There’s more data showing how Americans stuck at home during the early phase of the pandemic shifted more of their radio listening to digital devices. WideOrbit, which provides streaming services to numerous broadcasters, says Total Listening Hours for its clients jumped 9% from February to March, with news/talk listening exhibiting a 20% increase. From February to late April, smart speaker listening jumped 19% and listening on Sonos devices shot up a staggering 63%. Even Roku devices, not traditionally known as a go-to for radio listening, showed a 25% lift, possibly indicating growth in an audience segment new to streaming and on-demand radio.
The new numbers were reported by WideOrbit on its blog. While they aren’t representative of the entire industry, they do provide a directional barometer for how listening on digital devices took off during the outbreak’s lockdown phase. “Listening on home devices exploded,” iHeartMedia Chairman and CEO Bob Pittman said May 7 during the company’s first-quarter 2020 results call. He cited internal data that showed web listening was up 43%, smart TVs up 35%, gaming consoles up 28% and SIRI up 18%.
An analysis of Nielsen data by the Radio Research Consortium surfaced similar trends. The study of 10 non-commercial stations across multiple formats over the past three months found most stations received a higher percentage of their cume from online listeners as people were stuck at home.
Separately, Nielsen analyzed encoded streams of AM/FM radio stations and found that at-home online listening was 60% higher in April Week 4 compared to before the virus outbreak among persons 18+ during the Mon.-Fri., 6am-7pm daypart.
Airkast, which specializes in building custom mobile apps for radio stations, reports similar listenership increases among its clients. “From February 2020 to March 2020 we saw a 4.8% increase in mobile streaming sessions and a 1.8% increase in Alexa smart speaker activity from our network or stations,” Michael Fischer, Airkast’s Executive VP of Business Development, said in the WideOrbit blog post. “April saw the biggest jump, with smart speaker sessions increasing by just over 15%.”
Fischer also said that stations are moving away from using push notifications for promotions and contests and towards using them to enable listeners to receive COVID-related breaking news as-it-happens.
All of the data underscores the need for stations to sharpen their audio distribution strategies, making sure their content is easily accessible on whatever device listeners choose – and that the digital stream sounds as good as the on-air product. “Even as audiences shift to listening more on mobile and smart speakers, they are staying local. They’re listening to their favorite stations more and to large streaming services, like Spotify and Pandora, less,” Wide Orbit says. “Listeners want news and information that is current and relevant to who and where they are.”