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Here’s Why Radio Will Have a Tough Time on Mobile Phones

The battle for real estate and attention on mobile devices is even tougher than you think.

This past week Techcrunch reported on a study by comScore which indicated…

U.S. users are now spending the majority of their time consuming digital media within mobile applications. That means mobile apps, including the number 1 most popular app Facebook, eat up more of our time than desktop usage or mobile web surfing, accounting for 52% of the time spent using digital media. Combined with mobile web, mobile usage as a whole accounts for 60% of time spent, while desktop-based digital media consumption makes up the remaining 40%. Apps today are driving the majority of media consumption activity, the report claims, now accounting for 7 out of every 8 minutes of media consumption on mobile devices. On smartphones, app activity is even higher, at 88% usage versus 82% on tablets.

So does this mean you need a dedicated mobile app or to be present on an aggregator app like TuneIn or iHeartRadio? Does this mean being usable on mobile devices via the mobile web isn’t sufficient?

Well, yes. But it means much more than that.

Consider, for starters, who is downloading these apps:

The average smartphone user downloads 3 apps per month. However, much of that download activity is concentrated within a small segment of the smartphone population: the top 7% of smartphone owners accounting for nearly half of all the download activity in a given month. Those are some serious power users, apparently.

In other words, a relatively small fraction of power users are churning through apps. The majority of folks with apps are simply using the same apps as always and not downloading new ones. This, perhaps, explains the tragic statistic that 1 in 4 apps are abandoned after ONE use and 95% are abandoned within a month. These power users are experimenters – the technological equivalent of food grazers at the Costco sample tables. Curiosity drives their download behavior, and once satisfied their “problem” is solved. The result: That which they download is abandoned.

So you have a trap: Most folks use apps but don’t download new ones. And the vast majority of those that are downloaded are soon abandoned.

So what can we learn about consumer behavior by examining the apps which are most often used? From comScore:


Now to be fair, this list is about visits, not time spent using (I’ll get to time in a moment). Still, what can we learn from this picture?

First, it’s obvious that the most popular apps fall into a small number of categories:

  1. Connection/Communication (Facebook, Kik, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Gmail, etc.)

  2. Visual Entertainment (YouTube, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest, etc.)

  3. News, Weather, Traffic, and Navigation (e.g., maps, weather, stocks)

  4. Search (Google Search)

  5. Music/Radio (Google Play, Pandora, Shazam, iTunes Radio)

  6. Shopping (Amazon, eBay, etc.)

What’s interesting about this list is what’s absent from it.

No TuneIn. No iHeartRadio. No Spotify. No single radio station app, naturally. No NPR. And it seems like there’s no podcasting platform – no Stitcher, no Apple Podcast app.

In other words, most of what makes terrestrial radio “radio” is absent from the most popular apps.

But it gets even scarier than that:

42% of all app time on smartphones takes place in that individual’s single most used app. 3 out of 4 minutes is spent in the individual’s top 4 apps. The top brands, which account for 9 out of the top 10 most used apps, include Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Amazon and eBay. Facebook is the most used app, in both audience size and share of time spent among each demographic segment.

So this means that being an icon on the phone’s home screen is not nearly enough. If you’re not one of the consumer’s top four apps you will be competing for only 25% of their total app usage time. You will be fighting over scraps.

To be fair, “radio” is a big category in app-world, but as you can see from the ranker “radio” in app-world is primarily defined as Pandora, Apple, Google, and Shazam. That’s even how TechCrunch defines it:

Social Networking, Games and Radio contribute to nearly half the total time spent on apps, indicating mobile usage is heavily centered around entertainment and communication.

So the reason terrestrial radio will have a tough go of it on mobile phones is that the “short head” of apps is weighted towards a relatively small number of big brands with already deep roots. And those roots are sucking up the majority of available sampling and time.

Now obviously, you don’t need to be a number one app to have a sizable audience that returns to you again and again. But these statistics are sobering nonetheless, especially for an industry accustomed to universal distribution and universal usage. Mobile is a new pond, and your brand is no longer the big fish.

What’s the answer to all this? The answer can only be this: Be compelling to as many people as possible – not simply used by them out of habit or convenience. Be that good – that irreplaceably awesome. Winning at PPM and winning with consumers on mobile devices are not only uncorrelated, they may be negatively correlated. Ponder that one!

Yes, you need to be where the audience is, but more to the point you need to be worth hearing where the audience has more choices. Your new competition is Facebook and Google and Apple and Amazon and eBay. Get used to it.

And the other lesson: Don’t presume that an app – any app – will carry your PPM success to success in the world of mobile devices. The data is leaning heavily against you.

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