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COVID Consumer Study Portends Improving Economy, Increased Radio Usage.

With the number of people eligible for COVID-19 vaccines rising and states gradually loosening restrictions, more Americans are ready to resume normal activities and feeling safer than at any point in the past year. The latest consumer sentiment survey from Nielsen provides strong indicators of a return to normal life, which bodes well for radio listening, Nielsen Senior VP of Audio Product Leadership Bill Rose said Wednesday.

The latest wave in the ongoing survey was conducted online from March 11-15 with a sample of 1,009 persons 18+.

In April 2020, when Nielsen conducted the first of these surveys about how the pandemic is impacting people’s lives, only 44% of respondents said they were starting to resume more normal activities. Fast forward one year and the number has steadily grown to 78%. Nearly two thirds (64%) now agree it is safer than it was a month ago, a big jump from 52% in October and 38% in April.

Consumers dubbed by Nielsen as “ready-to-go,” meaning they’re more optimistic and ready to resume normal activity, has grown to 61% for its highest level in a year. This growing contingent now dwarves the “proceed with caution” cohort (30%) and the “wait and see” crowd (9%). One year ago the three groups were more or less equal in size.

The “ready-to-go” group is an attractive consumer segment more likely to be employed, have kids and be upscale. Importantly, they’re more likely to be radio listeners. “That’s because people who listen to radio tend to be out and about and in their vehicles,” Rose reasons.

That explains why heavy radio listeners, defined as those that tune in at least 90 minutes a day, over-index in top consumer activities. Across the 21 categories Nielsen tracked, heavy radio listeners were 14% more likely than the total population to engage in these activities, such as such as shopping for groceries at a store, driving a vehicle and dining out at restaurants. Heavy radio listeners are 18% more likely to purchase or lease a new or used vehicle, and 64% more likely to buy a new house.

The March study uncovers a big increase in those who work outside the home. Among the employed, two-thirds now work outside the home, compared to one in four in April, a 69% increase. “This is a key statistic for audio and a leading indicator of audience growth since consumers spend more time with radio when they travel in vehicles to get to work,” Rose said.

In addition, workers at home due to COVID-19 declined by more than half, from 42% in April 2020 to 18% in March 2021.

The initial virus outbreak caused a rapid downturn in the number of people using public transportation. One year later Nielsen’s survey shows continued hesitation among all groups when it comes to mass transit. That means more time spent in vehicles. In fact, those spending an hour or more in vehicles shot up 150% since April, and heavy radio listeners are more likely to spend an hour or more in the car. More than half (51%) of heavy radio listeners said they spent an hour or more in a car or truck yesterday, nearly double the 28% when the survey was first fielded in April. By comparison, 35% of the total sample says they spent 1+ hour in vehicles in March, up from 14% in April.

At the same time, the number of children attending in-person classes in March exceeded those attending virtual-only classes, putting parents of school-age children on the road during drive times. Nielsen reports that children of heavy radio listeners are more likely to attend in-person classes and less likely to attend virtual classes or be homeschooled. And nine in ten say the radio is on during the drive to school.

The study shows a majority of Americans are upbeat about the economy with more than half (53%) expecting an improved economy in the next six months, nearly three time as many as those who expect it to get worse. Once again, the “ready-to-go” group, which tilts toward heavy radio listeners, is more optimistic with 57% expecting the economy to improve in the months ahead.

Rose said the latest survey illuminates an improving economy which bodes well for media consumption. “All of these things sum up to what I believe is good news for the economy, and a leading indicator for the growth of radio listening.”

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