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Study: Co-Listening Is Growing, And It’s Helping Digital Audio Expand Its Reach.

A just-released study by SXM Media, Edison Research and the ad agency Carat is shedding new light on how Americans are consuming streaming music and podcasts, suggesting it’s not the solitary pastime that many imagine. The results support a shift of more ad dollars to audio, in part since marketers are getting plenty more reach than what they may expect. That is thanks to the phenomenon of co-listening.

The idea of more than one person listening is nothing new for AM/FM radio, while streaming music and podcasts are typically considered one-to-one media. But the research finds co-listening to music streams is higher than when the prior study was conducted in 2018 – and it is growing on podcasts too.

The latest study is based on an online survey of 1,850 Americans aged 13+ which found four in ten (38%) of Pandora users said they often have shared audio experiences. Those most likely to share their content are women, Hispanics, and adults age 35 to 54.

Those numbers are similar to the 2018 study, but the biggest eyeopener is in how many people are listening at a given time. The new study finds that for every 100 paid advertising impressions purchased on Pandora, advertisers receive 52 additional impressions from co-listening. That is a 15-point increase from the 37 additional impressions recorded in 2018.

“A lot of what can explain some of that is we're seeking a deeper connection with each other after a couple of rough years with the pandemic. Audio has always been a really crucial way that people connect with each other, and have a positive, shared experience,” says Pandora VP Melissa Paris. She said some of the trends may be “accelerated” on Pandora based on the demographics of its users, but the findings are “broadly applicable” to streaming overall.

In-Car Takes Co-Listening Lead

One of the factors working in co-listening’s favor is devices used for accessing streamed content are no longer limited to earbuds. Instead, smart speakers and in-car entertainment systems are opening up the content to joint listening.

The study reflects that shift. The home was the top location for co-listening in 2018, but in-car has taken the lead. Just under half of those who listened to Pandora in the car on their diary day were listening with others, up 4% from 2018.

Home now ranks second with four in ten Pandora listeners co-listening there, down 6% from 2018. Nearly half (48%) who listen at work co-listen, an increase of 9% from 2018. And one in three co-listen outdoors, up 11% from 2018.

“The personalization of digital audio hasn't really just changed our overall media habits and listening behaviors,” Paris says. “But it’s translated into changes in co-listening as it’s gotten easier for those things to be part of our everyday routines.”

Podcasts Have Bonus Listeners Too

The impact is also being felt on podcasts. Today 12% of podcast listeners report co-listening, with women and Hispanics again leading the charge. Podcasts in the Comedy (26%), News (21%) and True Crime (17%) genres had the highest co-listening rates as middays have a slight edge over other dayparts.

“Podcasting is emerging when it comes to some co-listening, and it remains to be seen how quickly that moves. But as more people listen to more podcasts, and it becomes a bigger part of our daily lives and media routines, I expect the number to go up,” Paris says.

Not only do cars lead for streaming music co-listening, they’re tops for podcasts as well—16% of those who listened to podcasts in the car on their diary day were listening with others. And 13% of podcast listeners who listened in the home during their diary day were doing so with others.

The joint listening means that for every 100 paid advertising impressions purchased on podcasts, the study suggests advertisers receive five additional impressions from co-listening.

“On the podcast side of things, We did see a lot less co-listening,” said Paris. “What’s so crucial to making podcasts so special is that connection with the listener and the host, and I don't think that's going to change. But I think co-listening is emerging.”

Implications For Ad Buyers

Not only does the study point to bonus ad impressions for streaming ad buyers, but the data also reveals the environments that co-listening occurs in are some of the most valuable for brands. That’s because it often happens when listeners are in a positive headspace, reporting they feel relaxed, content, entertained, and carefree while co-listening. The music genres with the highest co-listening numbers are pop, alternative, classic rock, hip-hop, and R&B.

“The incremental reach is a really compelling story for advertisers,” says Paris. “There’s also deep, meaningful motivations for co-listening. And we've seen that when people are in these positive mindsets, they're more receptive to advertising.”

The data also reveals co-listening is most popular during special occasions with three in four Pandora listeners reporting they co-listen to audio during holidays, over seven in ten who co-listen during road trips, and over half co-listening during social gatherings.

Diana Bojaj, Chief Media Officer at Carat U.S., says the co-listening patterns and observed behaviors illustrates the added value that comes with investing in audio. “This new understanding will enable us to create even more effective media plans for our clients and inform more meaningful ways for them to connect with audiences through audio,” she said.

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