The Airwaves Vs. Ones And Zeroes

We had good fun last week with my post about live TV slowly but surely losing its once-almost-unattainable perch. Lots of discussion ensued.
The TV vs. digital wars seem to have become similar to the Coke vs. Pepsi or Apple vs. Windows battles. It’s easy to forget that there are other media besides these two.

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).

4 comments about "The Airwaves Vs. Ones And Zeroes".
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  1. Kenneth Hittel from Ken Hittel, July 20, 2015 at 1:29 p.m.

    Marvin Gaye...

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 20, 2015 at 3:53 p.m.

    and Tammy Tirrel.

  3. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), July 20, 2015 at 4 p.m.

    It was, indeed, Marvin Gaye. Tammi Terrell had died before the recording. The story of the making of "What's going on" is here:

  4. Doc Searls from Customer Commons, July 24, 2015 at 9:14 p.m.

    Several years ago, my fifteen year old son asked, "What is the point of 'range' and 'coverage' for radio and TV?" in other words, how is losing a radio station's signal when you leave town, or requiring an antenna to get a TV station, a feature rather than a bug?

    You see where this goes.

    Digital is how everything will be (and for the most part already is) composed, stored, processed, transmitted, received, shared and the rest of it. We'll always need airwaves, but mostly to convey information formatted digitally.

    What we call "stations," "channels" and "networks" are remnants of an analog era where those frames made sense. Those frames will probably be with us for a long time too.

    But there is no "war" between anything here. Just a gradual and uneven evolution from analog to digital, in a networked world where everything and everybody is a functional distance apart of zero, or close enough — and at costs that veer in the same direction.

    No telling how far anybody can go if they get in alignment with a future history that could hardly be more clear.

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