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As Media Habits Go Niche, Listeners Say Audio Is Helping Them Feel More Connected.

“Audio content helps to let me know that I am not alone; others share my ideas, hopes, aspirations; and that I have a sense of community.” Those are the words of a Millennial Black woman in SiriusXM’s annual Culture Trends report, which details how audio is intersecting with mass culture – and how ad buyers can tap into that connection.

One of this year’s takeaways is the definition of what is considered mainstream has become much murkier, as niches and subcultures in media content take root – whether it is regional Mexican music or anime-lovers creating their own podcast category. “Interest has been piqued by the way of niche (or now, not-so-niche) communities around the globe finding a foothold in a larger space,” the report says. It also says 46% of adults aged 18 and older say they don’t typically follow mainstream culture, and 36% of listeners like to listen to music and other audio content from other countries.

But while people are embracing niche formats, audio is making them feel part of something bigger. Among those surveyed, 44% of listeners think audio makes them feel more connected to people like them. That is especially true among 18- to 24-year-olds, who are 42-times more likely to say audio connects them to others. Members of the LGBTQ community are 24-times more likely to say that, and multicultural listeners are 20-times more likely to feel audio is linking them to their community, artists and podcast hosts that they listen to.

SiriusXM digs into data from its own podcast network to show how well niche formats are doing. It says astrology podcasts have seen a 172% increase in downloads during the past year. Golf podcast listening has jumped 297%. Podcasts about video games spiked 128% during the past year. And podcasts about investing have seen a 144% increase versus a year ago.

And from a musical perspective, SiriusXM points to subgenres like Jersey Club – a style of electronic music that harkens back to the early 2000s – which had a 44% increase in SoundCloud plays versus a year ago. And regional Mexican music, which SoundCloud has seen its listenership jump 122% since 2021, with three-quarters of the listeners under the age of 30.

This niche focus is driving fandom to a whole new level, according to the report. 

“Influencers are busting out of their own industries,” it says. “From world tours shown in movie theaters, to athletes producing hit podcasts, they’re driving their influence even further into pop culture.”

SiriusXM’s survey finds 84% of audio listeners consider themselves fans of a music artists, podcaster, or other content creator. And 20% considers themselves a superfan. That includes 27% of LGBTQ community members, with high rates for Asian Americans (25%), and Hispanics (24%).

“Audio is the most personal form of media. It’s people speaking directly about themselves and their feelings [and] makes me feel close to whoever I’m listening to, even though I don’t know them in real life,” said an thirtysomething Asian male.

The survey also finds more than half (53%) think society’s view of women has shifted over time for the better, and 70% of female listeners like to see women being represented and celebrated through audio content. And one in three female listeners seek out female-led audio content. That rate is much higher among women of color and those in the LGBTQ community. The data also shows that 44% of Gen Z women and 39% of Millennial women seek out female-led audio content.

The report says the message for advertisers is that they need to redefine “general market” to “break out of the monolithic marketing approach” or suffer the consequences from an audience that no longer identifies with the messages pushed their way.

“Audio is a crucial factor in driving subcultures forward, while also becoming increasingly important in consumers’ lives,” it says. “While traditional media still holds influence, adjusting your media mix to include digital audio only expands your brand impact and reaches incremental, more engaged audiences.”

The report also suggests that ad buyers rethink their targets, with traditionally male-dominated industries and audiences becoming more gender balanced. 

“From a cultural standpoint, space is being held by those who push norms, reflecting the greater dynamism that women hold in culture,” it says. “Women have always been multifaceted, with different viewpoints and backgrounds—but in popular culture, we find a greater swell of appreciation for women who are resetting expectations.”

And as two-thirds (65%) of listeners think it is hard to tell what information is truthful in media, the report sees an opportunity for brands as listeners are leaning into platforms where there are trusted voices and personalities. “Working with the voices they trust gives your brand credibility,” it says.

Download SiriusXM’s 2024 Culture Trends Report HERE.

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