07/27

New survey shows when FM is built-in to mobile phones, most consumers don’t use it

How many US radio listeners already have FM built-in to their mobile phones? And how often do they use it?

How does this compare to the number who have downloaded a personalized radio app, like Pandora or Slacker?  How often do they use those?

And how do these numbers compare to downloads and use of station-specific mobile apps?

These were the questions I set out to answer in a national telephone study of 1,346 radio listeners, aged 15-69, conducted by VIP Media Research during June and July 2011.  85% of these respondents listen to 30 minutes or more of radio per day.

Of the 70% who use mobile phones, 17% say they have FM radio built-in right now – a significant number.

For those who have FM built-in to their mobile phones, how much do they use this feature?

More than half use it “almost never,” while 19% use it “a few times a week” or “nearly every day.”

So is this a lot or a little?  That depends on your perspective.  It suggests some usage for the feature, albeit not nearly on the scale that one would use, say, the radio built-in to their car.  It also suggests that most listeners would ignore the feature or use it sparingly.  In any event it hardly constitutes a “must-have” for the majority of mobile phone users who represent the majority of radio listeners.

A mobile phone is not a car without the wheels.  In fact, how do think listeners would answer this question about their radio usage in a car? I’m guessing it would be maybe 60% who say they listen “every day” compared to 5% on mobile devices.

In other words, if we believe what a consumer wants is a function of how they use it when they get it, this is not exactly a ringing endorsement. Still, it’s not as if the feature is being ignored altogether, and some listening is obviously better than none from a ratings perspective.

So how does this compare to the audience’s relationship to other forms of “radio” – namely, personalized apps such as Pandora and Slacker and single-station downloadable apps?

Here’s how the fraction of listeners with FM built-in compares to the fraction who have downloaded a Pandora/Slacker type app and downloaded a single-station app:

As you can see, US radio listeners with mobile phones are almost twice as likely to download a personalized radio app as they are to have FM built-in.

This could conceivably be a function of availability versus choice.  We may not choose to have FM built-in (it may simple “come with the phone” – or not), but we can (and do) choose to download a Pandora/Slacker type app.

Note, too, that the uptake on single station apps, at 5%, is dramatically less than that of personalized radio apps.  Both are a function of choice so why are listeners not choosing single-station apps to the same degree?

Several reasons, I think:

  1. These apps don’t have the functionality of personalized radio apps – they just don’t do the same thing
  2. Most stations don’t even have an app
  3. Most of the apps out there are built around the function of streaming the station only (or at least that’s the audience’s understanding).  Since folks can get this from their radio there isn’t a compelling feature set to attract more downloads.  Without more ways to dive in to the station and its content and more stuff to stream, the app stays on the shelf
  4. Most stations don’t do a great job of promoting their apps or the benefits thereof

The bigger question is:  Do people use the apps once they download them, and how does that use compare to built-in FM radio?

Here’s the answer:

As you can see, FM radio built-in is much less likely to be used than either personalized radio apps or single-station ones. About 40% of personalized radio app downloaders say they use these apps “a few times a week” or “nearly every day.” This towers over the frequency of use for single-station apps and built-in FM radio.

Meanwhile heavy use of single-station apps is slightly greater than the use for built-in FM, but the light use of these apps is much greater.

So what are the primary takeaways here?

  1. Nearly 20% of the audience today says FM radio is built-in to their mobile phones
  2. Use of this feature is decent, but not overwhelming enough to suggest a strong demand
  3. This lack of demand is proven when use of this feature is compared to use of personalized radio apps and even, to a lesser degree, single station apps – personalized radio app usage in particular is far greater than use of built-in FM
  4. Single-station apps need a stronger feature set to attract more downloads and more usage
  5. Listeners use what is most unique in its setting and what solves a problem that other media in other places can’t solve.

For the full results of the survey, including breakouts by age, sex, and format preferences, go here.

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  • http://friendfeed.com/markedwards MarkEdwards

    I have an FM Radio in my HTC EVO 4G phone, and I must say it is one of the worst receivers I've used in years.  You need to hook up a headset to act as an antenna, and the more shielding there is on the headset, the worse it works as an antenna. So the high end tricked out earbuds I usually use with the phone have the wires wrapped in fabric, making the headset almost useless as an antenna. I've had a little better luck with cheaper earbuds without the insulation around the wires, but (excuse the engineer-talk) the front end of the FM receiver is pretty awful. 

    Sort of makes me wonder if some of the FM radios in cell phones are complete afterthoughts, and little was put into their design or functionality.  Not that a better radio would make more people use the radio in the phone, but the presence of an FM radio is hardly a marquee feature on a phone.  The only device that seems to have actively, or sort of actively, promoted a radio as part of the phone, was the Zune, and we all know what happened to that.

  • Bill Damick

    Hi Mark,

    While I realize that the article specifies US mobile phone owners, the headline doesn't and is thus a bit misleading.  Mobile phones with FM included in a number of other places in the world show significant listenership as compared to accessing the Internet through those same phones for the purpose of Pandora, etc.  For a lot of folks in such situations, the FM in their phone may be their only radio.

    Regards,

    Bill Damick, Trans World Radio

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Yeah, but “Zune” is such a great name. :-)

    Thanks Mark!

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    No doubt about it. Thanks Bill.

  • Frank

    I'd be curious to know if you actually identified that their phone has active FM capability or if you let them self-identify. Due to the lack of marketing on one end, some people have phones with FM capability but don't even realize it, while on the other end, some people believe their phones have FM capability when, in fact they don't or it has not been enabled, such as in the iphone

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    I was with you until the very last sentence.

    The fact that the capacity exists is irrelevant unless it's actually PRESENT on the phone. So I would expect ZERO iPhone users to say “yes” to this question.

    If people don't know whether or not their phone has that capability then that speaks volumes about their need for that functionality.

    If people think they have the capability (because they don't know the difference between Tuned In or a station-specific app and Pandora and an FM receiver (for example), then this confusion only plays to my point: That it's not about the FM receiver per se, it's about the radio “experience” regardless of how it's delivered.

  • Frank

    Thanks for responding. The point of the last sentence was really minor. It's more of a clarification for geeks out there. For example, if you asked me the yes or no question as to whether my iphone has an FM radio built into it, I as a geek might answer yes because I know it has that built in, it's just not enabled. But, again, it's minor and I expect it wouldn't impact many respondents. 

    Thank you for the enlightening study. It tells us alot.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Got it! As for the rest of your points, I think we're on the same page!

  • James Cridland

    It's a shame that your headline (“when FM is built-in to mobile phones, most customers don't use it”) is so over the top, when your body text is more fair and realistic (“Use of this feature [FM] is decent”).

    As I've said in a blog post recently, radio's position as a secondary medium – we listen while we're doing something else – is incompatible in most cases with listening via earbuds, like most FM-equipped mobile phones. Further, FM stations are available on hundreds of devices (some with wheels!); yet personal radio apps like Pandora are available on a phone, tablet or computer, and that's pretty well it. FM's comparative ubiquity is a disadvantage in this survey, and as such, it tells us little.

    You have hit on one thing – most FM tuners inside a colour mobile phone are a dreadful experience. Broadcasters don't appear to care about the UI of a standard radio tuner, which is a great shame, and the experience of tuning in – and seeing an FM frequency (and if you're really lucky, RDS/RBDS information) is not a thrilling experience. I've talked to you about RadioDNS equipped FM receivers in mobile phones, which use FM for the audio, but automatically get visuals and more information over IP. With nearly 2,000 broadcasts now equipped in this way, and the participation RadioDNS open project members including people like ClearChannel, the NAB, dot.FM and Cox Media, the FM experience will become more compelling by using this form of hybrid radio. It doesn't ruin your bandwidth or suck your batteries dry either.

    The future of radio is a multi-platform experience, and yes, that does include an FM-equipped mobile phone. This survey is useful information for those of us who want to make our medium better, and gives us lots to think about. It's disappointing that your 'doomsayer' spin on it is destructive towards the industry, rather than constructive.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    My title is accurate, James.

    The fact that the discussion in the piece is more nuanced is a reflection of the difference between the label and the contents. But that doesn't make the title inaccurate.

    FM's ubiquity does not put it at a disadvantage in this survey if the radio industry is arguing that consumers demand FM in mobile devices. In fact, this is exactly relevant to that point. Even you are arguing that an FM-equipped mobile phone should be the norm. And yet, consumers speak with their behaviors.

  • http://twitter.com/NeilMathur Neil Mathur

    Mark,
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't most FM-enabled mobile phones require the headphones to be plugged in so the cable can act as an antenna?
    You got me thinking when you said “some listening is obviously better than none from a ratings perspective.” But how would this listening be accounted-for in PPM markets?
    Would you not have to plug the phone into the PPM then the headphones into PPM? Seems cumbersome and a burden most listeners would not comply with. 
    So, does FM-in-the-phone work with PPM from a phone reception-meter detection standpoint? And is it reasonable to expect the PPM panelists to do all this hooking-up of devices just to listen to the radio?

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Great comments, Neil.

    To my surprise, YES I'm hearing from lots of folks that “FM built-in” means “antenna extra.”
    And you're right, my comment PRESUMES that this listening can be measured. And YES, there's an attachment between the unit and your ears that must be plugged in to enable PPM detection while you're wearing earbuds. And NO, I don't think anyone will plug in that unit.
    So there's your answer! I take it all back about the “some better than none.” comment. That only counts if ANY will be measurable.
    Hey, I know a way to measure listenership on mobile phones – it's called webcast metrics.

  • James Cridland

    I think you’ve misunderstood my point. The radio industry argues that FM radio in a mobile phone is something that consumers will use. Your piece agrees with that: and clearly says that that people do use it (yet your title paints a different, less-balanced, picture which is now being read as fact in tweets and links elsewhere).

    Of course, total time spent listening for FM radio is lower, compared to IP-exclusive services on a mobile phone. Your argument appears to be “less people use FM than IP-delivered services on mobile”, and that’s not a surprise: FM radio is available in many different ways (and, to be fair, the FM experience on many mobile phones is a crappy one).

    I’m grateful for the research, as should the radio industry be: it’s high time that we concentrated on an exciting, enthralling, app-like experience for broadcast radio within a connected environment like a mobile phone – not least because the more listeners we have on FM, the less we have to pay on music rights and bandwidth.

    However, I’m not grateful for the negative spin you’ve placed on it, which is both misleading and deeply unhelpful. If you are arguing that FM has no place in a mobile phone, you’re not only dead wrong, but also damaging the industry’s future. There’s plenty of positives from the research, and it’s a shame that in a quest to be provocative, doomsayers harm the industry rather than constructively improve it.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    I don’t understand this debate. My title says most people who have it don’t use it, and that’s accurate. The fact that some people do does not negate the point but rather defines it.

    The issue is not “total time spent,” the question records frequency of usage, not duration.

    I think this is a highly balanced view of things, and the negative spin you’re talking about is resident in the data itself. I have been interpreting research since 1984, James.

    I am not arguing FM has no place in mobile phones. I am arguing that “radio” in mobile phones is not necessarily FM. To mistake our brands for the means by which those brands are distributed is to wed ourselves to one channel of distribution in an era of distribution abundance.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    I don’t think we do.

  • Bill

    Great info Mark, thanks for the study and sharing here. 

    Did the survey separate smart phones from feature phones?  FM is probably still more popular in the US on feature phones, especially Nokia.  Except for Nokia, the FM radio on smart phones is typically poor/useable.

    For local FM stations, our TuneIn app for Windows 7 uses FM when available instead of the data plan (and IP for the meta data).   We built primarily as a business development tool to persuade more handset companies, broadcasters, and auto companies to integrate terrestrial+internet tuning.  The biggest hurdle has been finding a phone with FM that actually works.  We’ve tried the five most popular Windows 7 phones, most tune a few stations in a major market. 

    The FM tuner users are finding in their phones must be for a feature checklist.  Until we see popular phones in the US with a decent FM tuner we won’t see any better than “decent” adoption you found.

    Bill Moore, TuneIn

  • Bill

    Great info Mark, thanks for the study and sharing here. 

    Did the survey separate smart phones from feature phones?  FM is probably still more popular in the US on feature phones, especially Nokia.  Except for Nokia, the FM radio on smart phones is typically poor/useable.

    For local FM stations, our TuneIn app for Windows 7 uses FM when available instead of the data plan (and IP for the meta data).   We built primarily as a business development tool to persuade more handset companies, broadcasters, and auto companies to integrate terrestrial+internet tuning.  The biggest hurdle has been finding a phone with FM that actually works.  We’ve tried the five most popular Windows 7 phones, most tune a few stations in a major market. 

    The FM tuner users are finding in their phones must be for a feature checklist.  Until we see popular phones in the US with a decent FM tuner we won’t see any better than “decent” adoption you found.

    Bill Moore, TuneIn

  • Bill

    Great info Mark, thanks for the study and sharing here. 

    Did the survey separate smart phones from feature phones?  FM is probably still more popular in the US on feature phones, especially Nokia.  Except for Nokia, the FM radio on smart phones is typically poor/useable.

    For local FM stations, our TuneIn app for Windows 7 uses FM when available instead of the data plan (and IP for the meta data).   We built primarily as a business development tool to persuade more handset companies, broadcasters, and auto companies to integrate terrestrial+internet tuning.  The biggest hurdle has been finding a phone with FM that actually works.  We’ve tried the five most popular Windows 7 phones, most tune a few stations in a major market. 

    The FM tuner users are finding in their phones must be for a feature checklist.  Until we see popular phones in the US with a decent FM tuner we won’t see any better than “decent” adoption you found.

    Bill Moore, TuneIn

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Thanks Bill!

    Remember, the offer is open for you and me to do a video chat of our own!

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Thanks Bill!

    Remember, the offer is open for you and me to do a video chat of our own!

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Thanks Bill!

    Remember, the offer is open for you and me to do a video chat of our own!

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  • Joe Lindsay

    Hey Mark, Joe Lindsay here from Local Media San Diego….been a while….I would like to take this a step further.  Radio companies may overlook this because of the extra step that meter holders need to take to plug in their devise.  However, it still can serve a purpose for appointment setting and be a gateway for the listener to engage in the future.  For example, if while listening to the FM tuner on the phone and they hear something that interest them that may happen in the future (giveaway, breaking a new song, something relevant to the listener), the PPM holder may listen to the station when they are in the car.  Just because it is an extra step doesn’t mean it won’t lead to future PPM holder listening.  Make sense?  The value may not be a lot, but when you get one PPM holder to listen it equates to 16,000 people listening.  That is extremely valuable.  What are your thoughts.  BTW….great article.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    That sounds right to me, Joe.

    Extra exposure plus extra promotion may equal extra occasions in a measured setting.

    Thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    That sounds right to me, Joe.

    Extra listening plus extra promotion equals extra occasions in a measured setting.

    One small piece of the future.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Dangermandownunder

    I’m amazed you even had to write this article.  Why would people want to listen to a linear broadcast they can’t interact with when there are so many other fun options out there?
    Wake up radio, you are in the content business.  NAB types lobbying for inclusion of FM in toasters and whatever else need to retire.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    I’ll say it again, FM in mobile phones is fine. But it’s not an answer to our problem.

    One analyst wrote me that people use FM on mobile devices less than other options because there’s so much FM available elsewhere.

    So, in other words, we don’t have a distribution problem – so let’s add more distribution.

  • http://koolaidredalert.blogspot.com Wm_Tucker

    I no longer believe data on consumer demand for FM-equipped mobile phone handsets is a relevant argument against their requirement.  As these mobile network services use public rights-of-way to operate, their accommodation of free broadcast radio signals is in the public interest, just as with wireline video service operators and local broadcast TV services.  The mobile telnets — AT&T, Verizon Wireless, etc., represent an oligopoly that effectively cuts off consumers from accessing various services broadcasters provide for free. 

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    That could be. My argument is strictly consumer demand and usage based.

    And I made that argument primarily because forces were making specious arguments based on bad data.

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  • Stuarthypnotized

    how can i find a list of phones that come with the fm app?

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    I think NAB has them listed on one of their sites.

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  • anon

    what’s hilarious for me is the fact that I’ve come across this article while desperately searching online for an application my phone can use to play FM radio lol

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    If that doesn’t spell it all out I don’t know what does.

  • Anita22_22

    Most consumers don´t use mobile phones with built-in antena FM, because there is very very very few mobiles with built-in FM.
    Did not you know that??? Poor Idiot!

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    I have argued that folks who buy mobile phones don’t look for those that contain FM. And I have argued that most of those who have such phones don’t use them for FM. I have never argued that folks don’t use them because few exist.

    I have found that the market tends to provide what consumers want because there is profit in doing so. Unless, of course, there isn’t.

    So I’ll let other readers determine who the idiot is.

  • TN

    Could anyone kindly help?  I have been desparately looking for a CELL PHONE WITH BUILT-IN FM ANTENNA so that I would be able to listen to the FM radio using wireless BLUE TOOTH.  Thank so much

  • http://www.facebook.com/joseph.glidden.9 Joseph Glidden

    I have a Droid X2. It has an fm tuner built in, and i love it. I am in and out of my truck all day at work, and not always with great cell phone service, so streaming is not an option. I do not always use the app, but I definately use it often. I will be quite frustrated if the next phone I get does not have a tuner. Not only does it not use up data while providing more options than my mp3 collection, it uses much less battery power than streaming.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Most doesn’t mean all. And the people who do not use the feature are least likely to post a reply here.
    Still, thank you for the comment!

    Mark Ramsey

  • hsn

    I know it is an old thread. I like to have FM radio on my phone even though I use it rarely. Mostly if you have been listening to a debate on your car radio an now you have to go inside a store to buy something and don’t want to waste your time in the car until the program is over. What would you say? Not too many people listen to talk shows and debates on the radio? By the way how much salt and sugar do you eat everyday? Not very significant by weight, right? Can we just stop producing salt and sugar then?

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Yes but should your phone come bundled with salt and sugar?

    Mark Ramsey

  • Joel

    there is some simple things to be said about this which is that low income people can still benefit a great deal by having a smartphone or tab and its cheaper than a pc or mac setup but you make it really suck for someone without internet access. If there were more apps devoted to letting you stream your own media, that would just be pretty cool, you know. Everything in this fucking country has to be fucking profitable and its sickening to the point where know one can just be happy with what theyve got. We constantly need more more more. Its not a working system and it cant last. The other thing is that an fm radio tuner is an amazing telecommunication device in a natural disaster or electricity blackout. And why does popular opinion matter if its held by people who are on a gimmick. Lets face it people who use pandora are being picky at the expense of their data plan and if thats what they wanna do thats fine but why is it my problem. I love local radio and im about to take my smartphone back upon realizing it cant play fm radio offline and there are no apps for it. A simple task and you cant do it. Peace android im a go get my flip phone back its cheaper and at least it can play fuckin radio. This is ridiculous you know i get that your a smart guy but i cant believe your defending this. The fact that we as a society put up with this kinda CRAP is why they do it and you sit there and justify it. You justify screwing people over to there face for profits. Jeez at least this country used to try and lube ya up before it fucked you in the ass. Im pissed.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    So many questions….

    1. How will people feel as personalized radio apps begin to limit free listening time and work to move listeners to a paid subscription model?
    The caps are way beyond average usage and so I don’t think people will mind a bit. As for paid subscription, remember 20-some-odd million subscribers ago when we asked that same question about SiriusXM?
    2. How many people would use their FM radio more if it didn’t require the use of headphones for an antenna?
    Earbuds and antennae are not the reason why some folks choose other options over radio. Value and convenience and control are.
    3. How many people are aware their phone HAS FM radio?

    Not that many. Because most don’t. And because FM radio is not what most folks are looking for when they buy or use a mobile phone.
    4. How many people would like to have FM radio as a backup for prolonged power outages, but rarely use it in their daily lives?
    I imagine lots of people would like to have FM radio as a backup for prolonged power outages. And if any broadcaster wants to justify the relevance of the entire radio industry on the possibility of an occasional blackout I submit that that broadcaster is selling us all very short.
    Anyone who wants a backup in the event of a power outage could also use the radio on their nightstand (if they still have one) which probably has a battery backup.
    Personally, I didn’t get into radio to part of one big EBS test.

  • chaotix

    me too!

  • dannwebb

    Count me in as one of the number who use it every day (1 hour, to and from work). I’ve just gone to considerable effort when upgrading my phone to make sure I got with with FM radio.

  • Joseph Muller

    It would be interesting to see what the trend is over time – my HTC with an FM tuner is suffering mini-plug failure, which means the FM is flaky. It seems harder to find smart phones with FM-tuners now (curious to see that the nano has one, though no other apple pods/phones that I can see).
    On the functionality part, FM-tuner is very useful when you’re camping in the north, where you can get some stations from the air and you aren’t near cell coverage.

  • Mike

    Same here. I bought my LG G2 when it was released due to having read reports of it having FM receive/transmit capability. Come to find out that is intentionally disabled in USA models.

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