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In Historic First, Radio Beats Television Among 18–49-Year-Olds.

“We are seeing media history being made right before our very eyes,” says Cumulus Media Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard. He has dug into the latest Nielsen Total Audience Report that tracks media consumption across all media and it reveals that for the first time ever, AM/FM radio has surpassed television in the key 18-49 advertising demographic. According to Nielsen, broadcast radio had a three percent greater average audience than TV during the third quarter of 2022.

“That has never happened before,” Bouvard says. “This is occurring because of the stiff and steep erosion in 18-49 linear TV reach and time spent. This is being fueled by cord cutting and streaming.”

Beyond the milestone, the pace of the change is also remarkable. In 2018, AM/FM radio’s 18-49 average audience was 63% the size of live and time-shifted TV. But the latest Nielsen report shows AM/FM radio now reaches 41% more persons 18-49 than live and time-shifted television. Nielsen says broadcast radio reached 83% of 18-49 year olds each week during the third quarter compared to a 59% reach for broadcast TV.

It’s not just reach where radio is gaining ground. Nielsen says 18-49 daily time spent with TV and AM/FM radio are now virtually tied. Television has a mere three-minute advantage over broadcast radio – 1 hour and 13 minutes versus 1 hour and 10 minutes.

“That is quite a head-snapper,” Bouvard says. “Radio’s advantage and reach is what's causing it to beat TV in 18 to 49 average audience,” he explains in a video detailing his findings.

The history-making shift comes in part due to radio’s stability. But the biggest change is what is happening in television, where connected TV is ushering in a once-in-a-generation upending of viewing habits among Americans.

The Nielsen data shows 18-49 weekly reach of live and time-shifted TV has declined 28% during the past five years and TV’s daily time spent has plunged 56%—or a roughly 90-minute reduction in linear television viewing each day among the age group that means more to TV advertisers than any other.

Bouvard points to what he calls the “cliff drop” in pay TV penetration during the past decade. In 2009, almost nine out of 10 Americans had pay TV. But in 2022, less than half (48%) did. The result is the reach for linear television has fallen so significantly that Bouvard says it means 41% of 18-49 year olds will never see a linear TV ad in any given week. Nielsen Scarborough said in 2016 that the typical local broadcast affiliate station would reach six of ten people during a typical week. But in 2022, local TV station’s reach has sunk to about four in ten.

“A lot of [those] GRPs and impressions have vanished,” Bouvard says, while the definition of TV is also hurting linear TV. Today, a lot more people consider watching connected TV and subscriber TV services as “watching television.”

The erosion of linear television viewing has created an opening for AM/FM radio to position itself not as the replacement for TV, but rather as a way to supplement reach. Radio also has a value play. Bouvard says that adding connected TV to a broadcast TV buy does also add reach, but the CPMs are “super pricey” and so advertisers get less bang for their buck than if they were to add AM/FM to their TV plan.

He points to a December 2021 Tremfya campaign by Johnson & Johnson. Their $14 million budget allowed them to reach roughly half of 25–54-year-olds. But J&J then began advertising the drug on radio for the first time. Their $1 million radio buy increased the brand’s reach by 45%. Bouvard says the added reach comes across the demographic spectrum.

“So how does radio make your TV better? It gets you folks under the age of 60 that you simply aren't reaching on American linear TV these days,” Bouvard says. He notes in a blog post that it also helps reach people who do not watch all that much TV in the first place. “Radio does come to the rescue though because when you introduce it into the TV media plan, you generate really extraordinary increases and reach among 18 to 64 year olds who are light TV viewers,” he said.

Television’s shrinking audience comes as AM/FM radio continues to have the biggest reach among forms of ad-support entertainment, according to Edison Research’s latest Share of Ear report.

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