So this week, let’s talk about radio vs. digital. Trust me, it’s like TV and digital: an epic battle between existing players and newcomers, with an old guard reinventing itself, with new players coming up and disappearing again, and other assorted dramas. And at the heart is an art form that has been around since prehistoric days: music and spoken-word storytelling.
According to Nielsen’s reporting data from Q1 2015, radio trumps all other media in terms of weekly reach in the U.S., reaching 93% of all adults. TV delivers 87%, smartphones 70%, PCs 54% and tablets 35%. Across all digital platforms, online radio is approaching a weekly reach of almost 36% of all Americans. This goes — unsurprisingly — up to 64% with all 12-24s. And a little over a quarter of listening in cars is already claimed by online radio streamed via a connected cellphone.
And here is where the first comparisons between the old guard and the newcomers gets challenging, because the online weekly reach numbers combine online listening to both “regular” (FM/AM stations) as well as pure-play streamed audio content.
According to 2014 data from Edison Research and Triton Digital, Pandora had a weekly reach of 22% (43% of 12-24s); iHeartRadio had 5% (6% of 12-24s), iTunes Radio also had 5% (13% of 12-24s) and Spotify delivered 4% (11% of 12-24s).
In terms of share of global ad spend, radio claims about 7% this year, and is predicted to go down to 6% by 2017, according to ZenithOptimedia’s forecast. Sadly, ZenithOptimedia does not (cannot) break out digital radio/streaming ad revenue vs. “regular” radio revenues.
To further complicate matters, listening to music or spoken word includes so much more than radio vs. streaming. Significant numbers of people use YouTube to listen to music (33% of the total population, 60% of 12-24s). And others listen to their own music via iTunes, or set their TV to one of the many radio offerings on cable. And then there are the many radio shows that can also be seen on TV or online via a studio camera.
Oh, and let’s not forget podcasting, where we don’t know how listening breaks out between music, spoken word and ill-informed ranting (I made that last category up). Many radio shows can be downloaded as a podcast for listening when it suits you. So you tell me how to quantify a rating for a show that was broadcast both on radio and streamed via TV and online, and made available as a podcast. All we do know is that in 2014, about 15% of Americans were reached each month via a podcast.
So where does this leave us? What's clear is that both existing and new players in radio have all embraced digital in as many forms as possible, and perhaps in a more open-minded manner than other existing media. We just need better numbers, better classifications and definitions to understand What’s Going On (you will win extra points if you can name the music artist who famously sang those last three words).