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How Does Gen Z Listen To In-Car Audio? The Answers May Surprise You.

Everyone knows you need a crowbar to separate young adults from their smartphones. But a funny thing happens when under-35s put down their phones and hit the open road. Research presented at NAB Show on Tuesday from Edison Research drilled down into how Gen Z (American ages 13-24) listen to audio in the car. Here are the top takeaways from the results, some of which may surprise you.

The Car Is As Important as Ever

Nearly half (46%) of radio listeners 13+ listen only in the car. The number jumps to 58% for radio listeners ages 13-24. “Right off the bat we have an environment where this is the only place that has the ears, an addressable audience where we can reach them,” said Laura Ivey, Director Of Research, Edison Research. On average, Americans 13+ spend 4 hours and 17 minutes per day listening to audio, which includes podcasts, YouTube music videos, audio books, streaming, broadcast radio and it streams. Just over an hour of that takes place in the car. Gen Z (13–24-year-olds) listen a bit more (4 hours, 26 minutes per day) and a little less in the car (51 minutes). Home is the biggest audio listening occasion for both 13+ and 13-24, with the car in second place.

Gen Z Spends Almost Half Of Their In-Car Audio Time with Radio

Among 13–24-year-olds, 49% of their audio listening in a car or truck takes place on an AM/FM receiver, 51% is with other audio sources. “We want to battle the perception that when Gen Z listeners are in the car, they're listening to streaming all the time,” Ivey said. “The reality is when they're in car, 49% of their time is spent with AM/FM radio.” Keep in mind that these particular numbers look at listening by platform, not content.

Short Amounts of Time In-car Are Conducive to Radio Listening.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, more than half of auto trips are three miles or less. When Edison researchers asked 13-24 year-olds what they choose (AM/FM radio or streaming audio) for driving around locally, 46% said traditional over the air radio and 54% indicated streaming audio (online only audio, podcasts, AM/FM streams). But when going on long car rides, streaming jumped to 68% and AM/FM radio fell to 32%.

Consumption Differs by Car Model Year

“We know that newer model cars have different hardware, and our listening experience is driven by our hardware choices,” Ivey told the NAB Show crowd. In vehicles made in 2010 or older, 65% of Americans 13+ listen to AM FM radio receiver, 24% use a mobile device. In vehicles made in 2019 or later, 52% goes to AM/FM radio, 20% to a mobile device. There are also significant differences when looking at how the in-car audio pie is split among Americans 13+ when looking at the type of audio listened to. In vehicles made in 2010 or older, 66% of listening is AM/FM radio, 5% is to SiriusXM. In vehicles made in 2019 or later, 53% is to AM/FM radio, 23% to SiriusXM.

Radio’s ‘Cost’ And Ease of Use Drive In-Car Listening.

Asked why they listen to over the air AM/FM radio in the car, the top reasons cited by Gen Z were “it’s free” (85%), “it’s easier to listen to in the car than other types of audio” (69%) and “it’s part of your daily routine” (68%).

Gen Z Is Increasingly Listening to Mobile Devices In-Car

Back in 2015, only 9% of 13+ audio listening time by device in car went to mobile devices and 71% to an AM/FM receiver. In 2022, the split was 21% mobile, 58% AM/FM receiver. The shift to mobile is far more pronounced among Americans 13-24. In 2015, mobile devices captured 23% of their in-car pie. It rose to 44% in 2022. Still, AM/FM receiver had the edge, clocking in at 47%. “The vast majority of the audio in car is still consumed on an AM/FM radio receiver,” Ivey noted.

Even Though Gen Z Listens Through Mobile Devices in Car, Their Radio Listening Is Over the Air.

Among Americans 13+, just 2% of in-car audio listening is to AM/FM radio streams. That rises slightly to 5% when looking at 13–24-year-olds. “Generally, when people are in the car, and they're listening to radio, they're not streaming it. They're listening to the radio,” Ivey observed. “The challenge is how to leverage the devices that Gen Z listeners are using in-car and keep them listening to radio content in the car.”

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