What's a Podcast Again?

One of the most exciting developments of 2014 in the audio space was what seems to be a ‘tipping point’ for Podcasting.  Pushed forward by the enormous and deserved attention paid to “Serial,” there have been endless articles written about Podcasting in just the last few months.  Most of these articles, I’m happy to say, quote Edison’s research.

At the same time, I’ve been consistently surprised as to how many people still say they don’t even know what a Podcast is.  At a recent social event, I listened in as my wife attempted to evangelize “Serial” to a variety of people in our suburban New Jersey circle.  Most everyone didn’t just not know what “Serial” is, they didn’t know what Podcasting is.

The numbers back this up.  In January of last year, we asked our Infinite Dial sample the simple question: “Are you familiar with the term Podcasting?”  At that time only 48% of our nationally representative sample said they were.  The highest awareness was among 25-34 year-olds, at 61%.

Meanwhile, our other research series, the newer "Share of Ear" study, has already produced information that shows the growth of Podcasting -- read Tom Webster's post about it here.

Infinite Dial 2015 is in the field, sponsored again by our generous friends at Triton Digital.  The results will be presented in a Webinar on Wednesday, March 4 at 2pm eastern.   Of course we will be asking all manner of questions about Podcasting - including our simple awareness question.  I can't wait for Edison to report its updated Podcasting numbers.

One Big Reason Teens are Streaming

Earlier this week Edison released the first finding from our Fall 2014 "Share of Ear" report -- that teens are now spending more time listening to pureplay Internet audio services like Pandora and Spotify than they do with AM/FM Radio.  You can see that release here.

A couple of points based on the many questions I have received on this.  First, as is noted in the release, listening to AM/FM via the Internet, in this case, counts towards AM/FM.  This analysis is talking about the content platform, not the delivery system.  Second, the 'reach' or 'cume' of AM/FM exceeds that of pureplays (not by a lot); it's the time spent with Pandora and Spotify that puts them ahead of AM/FM.  Third, as is stressed in the release, AM/FM is well ahead of Streaming among all other age groups, including the adjacent 18-24 year-old age group.

As some of the media coverage has pointed out, today's teens are 'Digital Natives' who have lived most of their lives with laptops, smartphones and tablets.  Except perhaps when they are in their parents' cars, they may well never encounter a traditional AM/FM receiver as part of their media day.

And I don't mean to ignore the fact that today, as has been the case now for decades, there are teenagers all over America who absolutely love their local Top 40 or Country (or whatever) radio stations.  One could look at this finding and easily spin it to point out how resilient AM/FM Radio is among this most-connected demographic. 

 

But as the president of a research company that does a lot of work in radio, I have to note that there is one other big reason: The 'Reap what you Sow' effect.  In all my years of doing radio research, virtually none of the research in the US is done against teenagers.  Virtually no radio stations perform formal research  for their music among teens nor target teens directly in their marketing or strategy.  Even for Top 40s, the target is 18-34 and the teens are expected to come along for the ride.

The situation is very different in many international markets where we work.  Elsewhere stations are targeting teens -- and while there are many variables at play here, they are keeping more teens on AM/FM content.  James Cridland in the UK touches on these points in his blog post here.

Now, I truly don't think it's out of the question that even some of these teens who mostly listen to Pandora or Spotify or other streaming services will 'grow into radio' as they finish their educations and enter the workforce.  But the marketing challenge of getting them to do so will be the likes that America's AM/FM Radio operators have never before faced.

 

NPR One has Changed My Life

Every now and again – and perhaps more frequently these days – one encounters a technological change that immediately speaks to you and says: “You will never go back.” 

I often mention as my example the button in the car that makes the locks go up and down.  I’m old enough to remember the first time I saw one and I instantly understood I would never lean across the car again.  Small, but life-changing.  I could go back – but why would I?

After several weeks with the NPR One app – I have the same feeling.  As long as this app exists, I can’t imagine ever listening to my local public radio station – WNYC – on a radio again.

If you haven’t tried it yet – NPR One is, in essence, the Pandora-itization of NPR content.  Each session starts with the most recent top-of-the-hour newscast.  After that – stories are presented in some kind of order – and one can skip the story or mark it ‘interesting’ (their version of ‘thumbs-up’).

Edison’s research has shown that song-skipping is one of the most compelling parts of the appeal of Pandora and similar music services.  Well story-skipping is utterly revelatory.  It allows me to listen to an hour of public radio content in maybe 35 minutes.  If the promise of technology is making one’s life more efficient, well NPR One is an efficiency machine.  At the same time, the app is clearly learning about my likes and dislikes and thus it’s not necessary for me to skip as much.    

The app does a great job of reminding the user that there is a local public radio station – one that needs financial support – connected to the deal (full disclosure – I donate to WNYC – and NPR One makes me MORE likely to give going forward).

NPR One cannot replace all of one's listening -- but it takes us one step closer to the mind-meld app that knows your tastes and preferences so well that it gives you the content  you seek -- whether music, news, podcasts, comedy -- at the moment you want it.  

Here Comes Hollywood

In November, as the media frenzy over "Serial" was catching steam, I was interviewed by CNBC about the phenomenon.  You can read this excellent article here.  

Down at the bottom you'll find a comment I made to the reporter:  "For Edison Research's Rosin, what was 'hugely significant' about 'Serial' was the interest from 'Hollywood and the creative classes.' That, he said, is where the innovation - and money - was."

Sure enough -- this week brought the announcement from Discovery Networks that it is planning its own crime-related podcast for its Investigation Discovery network.  You can read about this announcement in this article from Adweek.  

Humorously, the Discovery exec who announced it, Henry Schleiff said: "I think we were all surprised by the amount of press and attention -- and indeed some of the viewership or 'soundship' -- that the podcast got."  Let me help you out there Mr. Schleiff -- maybe go with "listenership."

While their plans aren't yet fully baked, there is an intriguing mention of television or web-based tie-ins. The podcast roll continues -- and it will be fascinating to see if video-based story tellers can successfully master the audio medium.  

Yell Like Hell

There is a famous saying in the legal profession: “If the facts are against you, argue the law.  If the law is against you, argue the facts.  If the facts and the law are against you, yell like hell.” 

On Monday I posted an entirely fact-based statement about iHeart’s streaming data as supplied by Triton Digital (a company whose information has received accreditation from the Media Ratings Council and is widely considered accurate).  You can read that post here.

On Tuesday the article got picked up by the radio trades, and predictably the people at iHeart felt the need to ‘respond’ via their Public Relations team.  Their statement in its entirety is:

The blog you posted today about Edison’s take on iHeartRadio’s growth shows one thing in particular: That Edison simply doesn’t understand consumers. For consumers, digital listening isn’t a discrete or different activity; the smartphone is just a portable radio to be used along with the car radio, the kitchen radio, the clock radio and the office radio. We don’t think of the office radio as its own unique listening – and nor should we for the smartphone. What makes more sense to discuss is ‘total listening,’ which would combine total digital listening with broadcast radio listening to represent all platforms consumers are using. 

And on the digital front, objective third-party measurement makes clear that iHeartMedia continues to expand its strong digital presence. Digital monthly uniques for the iHeartMedia Digital Network grew 61% year to date, which is even more impressive given that 92% of listening in America happens on AM/FM broadcast radio – and digital listening is additive for us. And in reality, a metric like ‘Average Active Sessions’ is not useful -- for the simple reason that nobody knows whether the length of the session is 5 seconds or 5 minutes, or the reasons behind starting a new session. More station starts could simply mean less consumer satisfaction -- or lower quality due to technical problems.

When discussing consumer listening, it’s helpful to have a full understanding of consumers’ actual audio behavior.

Normally I would take the ‘high road’ and just let this absurd statement go.  But iHeart has chosen to resort to insults.  While the stuff in the middle of this statement is just a bunch of change-the-subject nonsense that does not even address the points in my article, the beginning and end are what is characterized as an “ad hominem” argument.  Meaning – if you can’t argue the position, attack the arguer. 

So here is my response to the PR folks at iHeart, or whoever directed them to write this: You know that you have neither the ‘facts nor the law’ on your side.     

Some facts:

The shares of iHeart stations in PPM markets are down.  The sum of the publicly reported 6+ shares for all iHeart stations in PPM markets were DOWN 3% when comparing stations between Spring of 2012 and Spring of 2014.     

As my original post stated and the response does not refute, iHeart’s online listening is flat.  (The response doesn’t even dispute the Triton numbers – it changes the topic to ‘uniques’ and 'session starts' -- two things that don't mean listening and that I didn't even mention).  So let me quote iHeart back to itself.  “What makes more sense to discuss is ‘total listening,’ which would combine total digital listening with broadcast radio listening to represent all platforms consumers are using”. 

Agreed.  Let's discuss 'total listening.'  If iHeart's 'over the air' numbers are down, and their online listening is flat...what is iHeart's 'total listening' trend? Prediction: Any response will change the subject to a growing 'cume' -- the number that grows on account of US population growth, and not expanded radio 'listening' as measured by time spent (ratings). 

I also suggest that anyone interested rereads the original post.  There is not a single insulting word about iHeart as a company or its products.  I didn't attack iHeart, I merely stated a fact about their reported online listening from a highly credible 'objective, third-party measurement' source.  And then asked "Why?"  Because iHeart doesn’t have the facts on its side, it chooses to resort to insults. iHeart has to ‘yell like hell’ because someone has dared to shine the light on the truth.

Why is iHeart Radio not growing?

I look forward each month to the release of Triton Digital’s streaming audio statistics.  I started to notice something a while ago and for whatever reason seems not to have gotten attention – iHeartRadio has simply stopped growing. 

You can find the underlying data that is tracked so well by the RAIN news site as seen below:

In May of 2011 iHeart was about to enter a year of explosive growth and by May of 2012 the “Average Active Sessions” increased an astounding 127% to 183,000 sessions.  Another good year of growth followed and by May of 2013 iHeart hit what stands as its all-time peak of 245,463 AAS. 

And then – no read of the data can argue for anything other than flatness (at best) since then.  For May of 2014 iHeart recorded 242,079 average sessions (down 1% from May 2013).  The most recently reported month of September 2014 is nearly identical at 242,638. 

So the question is: “Why?” 

It can’t be a lack of advertising.  Even the briefest listen to any iHeartRadio station contains multiple mentions of the brand and the app.  Add in the various concerts and television specials and goodness knows the brand name is getting an enormous number of GRPs. 

Nor can it be that there’s no growth to be had – Pandora has grown 32% in the 16 months since iHeart’s peak (from 1.485million AAS to 1.900million). 

The closest thing to a possible clue is that most all of the sites that are geared (or mostly geared) to the streams of AM/FM Radio stations are flat or down since May of 2013.  Cumulus is down 22% from that time in the September Triton numbers.  CBS is down 14%.  ESPN and Greater Media show modest gains.  In general – it is more than fair to say the business of streaming the content of American radio stations is stagnant at best.

To its credit, iHeart is more than just the streams of radio stations.  But regardless, it is not achieving growth, even as every day more and more people have a smartphone in their pockets or purses.