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Infinite Dial 2023: Online Audio Hits New Highs.

The 25th anniversary edition of Edison Research’s Infinite Dial study offers a telling lesson in how much audio listening habits have changed in the past quarter century. In 1998, only 6% of Americans aged 12+ had ever listened to online audio. Today seven in ten listened in the last week. “The world we're researching has literally transformed over this quarter century,” Edison Research President Larry Rosin said Thursday, teeing an online presentation of the findings. “And of course, many of the devices, technologies and services we'll be talking about today didn't even exist when we started this series 25 years ago.”

Indeed, digital audio’s dramatic growth has been enabled by the tech Rosin referenced. In 1998, only half of Americans 12+ had a computer in their household. Today more than nine in ten have a smartphone in their pocket and internet access has become nearly universal.

The continued growth of online audio is one of the major storylines of this year’s study, conducted via a national telephone survey of 1,500 people aged 12+ using random digit dialing techniques to cell phones and landlines. The survey was offered in English and Spanish with data weighted to national 12+ U.S. population figures.

“Over the span of the survey, many types of online audio sources have come and gone. Yet, the overall listening continues to increase among the U.S. population,” said Edison VP of Research Megan Lazovick, who presented the majority of the study’s findings. Three in four Americans 12+ listened to online audio in the past month (an estimated 214 million people) and 70% did so in the last week (200 million). Edison defines online audio as any listening to the streams of AM/FM radio or listening to audio content available only on the internet.

While the year-over-year increase in online audio listening is not as large as during the pandemic, it continues to rise at pre-COVID levels. And the percentage of 35–54-year-olds listening at least monthly is nearly equal to that of 12-34 year-olds, further evidence of the mainstreaming of digital audio. “The younger age group [has] been listening to online audio in huge numbers for years, and 89% of this group have listened to [online] audio in the last month,” Lazovick explained. “But we're seeing gains among those aged 35 to 54. In 2021, 72% of this group were monthly online audio listeners. Then it rose to 81% in 2022 and is at its highest yet this year at 85%.”

This year’s study underscores how online audio has become habitual for a large portion of the population. In fact, the portion of those that listen weekly is almost as high as the monthly numbers this year. “If one has adopted the habit of online audio usage, one is almost certain to have adopted it as a regular habit,” Lazovick observed.

Perhaps most impressive is the year-over-year jump in audiobook listening after three years of no growth. Those who say they have ever listened to an audiobook leapt from 45% in 2022 to 53% this year. That’s the highest recorded since Edison began tracking it in 2015 and it amounts to about 152 million Americans. Likewise those who took in an audiobook in the last year shot up to 35% in 2023 (an estimated 100 million people) from 28% last year.

“As much as we hear people complain about the shorter attention spans in America,100 million Americans listening to audiobooks might be proof enough that there is an enormous market for longform audio content,” said Lazovick.

In terms of online audio brand awareness, Pandora (84%), Spotify (82%) and iHeartRadio (78%) topped the survey. But the percentages who listened in the past week are much smaller with Spotify out front (29%), followed by YouTube Music (19%) and Pandora (12%).

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