Why are Radio Station Simulcasts Failing to Compete on Phones?

In my first post in this series, I discussed the data that indicate that radio simulcasts are not performing well in the competition for online audio.  In the second post, I focused more narrowly on the mobile environment, where radio station simulcasts are proving to be even less competitive with ‘pureplays’ such as Pandora, Spotify, and others.

Today I would like to list all the reasons I think this is happening.  Then, my final post in this series will contain some recommendations to radio companies on what they can do to make their offerings more competitive. 

By no means do I think the list below is exhaustive and I welcome comments, additions, and disagreements.  Just put your thoughts in the comment box below.  The reasons seem to break into two general areas – those related to content and those related to technology…but even those are intertwined.

·         Spotloads

Easily the most noted argument is the differential in commercial time per hour between most commercial music radio stations and the upstart purveyors.  And with good reason – the difference is stark.  The economics of music FM grew in an era of monopoly power, and few fully realized the vulnerabilities that were created as spot loads grew in the late 1990s to 14 minutes or even more of commercials per hour.

By contrast, Pandora still has fewer than four minutes of commercials per hour and most ‘pureplays’ are in that same area or even less.  This ten-minutes-per-hour (or more) differential can seem massive.

And yet, the research we have done leads me to believe that spotloads are not the only reason simulcasts struggle in this competition, and likely not even the main reason.  There is some validity to the argument that listeners have come to expect and even grudgingly accept the load they hear from FM music radio stations (and that these ad breaks are even more accepted on speech-based broadcast stations).  In addition, there is clearly some truth that ad breaks on the ‘pureplays’ just seem more intrusive.  Perhaps it’s the lack of dj’s and avoidance of radio’s typical ‘clutter,’ but when a commercial comes onto one of the pureplay streamers it does feel different. 

The spotload issue does point out the length-of-break issue.  Pandora has certainly trained its audience that breaks will be maybe 45 seconds at the longest; FM radio breaks often run as long as eight minutes.  Once a listener tries Pandora those eight minutes can seem interminable. 

And yet, I’m not prepared to just slam the gavel down and say: “It’s the spotloads – case closed.”  These are clearly a major issue, but there seems to be more to the story. 

·         Bad Streams

My colleague Sean Ross has been writing about this for years, as have many other observers.  (See his comments here, here, and here, as some examples).

Here in the USA, where some broadcasters are injecting different commercials into their streams, and some are attempting to cover spots with more songs during the breaks, many streams remain, frankly, a mess.  It blows my mind when I listen to the stream of a major-market radio station and hear 30 seconds of silence, something that still regularly happens.  And mind you this isn’t buffering or a break in the stream; this is a flaw in the ad-replacement technology that is leading to nothing playing.  As I wait through these breaks I often think to myself that I must be the only person still tuned – and that’s only out of morbid curiosity.

And it’s not just the ad-insertion or song-insertion that is a mess – there still seem to be issues at times with buffering.  Not being an engineer, I always think buffering should have gone away – about when dial-up went away.   

It is rather amazing how untended so many radio station streams remain.  Program Directors would be fired instantly if the ‘over-the-air’ product sounded one-tenth as bad.  Meanwhile – when do you hear complaints about Pandora buffering?  When does it not sound smooth and clean?

·         Song Repetition and other Content Issues

So much of the comparisons we see when we talk to consumers seem to stem from the ‘native’ location of each service.  The content that radio programmers have honed for broadcast over the decades just doesn’t seem to sound quite right in the online space, and at this point the pureplay format is what consumers seem to expect in the mobile/online environment.

As my colleague Tom Webster has pointed out, the mathematics relating to song repetition – informed by PPM measurement – have appeared to be proved ‘right’ for the broadcast environment but wrong for online. Tolerable levels of repeat in the ‘ten-minute-listening-span’ PPM world appear to become maddening in the smartphone environment.     

·         Apps – part one – station-branded apps

Of course apps are the key to mobile strategy and  I strongly believe every station needs to have its own app, regardless of whether the station is also available on an aggregation app.

I have spent parts of the last several days looking at the iTunes App Store pages of hundreds of branded radio station apps.  It’s an exercise you might want to consider too.  While there is a mix of ratings, some radio stations’ branded apps get many negative ratings and lots of comments about buffering.   When one reads these comments it seems likely they are not comments about the apps as much as they are comments about the streams they are serving.

People have lots of apps on their phones – they are going to default to the ones that bring them joy.  So if a user’s favorite station has a poor app, or has a perfectly good app serving a poor stream, that could limit listening to that station on your phone or tablet.   You want proof?  The broadcasters involved with promoting the FM Chip in phones throw their own apps right under the bus.  Listen to the commercial where Erik Estrada says, "They want you to pay to stream radio instead: you know, delayed, choppy, buffered streaming radio that drains your battery."

·         Apps – part two – aggregation apps

When one considers all the reasons that radio simulcasts in America aren't competing with pureplays in the mobile environment, one has to consider the role of the aggregators (such as iHeartRadio, Radio.com, and TuneIn).  On one level the aggregators are great in that they allow for high profile marketing opportunities – for instance iHeartRadio’s concerts and Radio.com’s spots on the Super Bowl and Grammys.

However I have to wonder if the aggregation strategy is limiting the total growth of the simulcast sector.  With station apps – the steps are: 1) download station app; 2) open app and hear station.  With an aggregator it goes: 1) download app; 2) open app; 3) type station name into the search box; 4) find station (if you can – iHeartRadio has FIFTY-SIX stations named ‘Kiss’ on it); 5) open station and hear it.

So many steps!  People are notoriously impatient in the smartphone environment.  How many people are saying: “Forget this!” after some step and never getting to their intended stream? 

But the bigger point is – shouldn't stations have their own station-branded app and also be available on the aggregators?   Isn’t that the answer? Not just aggregation and not just station-branded apps – both?  Does the current situation, where  if you type “Z100 New York” or “WIP Philadelphia” into the iTunes search you get nothing make any sense?

And one more point on aggregation – the iTunes page for iHeartRadio says: “iHeartRadio: Free Radio & Music. Listen to Streaming FM & AM Radio Stations, Top Songs, NPR, Podcasts, Live News, Sports & Comedy Shows.”  Wow – that’s a lot of things. 

·         Lack of Customization and Personalizaton

Even if the spotload and technical issues didn't exist, simulcasts are competing with pureplay options that are adaptive technologies which veer from the one-program-fits-all ‘broadcast’ model.  The pureplays take advantage of the digital revolution, the radio station simulcast, by contrast, seems outdated by comparison.

This is not to say that the problem is ‘radio.’  The problem is ‘simulcast.’  If I love Elvis Duran or Kevin & Bean or anyone else, I should be able to consume them however I want.  For instance, I should be able to insert them into midday programming if that’s what I prefer.  Hearing their highlights in a podcast  should be an option too, but why is it not possible to create a seamless show that blends their content with the music I want as well? 

Broadcast Radio rightfully makes its solid points about its role in the audio ecosystem and the relationship it has with its audiences.  However, the idea that the only time one can listen to content is the exact moment one can tune in is just outdated in today’s environment.  People are abandoning live entertainment television in droves because now they can.  They can record it for viewing on their schedule or they can stream it on-demand. 

Online simulcasts are suffering from the same issue.  They are non-interactive linear streams of content trying to compete on devices that are simply built for interactivity and customization. 

 

The bottom line of all this is that simulcasts just aren’t made for the smartphone environment.  Just as putting a camera in the radio studio usually makes for bad television.  Simulcasts usually have no interactive elements in a medium whose users expect interactivity.  It is a linear stream competing with adaptive audio programs that will bend to your will.

But there are ways for the simulcasters to improve, and in my final post of this series, I will list some ideas. 

How are Radio Simulcasts Competing on Smartphones Today?

In my past post, which one can read here, I started my inquiry into where radio station simulcasts fit in the online environment.  The data from Triton Digital, our Infinite Dial studies, the unique project we performed in Austria, and plenty of other sources show that virtually all the momentum in the  online audio space is coming from "Pureplays" -- audio services built for consumption in the mobile, smartphone, responsive environment.

The widely noted data from Triton shows all usage for online audio sources.  In our Share of Ear (SM) studies, we ask our diary-keepers to tell us what device they consume their audio on, and one category is "Mobile Devices" which includes phones, tablets or iPod/MP3 players. This allows us to divide the world of audio more narrowly.  I recently wrote a post on the Edison Research blog called "Share of Ear on Mobile Devices"  which updated these numbers and included the graph below:

Our nationally-representative sample shows that the top form of audio consumed on mobile devices is 'owned music' at 50% of users' time.  Looking at the other half of mobile consumption, we see that by far the largest amount of time goes to a single app -- Pandora. Two-fifths of the non-owned half of the mobile pie goes to the colossus from Oakland.  Other Internet 'pureplays' (such as Spotify, iTunes radio, etc) gets 14% of the total, and listening to AM/FM content on a mobile device gets 7%, just a tad higher than podcasts. Details on Edison's Share of Ear studies, including methodology statement, can be found on the Edison website www.edisonresearch.com.

While I'm not aware of an authoritative count, many thousands of American AM and FM radio stations have their content available on mobile devices, either on a station app or an aggregator like TuneIn, iHeart, or Radio.com, There is also listening on the new NextRadio app.  Radio stations spend billions in paid-equivalent value promoting these apps.  And yet, all rolled into one they are getting one-third the listening that Pandora is seeing, and one-fifth of the combined pureplay listening.

There are at least two factors driving this outcome: Technology and Content.  Each plays a role in the outcome we are seeing in the mobile space.  In my next post I will take these up as I continue my examination of whether (and how) radio station simulcasts can compete in the smartphone world.

Can Radio Station Simulcasts Compete on Smartphones?

Last month at the Radio Days Europe conference in Milan, Italy, I was privileged to present the findings of a unique research project  along with Rüdiger Landgraf of KroneHit Radio in Austria and German radio consultant Christian Schalt.  It was titled "Stream Battle" and a unique inquiry.

We gave 21 women in Krone's target group a special smartphone that had only four apps available -- Spotify (free version), Pandora (specially configured to work in Austria), the station app for KroneHit and for their main competitor Ö3. In addition we installed a data-tracking app with the participants' knowledge so we could track their usage.

Kurt Hanson wrote a nice piece about our presentation here.  At the end of the piece he quotes Christian Schalt saying: "Mere simulcasts will not save you."  This was indeed one of our main findings -- even with some nice enhancements, the Ö3 app, which only provides a simulcast stream, came in last among the four possibilities.  

And so I'm going to devote my next several posts to the question in the headline -- how competitive are radio station simulcasts in the Smartphone environment?  We can start by looking at Triton Digital's data over time.  As the graph below shows, if one just compares Pandora to the top five radio companies' streams -- the story is pretty clear. 

It's almost hard to remember at this point but a little over five years ago, simulcasts made up the majority of online radio usage.  Then over the last several years Pandora has enjoyed consistent growth while the market for simulcasts is pretty much flat.  As I argued in this post, one can clearly connect this growth to the adoption of smartphones.  Of course if all pureplays were added to the Pandora line and all radio station simulcasts were added to the 'radio' line, the differences would be even more dramatic. 

But the above graph includes both desktop and mobile.  In my next post I'll use other data to zoom in on the mobile environment.

 

The Infinite Dial in the Car: Miles DIfferent

Here are some excerpts from the speech I gave at the RAIN Summit in Las Vegas on Sunday April 12, 2105 on the subject of how things are changing in the in-car environment:

The concept behind the Infinite Dial is the notion of radio expanding past the bounds of the AM and FM dials to a world of incredible, boundless choices.  These newer, expanded choices were once mostly accessible on desktops.  Then the smartphone came along and reconnected the notion of audio to mobility.  And that has been revolutionary.

But to date, one location, one key location, has remained pretty resistant to change, and that’s the in-car experience.  The challenges of bringing new options into the in-car experience, and especially the slowness with which the car market turns over, have made the in-car environment the most resistant to change.

But as Sam Cooke said, A Change is Gonna Come.

And so I decided to go through the 2015 Infinite Dial data set and give people a taste of the change that is gonna come. 

In our survey we asked people the model year of the primary car they drive or ride in.  I decided to split things out between those whose cars came from before 2010 and those whose cars are from the 2010 or later model years.

About three in five people are mostly in cars more than five years old; and about two in five have newer models. 

So let’s look at what each of these two groups told us they use in their cars.  In the graph below you can see that the 'currently ever' listen to AM/FM is the same regardless of the age of one's car. When it comes to reach – AM/FM is as strong as ever.  In fact we got the exact same number for listening to AM/FM in older cars and newer cars.

But look at what else they use.  Newer car owners are a bit less likely to use a CD player.  But they’re way more likely to use their smartphone for audio in their car, way way more likely to use internet radio in their car, and way way way more likely to use SiriusXM.  So take a second to add the numbers down the columns.  The right hand column is way bigger.  People have more options in their newer cars, and they use more options.

Then we asked about frequency of listening.  Here the picture starts to change a bit.  The graph below shows what percentage said they use that device “almost all the times they’re in their car” or “most of the times” they are in their car.  A couple of things to note.  First – people with newer cars are 11 percentage points lower for frequent listening to AM/FM.  With regard to other items – the same pattern emerges.  They are less likely to use a CD and more likely to use other things – and in the case of SiriusXM – WAY more likely – FOUR TIMES more likely.  


The world of automobiles turns over slowly.  But when people have access to more ways to consume audio in the car -- they take advantage of these options.  The evidence to date is that they don't stop using things -- they simply change the amount of time they spend with the different platforms as they become available.  


The Little Machines that Built Pandora

Our Infinite Dial studies have been tracking usage of online radio since 1998, and we have asked about 'monthly usage' since 2000.  In a recent meeting I made the comment that if one superimposes the graph showing growth of smartphone ownership over the monthly online radio usage one can see a strong correlation.  That graph is below.  The blue bars show our tracking of smartphones and the yellow line is "monthly online radio usage."  (These graphs are among all respondents ages 12 and older.  For the full Infinite Dial report including methodology, click here.)

One will note the strong correlation between the slopes of the two growth patterns since the widespread adoption of the smartphone.  Online Radio started with usage on desktops, but that clearly only could get things so far.  The real growth came when listening became portable, and when apps built for the mobile environment became a 'must-have' on iPhones and Androids.

A further look at our data turned up a 'more perfect' correlation.  Take a look at the somewhat amazing graph below which tracks monthly use of Pandora against the growth of smartphones:

This is the kind of graph that will get a survey researcher a bit choked up.  Note that the two data sets are in near-perfect correlation.  In each case, monthly usage of Pandora is almost exactly half that of smartphone ownership.  

And while someone out there is thinking: "Correlation does not necessarily imply causation," in this case there is little doubt of causation.  We know that Pandora is the second most downloaded app in the history of the iTunes App stores after a little company called Facebook.  The story is similar in Android. The growth of Pandora can be attributed to many things, but clearly one of the biggest is their successful adaptation to mobile as the smartphone emerged.

As this graph shows, every time two people acquire a smartphone for the first time, one of them will become a monthly user (at least) of Pandora.  These amazing little machines that people carry in pocket or purse have irrevocably altered so many businesses, and Pandora is clearly one of them.   Pandora can attack the challenges of pushing past this 50% conversion rate and of course getting their already enormous user base to use even more.  But in the meantime if you want to project Pandora's future growth, just find projections of smartphone adoption.  

Room for Tidal? What's one more online audio brand?

This past week saw the launch of the latest entrant to the streaming audio space, Tidal from Jay-Z.  The media coverage was all over the place, but a lot centered on if there is room for another player in the space.

We have been tracking online audio in our Infinite Dial studies since 1998.  It's so hard to consider that this space has gone from "What does listening to audio on the Internet even mean?" to "Is it over-crowded" in that span is amazing.

In our 2015 study we asked about awareness of 17 different online audio brands.  The full list of brands can be found on page 19 of our Infinite Dial report if you click here

What struck me was just how many brands people did say they knew.  As the graph below shows -- 85% of respondents knew at least one online brand (and if it was only one -- that brand was usually Pandora).  On average, people knew 4.7 brands.  The peak age group is 18-24 year-olds, who know 6.1 brands on average.  Exactly one respondent out of our 2000 person national sample knew all 17 brand names.  

So is there room for Tidal?  Who knows.  But there's clearly room for a lot of brands so far in this space.  As it continues to change and inevitably shake out -- Edison and Triton will continue to track it.

 

 

Podcasting: Maturing Quickly with Lots More Growth to Come

I’m a huge fan of Alex Blumberg’s podcast series “StartUp.”  It’s a narrative podcast about his efforts to start a podcasting company.  Anyone interested in podcasting, or in starting a business, or just in an enjoyable story to pass the time with should check it out.

There is one moment in the series that especially sticks with me.  In one episode he mentioned the success of the podcast “Serial” and then said something along the lines of: “If you haven’t heard of ‘Serial’ you really should check it out – but I can’t imagine anyone listening to this show who doesn’t know ‘Serial.’”

Then on the next episode Alex mentions that he was inundated with responses from people telling him that they hadn’t been aware of “Serial.”  It makes sense – once you enter the podcasting world – it almost seems like podcasts are everywhere.  Saturday Night Live did a take on “Serial.”  The ultra-middle-brow sitcom “The Middle” did a whole episode where their youngest child started a podcast.

How could it be that only half of everyone even recognizes the term ‘podcasting’?  How could it be that only 10% of the American population has heard of ‘Serial’?

Well of course -- the other way to look at both of those stats is: "Wow! Half of all Americans have now heard of Podcasts!" and "Wow! One-in-Ten Americans have heard of a single Podcast that was promoted on 'This American Life' and otherwise grew virally!"

Of course, even within the world of podcasting there are lots of podcasts and lots of different kinds of people listening to them.  Not everyone is taking their podcasting sustenance from the Public Radio cup of “This American Life,” “RadioLab,” and their various offshoots and cousins.

To further emphasize the point – I looked at awareness of Serial by different groups.  As the graph below shows – even among the most avid podcast consumers, not even 1-in-3 has heard of “Serial.” 

Podcasting is a growing, diverse platform that still has a long road to full maturity. It has been fun to watch it develop over the years and we look forward to tracking the exciting world of podcasting going forward.       

Age Composition of Podcast Users

Certain people didn't understand my previous post about podcasting users (which can be found by clicking here).  That previous post was showing what portion of each age group said they had listened to a podcast in the last month.

While that seems pretty clear -- they 'disagreed' with the information by saying that they had done research of their own users and found 'way more age 25-54 users than 12-24 users.'

Rest assured -- we found the same thing.  There are a lot more 25-54 year-olds in America than there are 12-24s.  So, even though a slightly higher portion of 12-24s are monthly podcast users -- our survey also shows way more 25-54s than 12-24s.  The pie chart, below, shows the composition by age of Podcast users.


Podcasting is Strongest Among Millennials

The statistics about podcasting from our Infinite Dial survey (link to the full study and methods statement is here) have gotten an enormous amount of attention.  Clearly, podcasting continues to be having its moment in the sun and there is enormous desire for more information about them.

So over the next several weeks we will keep supplying more findings.  A lot of people have asked for the information below -- the age of podcast users.  This graph is among those who told us they had listened to a podcast in the month before we called them (in January of 2015):

As you can see, podcasting skews young.  However, it's a bit more balanced by age than, for instance, online radio, where usage among 12-24s is vastly higher than that among 55+.  This might possibly be in part due to the regular promotion of podcasting on America's older-skewing public radio system.

So -- while the total reported monthly podcast usage is 17% among all ages, as can be seen if we eliminate those 55 and older, more than 20% of the 12-54 age group is now regularly consuming on-demand audio programming.  

Newspapers are the "Most Least Essential" Major Medium

One of the great joys of our Infinite Dial series is we can track items from so far back.  This year we brought back some questions about media in general that we had asked in the past.  We showed some of that data in our initial public presentation, which you can find here.  

Here's one we didn't show: We asked "Among the Internet, newspapers, radio and television which one is the least essential to your life?"

Below are the results from the first time we asked in 2002, and from this year's study:

Thirteen years ago, still one-third of Americans ages 12 and over (who now of course would be 25 and older) said the Internet was the least essential to their lives.  Of course, at that time only 57% of households had Internet access in their homes (compared to 85% today).   

The obvious point is the dwindling influence of 'The Newspaper' on people's lives, as nearly half our sample says it is their 'least essential' of the four.  But as we know, so much of what the Newspaper provided (and provides still) has been subsumed by the Internet.  It's impossible to know how much the very content that newspaper companies provide to the Internet contributes to the 'essential-ness' of the Internet.  Of course when a guy named Craig decided to start a List, and give it away for free, he helped set print into what's likely an unrecoverable spiral.

Equally interesting to me is the near three-way tie for the 'least-least' essential medium among the four. The Internet now has the fewest people saying it is least essential -- but it's about tied with Radio and Television, with less than one-in-five choosing any of these.  Which is just another way of showing that while the Internet has surely 'changed everything', it's print that has been hit by far the hardest.  

A Potential Breakthrough for Podcasting Among Hispanics

A story of great potential significance appeared in today's radio/audio trades.  Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo, one of the most popular morning talents in America and leader of the once top-rated show in Los Angeles, signed to do a daily podcast show with PodcastOne.

While this is likely not quite the kind of turning point that the hiring of Howard Stern was for Sirius Satellite Radio, it has the possibility to greatly raise the profile of podcasting among  Hispanics.  

Until now, podcasting is much better known among Whites and African-Americans than among the Hispanic population.  Witness the graph below from our Infinite Dial 2015 report:

Awareness of Podcasting is being significantly held back by the low number among Hispanics.  And while Hispanics are slightly less likely to be online or to have smartphones, this does not explain nearly all of the difference in the graph above.  The better explanation is a lack of compelling programming, especially in Spanish.  The hiring of a Spanish Radio superstar might change things.

The Online Audio Habit

Yesterday was a great day for Edison Research, as we unveiled the 2015 Infinite Dial survey. Over the next many weeks we will be bringing out a raft of additional data and insights from the study that we couldn't cram into our premiere presentation.  But today I want to highlight something that WAS shown, but is a little more subtle.

The presentation made very clear how much online audio usage (defined as listening to the streams of AM/FM stations or listening to pureplays) has grown.  Both monthly and weekly usage were up significantly.  

What might not have been as clear is that weekly usage is growing faster than monthly usage.  Note this table showing those results from the last six reports:

There is a significant story here. Note the numbers in the rightmost column growing. Over time, the weekly percentage is getting closer and closer to the monthly number.  This means that users of the technology are getting more habituated to it and that it is becoming a more regular part of people's lives.

Today, even as the number of people who use online audio at all continues to rise, about five in every six monthly users also use online radio regularly.  This is the mark of a rapidly diffusing technology that is becoming every day more and more a part of Americans' lives.

 

What Wakes You Up?

At last week's Country Radio Seminar, we debuted the results of our "Wake Me Up!" research study about behaviors and media habits of online 18-54 year-olds in America.  There were many surprise findings; today I'd like to focus on what happens in the very first moments of one's day.

As the first graph here shows -- only about half of people are actually awakened by an alarm of any kind.  One third of 18-54s just 'get up' on their own, and another one-sixth are awakened by another person or a pet.  

We then went on to ask the half of the sample that does awaken to an alarm what kind of an alarm it was:

As you can see, the mobile revolution has really hit here.  While 47% seem to awaken to something like the classic 'clock-radio' that we envision next to Bill Murray in Groundhog Day -- most of them use the beep or buzz feature instead of the radio.  This means that only 6% of our sample wakes up to the radio on a clock radio.  

 

What Hath Technology Wrought?

Over the course of the next several weeks Edison Research and Triton Digital will be unveiling the results of our annual Infinite Dial survey.  The Infinite Dial results are based on "gold standard" sampling techniques that truly represent the population of America ages 12 and older.

This study, which has been tracked since 1998, has become one of the most looked-to sources of information on how technology is changing.  So this year, we inserted a question about how Americans feel about these changes.  The results are below:

As you can see, well more than half of respondents say the changes are at least 'somewhat positive' and only 14% say they have been negative.  There is a sizable group (25%) that feels the impact has been equally positive and negative.  Interestingly, there are few differences by demographic groups -- although there is a bit more negativity among older Americans and among the less-educated.

There is endless ink spilled on how technology is destroying creativity, or eliminating our ability to think for ourselves, or (most bizarrely) hurting productivity by creating so many distractions.  These were things said, of course, about every previous change in technology, such as television or even the advent of books.  All in all, most Americans think the technology innovations of the last ten years, which would include such things as smartphones, podcasts, social media and streaming audio, have been a good thing.

How have these items grown in the last year?  Watch the Webcast on March 4 at 2pm eastern.  To register for this event click here.

 

What's Playing on those Earbuds

It is hard to believe that it was only eight years ago that Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in his famous speech.  The revolution that seems to be changing everything is of course rapidly changing audio usage as well.  It seems that almost anywhere one goes one will see someone with earbuds on; tuned out from the world.

Edison's "Share of Ear (SM)" study allows us to understand just what kind of audio is being consumed.  The graph below shows what platform of audio is being consumed on mobile devices (which would also include tablets or iPods/MP3 players).

audio consumption movile.jpg

It's important to note that this is the platform of audio -- listening to AM/FM means listening to AM/FM content via streams or 'over-the-air'.  It makes a certain amount of sense that 'owned music' would be the biggest portion of audio consumption on mobile devices.  Streaming pure-plays like Pandora and Spotify, which are in so many ways 'built' for mobile, account for over one-third of all audio consumption on mobile. 

The Monster: AM/FM Reach

Imagine you are a national advertiser and you need to get a message out TODAY.  In one day.  To as many people as possible. 

Well, if you want to use audio, no matter what  broad age group you are targeting Broadcast will get you the most people by far (the only age group that is close is 13-17s).  Fully 75% of respondents in our Fall 2014 Share of Ear (SM)  study recorded at least some listening to AM/FM Radio in their one-day listening diary. (Note -- this is for reach.  Previously I reported on time spent with forms of audio with regard to teens only).


Even among 13-24 year-olds, broadcast provides the most daily reach by a large margin.  But one can see how this is changing.  While broadcast reaches 62% of 13-24s in a day, Pandora all by itself reaches 23% (or put another way -- Pandora has more than one-third the reach of Broadcast all by itself).  Fast-growing Spotify -- which is increasingly being consumed on its ad-supported tier, reaches 14% of 13-24s.

The classic radio "money demo" of 25-54s sees almost 80% listening to Broadcast Radio each day -- no doubt in part because most radio stations target this group.  Pandora now reaches more than one-in-six of all 25-54s itself as well.

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"  (SM) 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" (SM) 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.