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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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