Americans' Audio Listening is Still a Zero-Sum Game

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Welcome to The Yard, a blog by Backyard Media that explains the podcast industry and podcast advertising.

Last week, we covered some new data from Edison Research about how new podcast listeners are rapidly adopting podcasts. Today we'll look at another of the company's studies that shows how Americans' audio listening has and hasn't changed. This survey followed thousands of Americans and tracked their listening habits to see what they're listening to, where, and on what platform. This wealth of data has a lot to tell us, and it shows how the rise of podcasts is affecting listeners' consumption of other audio sources.


How many hours of audio are Americans hearing?

First, let's get a baseline number. Edison's Share of Ear survey tracks how many hours of audio Americans listen to per day, and then asks about the types of audio they listen to. For many years, the average Share of Ear respondent listened to four hours of audio per day, a number that has stayed quite steady. Because it hasn't moved, any shifts in audio listening - say, a higher consumption of podcasts - mean that consumption of other audio necessarily must go down.

So what are Americans listening to? Among all respondents 13 years or older, here was the breakdown of their audio sources:

Share of Ear Pg 37.PNG

We see in this chart that AM/FM radio continues to dominate the average American's listening time, usually due to in-car listening. Streaming music like Spotify and Pandora has overtaken owned music. Podcasts are 4% of overall audio listening. This makes sense when we look at studies that show podcast listeners are about 26% of the general population.

When we compare this chart with the one that tracks audio listening for self-identified podcast listeners, audio consumption changes dramatically.

Share of Ear Pg 38 Pod Listeners.PNG

For people who listen to podcasts, the medium represents a third of all the audio they're hearing, cutting heavily into radio listening.

As well, respondents who self-identified as podcast listeners had a higher daily average of audio consumption. These podcast listeners consumed up to six hours of audio every day. Their overall "pie" of audio consumption is higher, but because podcasting has become such a dominant audio source for them, it is having an impact on the other audio sources they consume.

Edison Research also noted in its report that for this subset of podcast listeners, podcasts weren't even their biggest source of audio before 2018. In just a few years, the medium has risen to a place of importance for these consumers - probably for reasons of content, format, and the "intimacy effect" of podcast audio, all of which we talked about in this blog about why people choose to listen to podcasts.


Podcasting doubles its Share of Ear

One of the biggest trends that Edison Research has seen in its Share of Ear data is that podcasts continue to rise in the overall "share" of listeners' audio consumption. In 2014, podcasting's overall Share of Ear was 2%. As we saw in that first chart, it's now 4% among all listeners. And among self-identified podcast listeners, it's ballooned to a third of their total listening.

Given this data point about podcasts doubling their presence begs the question: why is audio listening still zero-sum? If Americans have more audio options, why aren't they just listening to more audio overall?

One possible explanation is that Americans are already listening to as much as they can or want to. Between sleep, work, errands, and other responsibilities, they don't have more time to sit down and listen to something. Podcasts have actually been quite efficient in "filling in the cracks" of listening - we see this in the data about listening at home and during commutes as the most popular listening locations. On the point about commutes, we can see how podcast listeners' preference for podcasts over AM/FM radio is an example of the uptake of one medium directly affecting the use of another.

We expect that podcasts will continue to rise in their Share of Ear as their ease of use improves, podcast content categories expand, and peoples' awareness of them continues to rise.


Podcast listeners are mobile-first listeners

Another interesting takeaway from the Share of Ear report? Those self-reported podcast listeners we've focused on are overwhelmingly consuming their audio on mobile devices. This tracks the shift we've seen in the last ten years in podcasting listening from a computer-based activity to a smartphone activity.

Take a look at the massive difference between general Share of Ear respondents on the left, and self-identified podcast listeners on the right:

Share of Ear ALL Listeners Device.PNG

Again, we see the decline of radio listening. Podcast listening correlates with the use of mobile devices.

But what if we flip the question around? What if we narrow the scope to what respondents are listening specifically when they're on their smartphones?


For people who self-identify as podcast listeners, podcasts take up over half of their smartphone time. That is an astounding number. It shows once again how podcasts in 2018 are intertwined with smartphone use.

This fact has and will continue to inform the decisions of podcasters, advertisers, and even podcast technology companies around podcast content and delivery. However, the rapid adoption of smart speakers portends a similar shift from smartphone listening to smart speaker podcast listening. Companies need to create easy-to-use tools to make this transition a smooth one, and smart speaker adoption will inform how studios create content and work with advertisers to optimize their ad scripts for a new platform.


Like what you see? Take a look at our post from last week looking at a related study from Edison Research on the rapid adoption of podcast listening.

More people are listening to podcasts than ever before. Reach new customers by creating a podcast ad campaign today. Contact us to learn how easy it is to get started advertising with Backyard Media's podcast partners.

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