When Under-34’s Shrink Their Radio Listening

People under the age of 50 spend more time every week using apps and the web on their smartphone than they spend listening to the radio.

Indeed, the biggest users of radio are persons 50-64, while the lightest users are 18-24’s, who spend about 50% more time with mobile apps/web than they spend with the radio.


That’s from Nielsen data, by the way. So you can assume it’s as accurate…as Nielsen data (I have left TV usage (live and time-shifted) off this chart – that’s actually higher than mobile app/web usage among 18-24’s and rockets ever-higher as consumers age).

So what do these data mean?

First, it should be clear that traditional AM/FM radio listening among younger demographics is not keeping pace with listening among older demos (note that there is almost no radio “designed” for persons 65+, yet usage there exceeds usage among 18-24’s, for whom a lot of radio is designed).

Second, you should NOT assume that young folks will listen to MORE radio as they age, since the vast audio options on their menu and the degree to which those options will only become more familiar and convenient over time make that unlikely in the extreme. No, folks will not “grow into” radio as we know it today.

No, folks will not grow into radio as we know it today. Click To Tweet

Third, you CAN assume that consumers will take their behaviors with them as they age. That is, when today’s under-35 become tomorrow’s 50+ their media behaviors will be closer to what they were in their 30’s than what their parents’ behaviors were in their 50’s. Does that mean that these folks will still listen to the radio? Most likely, yes! But not as much as their parents did.

While you can’t conclude that listening is swapped directly from AM/FM radio to mobile apps/web usage, you CAN say that time is scarce since there are only 24 hours in a day. And to the degree that consumers are using earbuds to enrich their mobile experience they are less likely to be using that time to listen to the radio as well.

The challenge for folks in the audio space going forward is not simply to distribute content on mobile devices via streaming or on-demand. It’s also to recognize that mobile experiences are not limited to the audio form alone – even for audio-centric brands.

A mobile device is about enabling and personalizing experiences, at least some of which are media experiences. You have to understand that mobile devices enable consumers to do things they want to do – things that persons 65+ simply aren’t as interested in.

To the degree that radio, for example, is “only” linear audio, that becomes significantly less interesting to consumers in a field of choice. Especially younger consumers who are raised on an ever-expanding menu of options.

This should worry you if you consider Nielsen’s challenges in measuring audio in a world where so many of the sources used aren’t in your 6+ ranker (SiriusXM? Pandora? Spotify? Apple Music? Podcasts? No, no, no, no, and no). It should worry you when you consider that radio industry solutions to perpetuate the dominance of the broadcast tower are largely dependent on antennae, and the ones connected to earbuds are about to disappear. It should worry you when you ponder how much radio consumers will listen to in their cars when those cars drive themselves. It should worry you when you take a long, hard look at your radio station app and realize it’s essentially a radio that gets only one station.

So what’s the answer? It’s not easy, but here it is: Begin with the consumer and the content she loves. Allow her to do things with that content that are personalized and customizable. Enable the kind of interaction that would have been difficult or impossible prior to the digital revolution. Think beyond the sound. Think beyond Nielsen.

It may not be how you’re compensated today. But it will be the only way you get compensated tomorrow.

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