The Number of Americans Paying for Audio Subscriptions Has Doubled Since 2015

Edison Research recently published a fascinating tidbit from our Share of Ear® series: The portion of the American population that is paying for an audio subscription of some kind has doubled since 2015, and is now almost half of everyone (47%).

There is a lot that is contributing to this growth.  First, it’s important to emphasize this is not a measure of subscriptions, it is a measure of people. If two people share a log-in or an account, that’s one subscription but two people who would say “yes” to subscribing.

The biggest factor is almost assuredly the transfer of monies that once went to purchasing physical music product (think CDs) that now goes to paid music subscriptions to Spotify, Apple Music and others.

Nearly as crucial to the rise is the ever-growing factor of SiriusXM.  By far the largest single subscription audio product in the U.S., every year it just keeps adding to its base as new cars roll off the lot.

Even smaller niche products like Audible add to the picture, and the coming wave of podcast subscription products may tempt even more people to start paying for an audio product.  The number will almost surely pass 50% of Americans paying something for audio in the next year or two.

Here are some things one might want to ponder:

It’s not that many years ago that this number would have been essentially zero.  Satellite Radio really pioneered the space, and it didn’t exist in the 20th Century.

Audio joins the long list of products that once were ‘free’ (at least for the cost of a transistor radio or the car that surrounded it, or for the internet connection one was already paying for), which people now choose to pay for.  Just like bottled water.  And of course first cable and satellite television and then streaming video.

Even when competing with “free”, as always these products come down to value.  If you really wanted your MTV, you paid for cable.  If you really want on-demand music or products without commercials or just more choice or convenience, these subscriptions are really not so expensive as to inhibit purchase for a lot of people.  And it’s likely that the incredible growth of Netflix and other video products have trained consumers to pay a few bucks a month for things they like.

One of broadcast radio’s primary sales arguments has long been that it is free.  And while this remains true, it is clearly a diminishing selling point.  The at-times extreme level of commercial content that many American radio stations run has probably helped change the value proposition around commercial-free products.

Bauer Media, one of the main broadcast radio companies in the U.K., is now offering a subscription service of their own.  For a small monthly fee, a consumer can now stream all the Bauer stations with no commercials plus access other exclusive content.  This seems an ingenious strategy that American commercial radio companies should at least be considering.

One of the biggest mistakes in business (a mistake I have made myself) is assuming that under no circumstances will people pay for something they already get for free. In a rather short period of time, almost 90% of American households went from only getting television from “rabbit ears” to signing up for cable or satellite, because the value was there.

Think about the audio space.  Between illegal downloads of digital music and broadcast radio, there has long been tons of ‘free’ content available.  And yet, people pay.  Endless billions of dollars — as long as they continue to provide value.

Work-From-Home Leads to Enormous Shift in U.S. Audio Consumption

As a significant share of American workers shifted to at-home employment in 2020, naturally their audio consumption patterns were deeply affected as well. Data from Edison Research’s Share of Ear® survey allows its clients to quantify those shifts and also to predict how things might shift again if and when people go back to commuting to offices and other work locations.

  

In addition to previous data releases that showed a massive shift in the total share of all audio consumed at home, the latest Share of Ear release shows a clear difference in listening between those working primarily at home vs. those not working from home. 


Among employed persons who work from home, nearly three-quarters of their total audio consumption (72%) happens at home. Meanwhile, among those who work away from their homes, only 29% of their listening happens at home.
Share of Ear subscribers recently received an extensive report detailing all the ways audio has changed in the last year under so many COVID-related disruptions. Included are details on the work-from-home cohort, as well as many insights into how the pandemic changed audio over the last year. 

 

 

Share of Ear has tracked the growth of audio consumption since 2014 and has always tracked listening location as part of that dataset. The study has now added a measure of those U.S. adults who are employed and work primarily from home, and those who are employed and do not work primarily from home, leading to new insights. 

 

“We knew from Share of Ear data in 2020 that a tremendous amount of listening had shifted to home as a result of quarantine restrictions. While almost everyone was spending at least some increased time at home during the pandemic, it is those who shifted their work to their homes who drove the biggest changes,” said Director of Research Laura Ivey. “We also saw audio consumption rise on computers and other devices such as internet-connected televisions, so we can see that at-home workers are using various audio devices at home.” 

 

As quarantine restrictions continue to evolve and the American workforce continues to adapt to workplace changes, Share of Ear® will continue to track these findings.  

Mobile device share of listening on track to surpass traditional radio receivers in the U.S.

Listening on a mobile device now accounts for 30% of all time spent listening to audio by those age 13+ in the U.S., an increase of 67% since 2014, according to the latest Share of Ear® report from Edison Research. Listening on a mobile device has been growing steadily since Edison Research’s Share of Ear study began tracking audio consumption among Americans in 2014.

The gap between listening on a traditional radio receiver and a mobile device among those age 13+ has narrowed remarkably quickly since 2014: 31 percentage points separated the two in 2014 and only five percentage points separate the two today. The traditional AM/FM radio receiver does account for the largest share of audio consumed but has decreased the most since the survey began, now accounting for 35% of all audio consumption compared to 49% in 2014.

Mobile devices have already surpassed traditional radio receivers in the younger age groups. Among those age 13-34, 46% of total daily audio consumption is done on a mobile device and 20% is done on a traditional AM/FM radio receiver.

It is important to note that these statistics speak to device only, not the audio product that is delivered by the device. Mobile devices can deliver a wide range of audio products, including radio station programming.

“Mobile devices, particularly of course the phone, have been gaining on the traditional radio receiver as the primary listening device for as long as we have been measuring Share of Ear, but with the disruptions of the last year the gap has narrowed dramatically.” said Edison Research President Larry Rosin.  “As fewer people have a standard radio receiver in their homes these days, naturally more listening comes through digital devices.”

COVID-19 disruptions meant Americans spent more time consuming audio at home in 2020 and less time consuming audio in-car, the prime location for listening to a traditional AM/FM receiver, which could explain some of the change in the past year. Further data analysis in the coming year will be needed to see if these audio habits remain post-quarantine.

How the Share of Ear® study is conducted: Edison Research conducts a nationally representative study of Americans ages 13 and older to measure their time spent listening to audio sources. Respondents complete a 24-hour diary of their audio listening on an assigned day. Diaries are completed both online and by-mail using a paper diary. Diaries are offered in both English and Spanish. The Share of Ear study is released quarterly and is available on a subscription basis.

For more information about becoming a subscriber to Share of Ear, visit www.shareofear.com or email Edison Research at info@edisonresearch.com.

About Edison Research
Edison Research conducts survey research and provides strategic information to a broad array of commercial clients, governments, and NGOs, including AMC Theatres, Amazon, Apple, BBC, The Brookings Institution, Facebook, The Gates Foundation, Google, Voice of America, The New York Times, Oracle, Pandora, The Pew Research Center, Spotify, SiriusXM Radio, and UnidosUS. Edison Research is the leading podcast research company in the world and has conducted research on the medium for NPR, PodcastOne, Slate, Spotify, Stitcher/Midroll, ESPN, WNYC Studios, Wondery, and many more companies in the space. Another specialty for Edison Research is its work for media companies throughout the world, conducting research in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe. Edison Research is also the leading provider of consumer exit polling and has conducted face-to-face research in almost every imaginable venue. Since 2004, Edison Research has been the sole provider of Election Day data to the National Election Pool, consisting of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, and NBC News, conducting exit polls and collecting real-time vote results in all 50 states.

 

 

Podcasting’s Share of Listening in the U.S. Hits All-Time High

For the first time since Edison Research’s Share of Ear® study began tracking audio consumption in 2014, podcasting’s share of all audio listening is now 6% of consumption. This level marks an all-time high for the rapidly-growing on-demand audio medium.

 


This new finding was revealed at the Podcast Movement Virtual conference today in a keynote address by Edison Research SVP Tom Webster. The latest findings show that the share of time Americans age 13+ spend with podcasts as a percentage of all their audio listening has tripled from just 2% in 2014.

According to Webster, “Podcasting has become the greatest companion medium. Not only can you take it with you while you do other things, but we also see people turning to podcasts for a sense of community and connection during a very stressful time.”

Please click here for more information on Edison Research’s Share of Ear® 
 
About Edison Research  

Edison Research conducts survey research and provides strategic information in over 50 countries for clients including AMC Theatres, AMC Theatres, Amazon, Apple, The Brookings Institute, Facebook, The Gates Foundation, Google, the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau, Oracle, Pandora, The Pew Research Center, Samsung, Spotify, and SiriusXM Radio. The national tracking study The Infinite Dial® and the syndicated Share of Ear® are two of the most widely cited studies in the audio space. Edison is also the leading podcast research company in the world and has conducted research for NPR, Slate, ESPN, PodcastOne, WNYC Studios, and many more companies in the podcasting space.  Edison’s network of more than 20,000 experienced interviewers allows the company to conduct research in almost any location. Since 2004, Edison Research has been the sole provider of Election Day data to the National Election Pool. For the 2020 U.S. elections, Edison will provide exit polls and will tabulate the national vote across every county in the United States for ABC News, CBS News, CNN, and NBC News.  

 

 

In-Car Listening Shows Americans Increasingly On the Move 

Latest Share of Ear Study released by Edison Research

 

Edison Research today released the latest update of the Share of Ear® report to clients, based on interviews conducted during October, 2020. The listening location data from Share of Ear sheds some light on which locations U.S. listeners are consuming audio now that quarantine restrictions are being lifted in some areas. 

Listening shifts from home back to the car as quarantine restrictions lift in Q3 
Prior to COVID-19 restrictions in Q2 2020, 32% of all audio in in the U.S. was consumed in car. When quarantine restrictions went into place in Q2, erasing many Americans’ commutes and greatly reducing travel in general, in-car listening plummeted by 37% so that it accounted for only 20% of all listening. This caused at-home listening in Q2 to soar from 49% of all listening to 70% of all listening, an increase of 43%.

 

The latest research from Share of Ear, conducted in early September, shows a shift back to the car as quarantine restrictions have been lifted by varying degrees across the country. In-car listening grew from 20% in Q2 to 28% today, not quite equal to the pre-COVID number of 32% of all listening.  

An increase of Q3 audio consumption in car means a decrease at home, where we see at-home listening levels fall from 70% in Q2 (the beginning of quarantine) to 59% of all listening today.

 

At-home listening levels still higher than before quarantine 
At-home listening, although at lower levels since Q2, is still 10 points higher than pre-COVID listening. With a U.S. workforce that has seen many employees transition to home office environments, future surveys will bear out whether or not this is a permanent shift. 
 
At-work listening sees gains 
When quarantine restrictions began in Q2, at-work listening fell by almost half from 15% of all listening to 8%. The latest research in Q3 shows that at-work listening has slightly rebounded, growing from 8% to 10% of all audio consumption, an increase of 25%.