LONDON: Weekly commercial radio audiences in the UK have overtaken the BBC for the first time in 15 years, according to the latest official listening figures.

Audience measurement body Rajar released its fourth quarter results for the UK radio market, a study of around 310 individual stations, and reported that the combined reach of commercial stations was 35.1m compared to the BBC's 34.9m.

The last time the BBC reported fewer listeners than commercial radio was in Q4 2000, although the BBC maintained its lead in terms of listeners' time during the quarter with market share of 53.5%, Radiocentre reported.

"Commercial radio stations offer an amazing range of choices for listeners and advertisers. It is great to see this reflected in record audiences," said Siobhan Kenny, CEO of Radiocentre.

"The next few months will see an even greater expansion of content with 18 new national digital stations being launched, providing a genuine alternative to the BBC across all kinds of music and speech and for audiences of all types."

Indeed, the rising popularity of digital radio was another highlight of the Rajar study, suggesting a clear shift in radio listening habits in the UK.

More than 48m listeners aged 15+, or 90% of the adult population, tuned in to their selected radio station each week in Q4 2015, but 56% did so via a digitally enabled receiver – either DAB, TV or online.

The share of all radio listening via a digital platform grew by 3.8 percentage points year-on-year to 41.7% while the share of listening hours attributed to DAB increased by 2.5pp year-on-year to 27.7%.

With 30m UK adults now tuning in to radio via a digitally enabled receiver, average weekly digital listening over the quarter stood at 423m hours, up 10% year-on-year.

DAB radio was the most popular digital device, accounting for 66% of all digital hours and 28% of total hours, while listening via TV represented 12% of digital hours (5% of total hours), and listening online accounted for 16% of digital hours, or 7% of total hours.

And in another development, the report found that 26% of adults said they listen to radio via a mobile phone or tablet at least once a month, representing a rise of 20% year-on-year.

The latest forecast from the AA/Warc Expenditure Report, released this week, expects radio adspend to rise 4.2% this year, following estimated growth of 2.8% in 2015.

Data sourced from Radiocentre, Rajar; additional content by Warc staff