Industry Research

The Latest Research On Digital Audio Use

At least once a year for the last 12 years, radio ratings company Arbitron has partnered with the market research firm Edison Research to examine the use of digital audio and other Internet media in the U.S.  The study employs a random digital dial telephone survey methodology to landlines and cellphone numbers to produce results that are projected to the U.S. age 12 and older population. NPR's AIR group was watching (and tweeting) yesterday as the results were revealed via a webinar.

On the whole, the findings reflect the Internet's growing influence in the lives of Americans.  One result: radio as a medium seems to be losing a bit of primacy in terms of how people think of it as fitting into their lives. 

Commercial music formats may face the biggest challenge from these issues, but public radio doesn't have its head in the sand about any of them. NPR and stations are acutely aware of how radio's role in the media landscape is evolving, which is why there are so many ways to access and interact with your local NPR station.  The changing media environment is not a zero sum game, but there are definitely lessons here for learning how all media must evolve and adjust.

Some headlines from the report after the jump.

Radio continues to decline as an "essential" medium for Americans.  In 2002, 26% of Americans indicated that radio was the most essential medium to their life (among radio, television, the Internet and newspapers).  In 2010, that number has been nearly halved to 14%.  2010 is also the first year the study observed more Americans saying they'd choose the Internet over television if they could only choose one of the two.  This, of course, is a measure of perception, not consumption; radio remains second to only television in terms of the percentage of U.S. adults who own and use various platforms and devices (92%).

Radio's dominance as a music discovery platform is fading fast.  Though still the most-cited medium that Americans turn to first to learn about new music, radio no longer dominates as it did at the turn of the century.  Thirty-nine percent of Americans say radio is where they go first to find new music, compared to 31% who cite the Internet.  Eight years ago, 63% cited radio and just 9% cited the Internet.  Radio has already ceded this leadership role to the Internet among Americans under age 35, the majority of whom say they now go online first to find new music.

Online streams of AM/FM stations are losing ground to Internet-only audio.  In 2006, online streams of AM/FM stations were still hanging on to a slim lead over Internet-only audio services.  This year, 38% more online radio listeners say they are listening to web-based services than to terrestrial radio ones.  This is not terribly surprising, given that online-only services are not bound by their geography in terms of their brand or strategy.  Still, it is telling to see what one might intuit playing out in the numbers.

Nearly one in four Americans access web-based audio in their cars.  Six percent of all cell phone owners and 54% of mp3 player owners (including iPhone owners) say that they have listened to web-based audio by connecting their devices to their car stereo systems.  That latter number equates to approximately 24% of the U.S. population.  This does not necessarily indicate an imminent tide change in how media is used in the car, though it does hint at continued fragmentation of that environment (which is already cluttered with the use of in-car CD, mp3, satellite radio, HD radio and DVD systems).

Growth in podcast listening appears to be flattening. The percentage of U.S. adults who have ever listened to a podcast doubled between 2006 and 2009, but is up just one percentage point (to 23%) in 2010.  When we asked Edison's Tom Webster if the rise of streaming mobile audio was supplanting podcasting as the preferred method of on-the-go listening, he replied that, "as a share of the pie, yes. But the pie itself didn't budge much," indicating that mobile audio streaming, while growing, remains a niche activity.

Less than a third of U.S. adults have visited the Web site of a local radio station, but they appear to be visiting more frequently than they used to. Though just 31% indicate that they have ever visited the Web site of a local radio station, the percent who did so "last week" has more than doubled since 2002 (from 4% to 9%). The reasons people cited for doing so speaks to both the "web as a complement to radio" strategy that many radio stations take online and to the difficulty of offering a unique and compelling service to listeners online: the most common reason, according to the study, was to find song titles and artist names of songs played on the air.

Video of yesterday's presentation is embedded below, and the full presentation is also available as a .pdf file here.

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