Audio Trends Here To Stay

By Idil Cakim, SVP Research & Insights, Audacy

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought so many limitations to our everyday lives, it has also accelerated change. The audio trends that emerged in the spring of 2020, especially across streaming and podcasting platforms, are here to stay. Over the course of the past year, we changed the way we use our time. We connect virtually, manage shopping through apps and entertain – mostly ourselves – at home. We are also discussing social issues more boldly and seeking news more proactively than before. We are moving forward, changed forever.

There are three key audio-related shifts that took place in the past year that are propelling many of the new consumer trends in media and influencing commerce:

1. Media consumers increase time with audio: When forced to blend work, personal and family time, audiences turned to audio to stay abreast of news and create shared experiences. As a result, time spent listening to audio sprang up, with strong lifts in streaming over-the-air (OTA) and podcast listening. 

  • Nielsen called out how audio was the leading form of media — ahead of TV, streaming and social media — for populations working from home1.  
  • Entercom’s Engaged Impressions study revealed that post-COVID, U.S. media consumers (A18-54) spend notably more time with audio than with social (+60%), broadcast TV (+54%) or video streaming (+42%)2.
  • Edison Research underscored the sharp increases in time spent listening to smart speakers and to podcasts. A comparison of May and Q1, 2020 trends showed a +43% increase in smart speaker use and +26% increase in podcast listening time3.

2. Gen Z embraces OTA content across platforms: Gen Z audiences are expressing a heightened interest in OTA content and are increasing their time on streaming channels. Whether tuning in from their laptops or mobile phones, they are as enthused as any other audio fan, when the DJ calls their name4

  • A Nielsen consumer survey conducted at the onset of pandemic showed younger audiences outpacing older generations in increased radio listening. 18-24 year olds (64%) were more likely than older counterparts (A25-54, 55%) to say they increased their radio listening5.
  • Similarly, from pre-COVID to current times, Entercom’s Engaged Impressions study showed an increase of +1.5 hours/week of broadcast OTA and +1.8 hours/week of podcast listening among Gen Z.

3. Screenless technologies increase share: The new life order during the pandemic imposed an incredible load of office work and education time in front of screens. Audiences seeking a balance and ease of access to news and entertainment veered towards smart audio technologies. According to the Infinite Dial Survey (2021) an estimated 94 million in the US own smart speakers, representing a YOY increase of +22%. And 20% of U.S. drivers have in-dash infotainment systems — an uptick of +11% YOY6.

Audio is a change facilitator and augmentor. It immerses audiences in new content and experiences unlike any other medium. Audiences who were comforted and intrigued by audio content and enjoyed the benefits of screenless technologies are now dedicated listeners. As we emerge into a new kind of spring, with much hope to see the end of the pandemic, we remain consumed by audio.

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1  Nielsen, Remote Workers Consumer Survey, June 18-25 2020
2 Alter Agents, Entercom Engaged Impressions Survey, n=1,008, P18-54, August 2020
3 Edison Research, Share of Ear, May vs Q1 2020
4 104.1 JACK FM broadcast, 2021
5 Nielsen, Custom Consumer Survey, n=1,000+, P18+, March 20-22, 2020
6 Edison Research, Triton Digital, The Infinite Dial Survey, 2021

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