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How A Global Pandemic Changed Audio Habits In The U.S.

The latest Share of Ear data from Edison Research shows AM/FM radio remained the largest audio source during second quarter 2021 with Americans 13+ spending 39% of their audio time with broadcast radio. “Nationally for the United States, 13+ spends almost 40% of their time with the AM/FM radio product,” Edison Director of Research Laura Ivey said Thursday.

While the vast majority of that listening occurs via a traditional over-the air-receiver, a growing percentage (11.5%) takes place online.

The new numbers, which reflect an average of the four most recent Share of Ear surveys and were revealed during the RAIN 2021 Global Business Summit, show AM/FM’s share of time spent with audio is more than double that of streaming pureplays, like Pandora and Apple Music (18%). However, the share for streamers is much larger among 18-34 year-olds. After that it’s YouTube (11%), owned music (10%), SiriusXM (8%), podcasts (6%) and TV music channels (4%).

That’s how the pie is split up today. But Ivey’s presentation also focused on what happened to time spent listening during the pandemic. In first quarter 2020, before Americans began sheltering in home in large numbers, the average daily time spent with audio was three hours and 50 minutes. That dipped to three hours, 42 minutes in Q3 2020 before bouncing back in Q2 2021 to 3 hours, 54 minutes, slightly above its pre-pandemic level. “There was a dip in the middle but it didn’t crater out, there was still a lot of time spent listening to audio,” Ivey explained. “Audio time was preserved.”

Importantly, the pandemic changed where – and how – Americans consume audio. Before the outbreak, 49% of listening occurred in the home, 32% in the car and 15% at work. But at-home listening skyrocketed to 70% in Q2 2020 while in-car fell to 20% and listening in a workplace was cut nearly in half to 8% “What you were listening to in those specific locations didn’t change that much,” Ivey told the virtual RAIN summit audience. “It’s just that time spent in each location changed.”

While listening levels in car and at work have recovered, they’re not yet at pre-COVID levels.“We’re back about half way,” Ivey noted. The Q2 data shows 60% of all audio listening takes place in home, 26% in cars and 11% at work.

Where people listen the most is directly related to where they work. Among those who work from home, almost three fourths (72%) of their consumption takes place at their house and 28% away from home. The opposite is true for those who don’t work from home – 68% of listening occurs away from home and 32% in the home.

In a similar vein, those who work from home are far more likely to own a smart speaker. Nearly half (49%) of employed Americans who work from home own a smart speaker, compared to one third for the total U.S. population. “We know that more people own smart speakers and the people that own them own more of them,” Ivey offered. “But the share of time listening to smart speakers is still in the low single digits.”

Where you work also influences what devices you use to listen. The latest data shows less use of an AM/FM receiver (24%) for those that primarily work from home compared to those that don’t (33%). And the share of audio consumption occurring on mobile devices, computers and smart speakers is higher for at-home workers.

Comparing share of listening by device shows a decline for AM/FM receivers during the past 15 months. In pre-COVID Q1 2020, 40% of all audio consumption was on a traditional radio receiver. That dropped to 34% in Q2 2021. Keep in mind that these figures reflect the device, not the content consumed on them.While mobile device stayed steady at 29% and computer inched up to 12% from 10%, it was “other” devices, such as internet-connected TV's and game consoles, that had the biggest gain. Share of time listening to audio on these “other” devices rocketed up from 10% to 15% for a 50% increase. “When we’re at home, we have access to other devices and we’re seeing that ‘other’ category grow,” Ivey explained.

During the quarantine period, listening to audio on digital devices (mobile phones, computers, smart speakers) passed the 50% threshold. In the past year that has held steady with over half of all listening now consumed on a digital device.

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