How COVID-19 is driving listeners to radio and streaming audio.

By  Jackie Dumas, Senior Spot Buyer, and Carrie Tiz, Local Broadcast Supervisor

Media consumption continues to rise as more Americans stay home during the COVID-19 outbreak. Times of crisis heighten our reliance on media while advertisers have an opportunity to cement lasting relationships with an ever more captive audience. But is every type of audio seeing a change during these hard times?

Local Radio – increase in consumption due to concerns about the virus.

According to a recent Nielsen survey measuring the effects of COVID-19 on radio consumption, 42% of U.S. adults report that radio has helped them cope with the current situation. Other key highlights of the report:

  • Radio consumption is increasing with 83% of consumers say they’re listening as much or more to traditional radio as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those, 11% of adults 18+ are listening more to radio specifically because of the virus (17% men 18+ and 4% women 18+).
  • More than half of U.S. adults trust radio during this crisis with 60% of adults 18+ saying they trust radio to give them timely information about the coronavirus. It’s also important to note that trust doesn’t happen overnight, it is built over years or decades.
  • More consumers are listening at home and to a physical AM/FM radio. Due to the stay-at-home restrictions, more adults are listening to the radio at home than they normally do, but surprisingly, there is a 7% increase of adults 18+ who report that they are spending more time listening to their physical AM/FM radios.
  • More young people are seeking out radio. It appears that younger listeners are seeking out new ways to listen to their favorite radio stations/personalities—36% of adults 18 to 24 and 41% of adults 25 to 34.
  • The more concerned one is, the more frequent the radio listenership. Forty-four percent of adults 18+ reported that they were extremely concerned about the COVID-19 virus, and of this group, the highest percentage (51%) were listening to the radio more than several times a day.
  • Great radio personalities are proving their worth during this pandemic. Radio is a very personal medium and radio personalities provide a connection to the world. Listeners who listen to their favorite DJ over a long period of time develop a sense of trust in them.
  • Radio is a useful tool to give the day structure and to provide companionship if you’re home alone. It provides a feeling of community and reassurance to listeners, which is important during times of crisis.

Radio is a local lifeline for millions of people in communities across the U.S. Whether for local news, the place for listeners to find out what retailers are open for business or providing entertainment as a diversion, radio provides comfort in a turbulent world. And during this crisis, when listeners are turning to their favorite stations more than ever, advertisers can connect with listeners to form a solid bond for the future.

While radio still has the largest reach of any audio medium, it is not the only type of audio that has seen usage change over the last three weeks.

Streaming audio – the increase in home consumption focuses more on family and wellness.

Pandora commissioned a study in mid-March to understand how COVID-19 has changed audience habits. They’ve determined that 42% of the general market audience and 54% of Hispanic Americans are spending more time listening to streaming audio than before the pandemic.

Spotify released a report that looked less at increases in usage, but more about what motivates listeners during this time of crisis.

Key highlights from both reports:

  • Social sharing is important. As people spend time apart, there are still ways to connect with playlist collaborations.
  • Livestreaming concerts see an increase in streams. One of the fun things about the world being under quarantine is the creativity coming from artists of every type. Many musical artists are having virtual concerts via YouTube and Instagram Live. Spotify has seen spikes in streaming of these artists after their concert is over.
  • Streaming audio has a hand in user’s health and wellness. Whether it’s a podcast about health and fitness or a playlist to help with yoga or meditation, people are turning to streaming audio to stay in shape.

Satellite Radio – looks to take back market share as time spent in cars decrease.

At the end of March, Sirius XM announced that their service would be free through May 15. Normally $13 per month, the move may have been made due to lower usage expectations as commuter’s habits have changed drastically. This free service will include access to Howard Stern’s popular weekday show. Sirius XM also plans to add “feel good” ad-free channels to their lineup along with additional news coverage of the virus.

Podcasts – the small but mighty audience stumbles in the short term.

Podcast consumption has seen a steady increase for years. In 2020 overall download growth is up 24% from the same time last year. But since March 9, the number of downloads per week have declined. According to Podtrac, a podcasting measurement service, the percentage decrease per week has been between 1-4%. This is mostly in genres such as sports and true crime. The decreases are small and have begun to level out but, it’s important for advertisers to monitor, particularly if they are invested in these categories.

We are seeing double digit increases in YTD podcast download growth for genres such as news, comedy, and business. Since March, podcasts in the categories of TV and film, science, and kids and family have shown weekly increases.

As the stay-at-home order continues into the second month, advertisers will want to keep an eye on the change in downloads by genre if they are advertising in the podcast space to make sure the impressions are not dropping lower than expected.

What does this mean for advertisers right now?

For advertisers who adapt their strategy and message during uncertain times, there will be an audience. Nielsen data confirms that when people are forced to stay home as they are during this pandemic, they consume more audio content. Which means higher listenership levels for local radio, streaming and satellite radio. In order to take advantage of this advertisers should update their audio strategy to meet the changing needs of consumers.

The most important thing is to know your audience beyond the basics of demo and geo. It’s also about updated qualitative data. What do they like to do? In these times of crisis, what is their mood? By using more targeted data to better understand the audience, advertisers can more effectively reach potential customers and drill down within the audio type to hit the sweet spot of genre and impression purchasing.

Our world has been disrupted in a way that has not been seen in modern times. How each advertiser responds and adapts to this disruption will determine who will survive and more deeply connect with consumers in a way that will last long past the pandemic.