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Share Of Ear: In-Car Radio Listening Back To Pre-Pandemic Levels.


The proportion of AM/FM radio listening that takes place in cars has surged back to pre-pandemic norms. In the four years before the COVID-19 outbreak (2016-2019), in-car listening represented 49% of all AM/FM radio consumption among persons 25-54. Now, after dipping to as low as 41% in fourth quarter 2021, half of all broadcast radio listening took place in a vehicle according to the Q3 version of Share Of Ear from Edison Research.


That’s a nine-point increase from Q4 2022. “The share of tuning minutes for radio is basically back to pre-pandemic norms,” Cumulus Media Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard says in video summary of his analysis of the findings.


At the same time, the analysis of the latest quarterly Edison report shows that for all ad-supported audio, the proportion of at-home listening remains elevated as working from home persists. Comparing the pre-pandemic period of 2016-2019 to 2023, there is an average of six more points of at-home listening, four less points of listening at work, and three less points of in-car shares. While most who commuted prior to the pandemic have returned to work, the number of days working from home remains elevated.


Another audio megatrend quantified by Share of Ear is the extraordinary growth of spoken word audio. All forms of non-music content (news, personalities/talk, and sports) increased strongly during the pandemic. And since then, spoken word growth has only accelerated. Back in 2016, 26% of all 25-54 ad-supported audio time was devoted to spoken word and 74% to music. Flash forward to 2023 and the proportion of spoken word has jumped to 39% and music now represents 61% of ad-supported audio time spent. “Spoken word is on a tear. That is a 13 point increase in spoken word shares. It's about a 50% increase,” Bouvard says. “No doubt this is mostly due to the continued stratospheric growth of podcasting, which since 2016, has increased its audience share by 600%.”


Charting spoken word’s growth during the past seven years shows its share of 25-54 tuning has increased by an average of two points a year since 2016. If that rate were to continue at a similar pace, by 2028 spoken word could represent half of all ad-supported audio listening. “Not everything grows so consistently and persistently over time. But we can see if the trend continues, it could be very likely by the end of this decade that there's a 50-50 split of spoken word and music in American ad-supported audio,” Bouvard says.


And not all audio is exhibiting such dramatic growth. The ad-supported versions of Pandora are Spotify are down 31% since 2016, per the Cumulus analysis. However, Bouvard’s advertiser-targeted analysis looks only at the share of ad-supported listening to these streaming music services and ignores their subscription-based listening which, for Spotify, continues to grow. He points out that AM/FM radio streaming’s audience share (10%) is now greater than Pandora and Spotify’s combined ad-supported share (9%). Back in 2016, the Pandora/Spotify combined share was more than double that of AM/FM radio streaming.


For context, keep in mind that two-thirds (65%) of all 25-54 audio time spent currently occurs to ad-supported platforms while 35% of time spent is to advertising-free sources.


The Cumulus analysis also examines the share of ad-supported audio listening by content type. The greatest growth in spoken word content comes from personalities/talk shows, up 8.4 percentage points for a staggering 76% increase from Q4 2016 to Q3 2023, which is mostly powered by podcasts.


Bouvard’s conclusion: AM/FM radio remains the dominant ad-supported audio platform with a 69% share overall and a massive 85% in-car when looking at listening to ad-supported audio. “If you want to reach the Americans consumer on the path to purchase, all roads literally lead to AM/FM with an 85 share in the car,” he says.


Download the Cumulus Media/Westwood One Audio Active Group analysis report of Edison Research’s ‘Share of Ear’ HERE.

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