How, and How Much, America Listens Have Been Measured for the First Time

Ben Stiller
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Ben Stiller in "Zoolander."

A new survey by Edison Research says Americans listen to four hours and five minutes of audio each day. Exactly how that listening breaks down might surprise you since no previous study has tracked all audio consumption. 

Broadcast radio accounted for 52% of all listening time, or just over two hours per day. That figure includes time spent listening to online simulcasts from AM or FM stations. Broadcast radio's place as most favored audio format isn't a surprise. About 92% of Americans age 12 and over listen to broadcast radio, according to Arbitron.  

Owned music accounted for 20% of listening. Included in this category are CDs, digital downloads, vinyl LPs and, presumably, even cassette tapes. CD listening comprised "a significant" part of the owned music category, according to Edison Research President Larry Rosin. 

Streaming services accounted for 12% of listening. Edison calls this category "Internet radio" and includes webcasters like Pandora with on-demand services like Spotify and Beats Music. Recent research by Edison and Triton Digital says 47% of Americans age 12 and over, or roughly 124 million people, listen to online radio every month. That figure rises to 75% in the 12-to-24 age group. 

No other category accounted for ten percent or more of listening. Satellite radio (8%) is followed by podcasts (2%) and a general "other" category (2%) that includes audiobooks.

These figures are averages across the entire population of Americans age 13 and over. Edison's representative sample filled out diaries that tracked what they listened to and how long they listened. 

The survey results show that audio is "the hottest space in the world of media," says Edison Research's Larry Rosin. "It shows why three of the four horsemen of the Internet -- Apple, Amazon and Google -- are in the audio space. Who knows if Facebook will follow them?" 

The study fills a gap in understanding about American's listening habits. No market research company had tracked the aggregate amount of audio consumers regularly consume. There is research into radio listening and Internet radio habits, but nothing on listening across all formats. "I honestly didn't know the numbers," says Rosin.

NPD Group has tracked music listening for a number of years but takes a slightly different approach. NPD tracks specifically music listening and surveys only an online audience. Edison's Share of Ear participants kept listening diaries -- both online and offline -- that tracked all audio listening in 15-minute intervals.
Nevertheless, the two research firms' studies have some similar numbers. An NPD survey from the second quarter of 2013 found that broadcast radio accounted for 32% of music listening while streaming services accounted for 26% and owned music represented 22%. A big difference between the two was time spent listening. NPD survey participants averaged 16.5 hours per week while Edison survey participants listened to 28.6 hours of audio per week.