Commentary

Mobile Use Helps Traditional Radio Strengthen Its Staying Power

Traditional U.S. radio listening got back to its pre-pandemic levels in mid-2021, partly due to the return of that important mobile use -- in cars and other places.


But is this enough to keep encouraging business? And more importantly, can radio continue to hold off streaming audio?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, that out-of-home traditional radio listening took a dip -- to a 58% share of all traditional radio use, according to Nielsen. This was down from just over 70% in pre-pandemic times. As of August this year, it returned to the 70% level.

Recovering radio usage was expected, especially due to the pandemic easing earlier this year.

Looking a bit deeper at just audio -- traditional versus digital -- provides a more revealing story.

While AM/FM radio still owns the largest piece of America’s audio pie, with terrestrial radio now accounting for 39% of audio consumption among those 13 and older, streaming audio services have grown to a 18% share.

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Streaming is now second among all audio segments, including podcasts, satellite radio and owned music, according to Edison Research.

Want to get a little more granular? Taking out news/talk radio content, podcasts and other non-music fare, streaming music platforms led all sectors in the fourth quarter of 2020 with a 33.2% share, according to MusicWatch. Traditional radio music was ranked second, with a 15.9% share.

Even then, analysts tell us, some really big top 40 music artists can still amass a decent overall radio audience of 15 million to 18 million when all traditional radio promotional forces are in play. This is down from the 30 million some years ago.

Why? Radio still commands a massive U.S. weekly reach -- 91% of the total population, or 228.3 million, according to Nielsen. (Streaming audio is at a 64% number).

Some would say all these transitional metrics are trending in a similar direction to that of traditional linear TV versus connected TV -- that while digital continues to grow, legacy media platforms still have staying power and share of the market.

A true measure then might be what really happens when those melancholy melodies of pandemic-related issues are mostly behind us.

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