Online Listening Is Growing, TSL Is Down, And Here’s Why

The last few years have been a glowing report card for online radio listening. Monthly listening to any online radio—pureplay or simulcast of broadcast radio—crossed the 50% threshold last year. This year, the weekly number hit 50% giving monthly-to-weekly listening an incredible 88% conversion rate. Online listening is clearly a habit, according to the just-released Infinite Dial 2016, Edison Research and Triton Digital’s definitive study on consumer adoption of digital media.

The one blip in online listening’s growth is a two year decline in average Time Spent Listening. That number was 13:19 a week in 2014, 12:53 last year, and 12:08 in the just-released study. AM/FM broadcasters, quick to seize on any sign of weakness, might gloat now, even though their own TSL numbers have been down (and far less transparent). So why would TSL be down among this other good news? There are a few likely reasons.

Cume Growth = TSL Leveling: As broadcasters have known for years, continued cume growth for a mass-appeal radio station often brings with it a decline in TSL. Casual listeners swell the ranks but their listening is, well, casual. The number of users of online radio has gone from 95 million to 119 million to 136 million over that two year stretch.

On Demand Means Instant Gratification: The rise of Spotify, especially among younger listeners, has brought with it a greater emphasis on the ability to “Type A Song, Hear A Song,” henceforth TAS/HAS here. This became even clearer last year when even iHeartRadio’s top seed artist for a month was the whip/nae-nae rapper, Silento, an artist who had no other catalog, and whose hit sounded like little else in Hip-Hop. Even somebody ordering up a Silento station really wanted just one song.

It was a classic top 40 tenet, attributed to Buzz Bennett, that once listeners heard their favorite song, their mission was accomplished. Even with the playlist and curation concept holding sway for some listeners, as Spotify grows, TAS/HAS certainly seems likely to reduce the need to seed an artist- or song-driven station and wait to hear a song eventually. And Spotify is also likely bringing some usage from YouTube, long famous for TAS/HAS, under the online radio banner, where it would not have been counted before.

Online Spotload is Growing: It will be a long-time before the spotload on pureplay radio is in any way comparable to the 10-16 minutes an hour that clog broadcast radio and its own streams, but I am willing to at least entertain the notion that the four units an hour is an issue for listeners who had been used to two. Even hobby-ist run Internet radio stations, whatever their long-term prospects, have had more spots in recent years.

Those TSL Numbers Include Broadcast Radio: It’s also worth pointing out that listening to the streams of AM/FM radio stations are at play here as well. And while those streams don’t offer TAS/HAS (although some streaming providers are working on greater customization), FM music radio has come as close as possible in recent years with its ultra-high turnover on the hits. There are things that broadcasters could do, from improving the streaming experience to building better national brands, that would raise both Internet radio’s overall usage and their own.

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