In 2022, 74% of U.S. internet users, or 222.7 million people, listened to digital audio. The number is expected to continue climbing this year. Analysts at eMarketer project digital audio listeners will climb 1.4% to 225.8 million in 2023. And by 2026, eMarketer forecasts the number of digital audio listeners will surpass 234 million as the total climbs by about one percent year after year.
“Growth in the coming years will be slow,” says eMarketer. “But time spent is increasing rapidly among existing listeners.” During the first half of 2022, data from GWI shows U.S. internet users spent an average of 58 minutes per day listening to podcasts. They also spent an average of one hour and 56 minutes per day streaming music -- up 12 minutes from a year earlier. Combined, eMarketer points out the resulting two hours and 54 minutes of digital audio consumption is nearly even with the average amount of time spent watching broadcast TV daily, which still accounts for the largest share of US internet users’ time spent with media.
Even though digital audio is not growing as fast as digital video, eMarketer says U.S. internet users spend more time listening to digital audio than they do streaming video, using social media, or playing video games. “Their ability to listen to music while doing something else plays a significant role,” it points out.
Data from GWI shows digital audio adoption remains most common among younger generations. Among 16- to 24-year-olds, 91.1% listened to digital audio during the first half of 2022. That was up from 84.1% during the same period in 2021. Analysts at eMarketer say that suggests digital audio is “an essential thread in the cultural fabric of younger internet users.”
A factor in that habit is likely tied to smartphone use among young people. Analysts say smartphones have become a dominant way to listen to digital audio, but the use of other devices for that purpose will continue to change. The latest eMarketer forecast shows more than half the U.S. population listened to audio on a smartphone in 2022. It was the first time a majority of the population listened on a phone. And by 2026, eMarketer predicts 193.3 million people, or 55.8% of the U.S. population, will listen to audio on a smartphone every month.
The latest update from eMarketer also points out that more than six in ten digital audio listeners in the U.S. paid for a streaming audio subscription in 2022. That was up from 37% in 2018.