement for Moscow’s radio stations; it is the ratings source on which broadcast advertising rates are set.   At the end of 2018 the index was reported on the station reach for the citywide audience. As the two tables which follow show, Radio Orfei failed to register in the top-20 of stations  in 2018, nor in the top-40 in the first quarter of this year.  Daily audience appears to have dropped below the 131,800 level reached in 2015. The proportion of the larger audience has apparently dwindled to less than 1%.


Source: https://basetop.ru// -- reported January 26, 2019


Source: https://mediascope.net/-- report for the first quarter of 2019.

To understand what has happened to Radio Orfei and its audience since 2015, the general and artistic director Irina Gerasimova, and her deputy general director Igor Ovrutsky were asked what they estimate the current daily, weekly and monthly audience figures to be. They were also asked whether the trend is growing or dwindling. By way of explanation of the trend and their expectations for the future, they were asked to say what are the current proportions of young and old in Orfei’s audience, and of listeners receiving the music by digital streaming or on traditional radios. For a week these questions were relayed by telephone and by email. Gerasimova and Ovrutsky refuse to respond. 

Left: Irina Gerasimova, general and artistic director. Right; Igor Ovrutsky, station manager.

NOTE:  Not all the state-paid Russian media think classical music has a future as music. RT reports “the otherwise stuffy world of classical music just can’t get enough” of performers as strippers. This is what the tsars thought was the purpose of the St. Petersburg ballet.


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