Commentary

Listen Up: There's a Reason Digital Audio Is Having a Moment

If you thought 2018 was an interesting year for streaming audio, smart speakers and podcasts, listen up: 2019 is set to be even bigger. We’re living in a mobile, always-on world and that’s especially well-suited to audio. What you hear is often more important than what you see, and voice is the key interaction in this new audio marketplace.

There are currently 100+ million smart speakers in use worldwide, and by 2021, there will be almost as many audio personal assistants on the planet as people. Meanwhile, streaming audio has exploded in popularity, and on-demand audio streams grew 58.7% last year and now dominate music consumption patterns. Moreover, 57% of Americans listen to streams every week, while 48 million listen to podcasts.

Podcasting and streaming audio have embedded themselves in our consciousness. As a result, more and more marketers understand the value of the ears that tune in, particular direct-to-consumer brands.

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An audience immersed in content is more likely to listen to commercials — and digital audio provides a powerful platform for reaching and engaging audiences with storytelling and personalization in one of the most intimate and engaging media settings possible.

The latest IAB/PwC Podcast Advertising Revenue Study found that streaming audio was on track for $1.6 billion in 2018, and mobile audio ad revenue makes up 75% of that number. 

And that doesn’t even include podcasts. U.S. podcast ad revenue is expected to go up from an estimated $314 million in 2017 to $659 million in 2020, and baked-in ads (ads read by the presenter that sound like a natural extension of the show) are the most popular type.

So what’s driving this expansion?

Consumers love (and spend lots of time in) connected cars. Cars are no longer just cars — they’re mobile phones, mobile cockpits and mobile audio systems. Apple Carplay, Android Auto and Bluetooth systems have made it easy to connect and listen in the car. In fact, 44% of drivers connect their phones to their car audio system to listen online. This in-car connectivity creates excellent options for advertisers to interact with consumers on the move. 

Smart speakers are the new smartphones (and clock radios). The number of smart speaker users is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 47.9%, according to eMarketer. That speed of growth is faster than any tech product since the smartphone.

These devices offer nearly ubiquitous connectivity, seldom with a browser or even a screen. As usage expands — it’s projected to reach 76.5 million users by 2020 — consumers don’t need screens to interact with media. Seventy percent of smart speaker owners listen to more audio once they get a smart speaker, and audio messaging is on track to become even more relevant and important than it is today.

Voice is the new touch. People have quickly adapted to voice control, now relying on it throughout the day — from getting traffic and weather info before leaving the house to listening to an audiobook or music, setting an alarm before bed, or just shopping.

Technology is turbocharging digital audio. As programmatic ads continue to grow, digital audio offers flexible options: better targeting, enhanced reach and better campaign management. But perhaps even more importantly, digital audio is uniquely brand-safe, too. Buyers are learning more about its benefits, but need to educate themselves even further.

 Listeners only hear one message at a time and pick programs and songs they want to hear, so audiences are highly engaged and brands know exactly where their ads are appearing. Additionally, consumers listen on mobile devices and in-app where bot fraud is very low. Finally, you don't need a screen to get an audio ad, so listeners aren’t tempted to flip the channel or skip the stream.

So where’s this all going? In the words of the great Wayne Gretzky, “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been.” Digital audio lets you go where the puck is going: to consumers on the move.

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