The Future of Radio – According to Teens


A recent Piper Jaffray report focused on the behaviors of teenagers and the consequence of trends in those behaviors.

One of the questions asked teens what percentage of their time was spent listening to music in the following categories: mp3’s, Pandora, local radio, other streaming radio (e.g., Spotify, Songza, etc.), CD’s, or SiriusXM.

The result: About 16% of teen music listening time is spent with radio. Pandora’s share was slightly higher, while mp3’s were more than twice as high.

It’s not great news to see Pandora ahead of radio in this category. And the worse news is that radio’s 16% is down from 21% only six months earlier.

Now there are a few things to keep in mind before jumping to conclusions here.

First, there’s no clear distinction between “local radio” over the air and local radio online, but I presume that the online listenership is probably bundled into the “local radio” category since a radio station online is still the radio station’s brand.

Second – and this is important – the question was specifically about “time listening to music.” To the degree that teens will go to radio stations for a broader mix of services and value propositions, the answer to the question will shift accordingly. What the result really tells you is not that teens are turning off to radio per se, but that they are making room for more music-focused services on their entertainment menu.

The more attractions you have besides music, the more essential and vital you shall remain.

As I like to say, it’s not about the distribution channel, it’s about what’s on it.

Third, Piper Jaffray altered the way the mp3 option was described to respondents – they broadened the question to include (i.e. iPod, iTunes, downloaded music). That explains at least in part why mp3 listenership rose from 35% to 42%. However, it’s not likely that any bias resulting from this language change comes at radio’s expense since it’s impossible to confuse “iPod, iTunes, downloaded music” with radio.

In other words, radio’s erosion is probably rooted in reality. But only to the degree that a teen-oriented radio station is a music service and nothing else. If you are only and always about music – expect to extract a diminishing amount of attention and consumption from teens.

It’s also worth noting that the trends on Pandora, like the radio trends, are not positive: Pandora listening declined from 26% to 18% in six months, while “other streaming radio” is up slightly over time.

Also (note that these results could likewise result from broadening the definition of “other streaming radio” to include “e.g., Spotify, Songza”):

When asked if they listen to Pandora more, same or less, 30% said “less,” up from 25% in Spring ‘14. When questioning music consumption in the car, Pandora fell to 20% from 26% from last survey.

As ever, teens are a volatile and moving target. But as everyone in radio knows, the habits set at the age where music matters most often remain potent for a lifetime.

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