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What Radio’s Changing Audience Demos Means for You

As you consider your target audience, don’t forget that target keeps moving.

And it has profound implications for radio.

Check out this chart from Business Insider via WSJ:


This chart shows the changes in US demographics (age only) over the past six years.

What you’re looking at is a slight decline in the overall number of 25-54’s (down 1.2%), a more sizable increase among 16-24’s (up 3.7%) and a massive increase among those 55 and over – the folks who are traditionally of little to no interest to commercial radio broadcasters (up a huge 19%).

That’s just in the past six years!

While the 25-54 group remains the largest, the 16-24 number is about a third as large – and growing. And this, of course, is exactly the demographic segment where radio is most challenged by new technology, new content, and new ways to consume it. It is also a group for which radio has relatively few “format” options.

Meanwhile the 55+ group is more than half as large as the 25-54’s. Many of radio’s formats skew older, some much older. And while that 55+ audience continues to embrace the medium, they also continue to age out of the 25-54 demo at what this picture shows to be a rapid pace.

Obviously this migration beyond the demo is driven by baby boomers, the youngest of which is roughly 49 today.

That means another five years or so of rapid 55+ growth countered by less stunning growth in the youngest demos where radio is most challenged. Demographic growth is barbell-shaped.

So what are the consequences of this?

  1. You’ll see radio’s oldest formats continue to drift older, such that retaining a significant footprint under age 55 will be increasingly difficult, if not impossible.

  2. You’ll see the AM band generally cease to be viable among persons under age 55

  3. You’ll see the youngest demos continue to swell and leak into 25-54’s, bringing their taste for technology and choice and radio alternatives and substitutes with them.

  4. You’ll see less agreement on music among 25-54’s unless we’re talking about the biggest hits in each genre category.

  5. You’ll see fewer music formats among 25-54’s, not more. Unmet needs will be readily handled by technology.

  6. You’ll see broadcasters go “spoken word” or “spoken word-ish” to offer consumers under 55 something they can agree on besides music.

  7. You’ll see growth for public radio which loves and appreciates older audiences yet retains the ability to grow younger listeners, too. The unique content will grow the younger audience while the older audience will warm to in-depth information, especially with the diminishing number of music radio stations targeting a format at them.

  8. You’ll see continued shrinking of time spent listening to radio in the presence of other alternatives and other platforms.

To a large degree, the future can be predicted simply by understanding the life-stage of the audience and the population changes at each stage of life.

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