Person with headphones

The latest Nielsen Total Audience Report says that while radio is still at the center of the audio universe, consumers are diversifying their listening, with 64% of U.S. adults streaming audio content through smartphones and a quarter with tablets.

“There is really no denying consumers’ love of music and reliance on radio for what has been ingrained in our DNA nearly since the dawn of time — primordial rhythm, sound and auditory excitement,” the report says. “While broadcast radio is thriving as the leading reach vehicle in the U.S., consumers are complementing their listening with streaming services, though unlike video streaming services where content is often exclusive to platforms, music streaming service content often overlaps in terms of artists, songs and titles.”

Overall, the February report says, broadcast radio reaches more U.S. adults each week (92% or 229 million listeners) than any other media platform. That third-quarter 2019 reading is identical to the same time period for 2018.

But streaming via smartphone and tablet is on the rise: The weekly reach of audio among adults 18+ who are streaming with their smartphones is up to 64% in Q3—a dramatic increase from 45% a year earlier. Tablet reach was 25% in Q3, up from 13% a year earlier.

Satellite radio (16%) was unchanged.

The average American 18+ spent 11 hours and 48 minutes per week listening to broadcast radio, the report shows. Another 57 minutes went to streaming audio on a smartphone and 11 minutes to streaming audio on a tablet. Nielsen defines streaming audio as apps and websites specifically designed to provide audio content, such as Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, etc.

The proliferation of smart speakers is also playing a key role in the consumption of streaming audio. Smart speakers are now found in 29% of U.S. households—up from 22% a year earlier.

“‘Voice’ is quickly becoming synonymous with ‘audio’ for many consumers,” Nielsen’s report says. “Voice assistants are now used by 40% of adults and are expanding into more places both in and out of the home.”

Nielsen says a custom survey into U.S. consumer sentiment about streaming platforms revealed a key difference between audio and video streamers: the audio segment places more emphasis on free, ad-supported services—very likely due in large part to radio’s longstanding role as the original free audio medium.

Another legacy of traditional radio—it’s easily accessible—also informs survey responses on the relative importance of individual streaming attributes. Nielsen says more than three-quarters of survey respondents (78%) say ease of use was extremely or very important to them when it comes to audio streaming services. That reason was the most popular.

Among other streaming audio attributes, and their relative importance: variety/availability of content (72%); cost compared to free alternatives (64%); quality of personalized content based on preferences (61%); availability across devices (60%); availability in vehicle while driving or commuting (56%); quality of curated content available (53%); content available for downloading or listening offline (50%); and ability to access content specific to a local market in real time (40%).

Another longstanding consumer habit, Nielsen notes, is accessing audio en route and on-the-go—a fact that underscores the importance of a simple, seamless user experience. It also why nearly 2 in 5 survey respondents said they’d possibly be willing to pay for additional subscriptions.

“After all, driving while listening to the radio remains one of the most smitten matches made in heaven between humans and technology,” Nielsen says. “It’s no different with audio streaming. In fact, 39% of consumers said they would consider adding new paid streaming audio services to access on-the-go or mobile options, while 46% of respondents said the cost of these services could limit adding on audio services.”

In the introduction to Nielsen’s new report, SVP for Audience Insights Peter Katsingris says we’re at the “flash point of the ‘streaming wars,’” with new subscription and ad-supported platforms trying to take advantage of a massive global opportunity.

“[M]ake no mistake,” Katsingris writes, “the proliferation of on-demand streaming services is the most profound media disruption of the last half-century. And this disruption is driving real, actionable opportunity across all facets of the industry.”