Edison Research

Combining its top 10 research findings from 2019 to date into a single presentation, Edison Research offers a fact-filled story of how Americans are using audio today and how that might evolve looking forward. The research firm posted the slides, ethnographic videos and script from the presentation that Director of Research Laura Ivey first made at the RAIN Summit in Dallas Sept. 24.

While many of the findings have previously been reported by Inside Radio and via the annual Infinite Dial study, the “Top 10” also unearths data from the firm’s Share of Ear study that is not released publicly, but which Edison occasionally publishes findings from. One such finding stands in sharp contrast to the Infinite Dial finding that the number of people listening to online audio continues to grow: Share of Ear shows AM/FM listening still occurs almost exclusively over-the-air. Today, 92% of AM/FM listening is still taking place over the air, not online. The same study shows “no growth at all in the portion of radio listening that happens online since the end of 2017,” Ivey notes.

To put this in context, consider that in 2014 only 5% of AM/FM listening was taking place via streaming. “In the past 5 and a half years we have growth in streaming services, the explosion of smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, the inexpensive access to unlimited data plans, and all of these changes have resulted in an increase of AM/FM listening done via streaming… by a whopping three percentage points,” Ivey offers. Attempting to explain why listeners aren’t moving to stream radio content, Ivey suggests it can be difficult to figure out how to listen to favorite FM stations on a non-radio device. In addition, a great deal of listening still takes place in the car, where ubiquitous radio listening is much more likely to be over-the-air vs. streamed. But she also predicts listening to AM/FM will decrease “unless people start choosing radio content on their phones or computers or smart speakers in bigger numbers.”

Despite a lengthening list of audio alternatives, Edison data shows radio continues to have the dominant share of ear, with 44% of all audio listening. But the results vary significantly by demo. Among those 55+, 63% of all listening goes to radio, with 47% for those 35-54. But 13-34-year olds – who make up one-third of the 13-plus population – give 27% of their listening time to radio. “Regardless of radio’s amazing programming, music discovery and other benefits, we can’t ignore the role that device plays in this listening statistic for young people,” Ivey stresses.

That dovetails into another Top 10 finding: 26% of all audio listening is done on a smartphone, up from 18% in 2014. In an environment where audio is increasingly consumed on mobile devices, radio the content producer needs to divorce itself from the delivery vehicle, Ivey contends. “We have to recognize the separation of the radio audio product from the delivery mechanism of frequency modulation,” she says.

Illustrating her point with a video clip of parents and teens discussing radio from a 2019 Country Radio Seminar presentation, Ivey says: “We have to ask ourselves if younger demographics understand what radio has to offer beyond being a perceived music delivery service (filled with commercials) so that they would choose a radio product… Future radio listeners, as with any audio service, streaming, podcasts, etc., need to be educated about the benefits if they are expected to choose your service.”

The Top 10 includes a bevy of other findings, ranging from social media – the younger you are, the more likely you are to have been unfriended on social media – and smart speakers – those who already own one are much more likely to be interested in voice technology in-car than the general population. Podcasting is also part of the Top 10, especially now that the medium has passed the 50% penetration marker. Part of that growth is because podcast listeners are encountering podcasts in places one might not anticipate. Almost 70% of rookie podcast listeners told Edison researchers they listened to a podcast on YouTube and more than half said they listened to a video of a podcast on social media. “This challenges our view of podcasting as purely an audio product and makes us realize that consumers of our audio products aren’t bound by definitions,” Ivey points out.

Connecting the dots from the Top 10, she offers a few key takeaways. Among them: “The separation of radio as a product from radio as a device is becoming more apparent with each study and as online audio consumption and smart speaker usage continues to grow.” And then: “Consumers/listeners are showing us that they are in the driver’s seat as they defy definitions in the way they consume audio products and we must adapt accordingly.”

View the entire presentation HERE.