As Streaming Hits New High, Podcasting Goes Mainstream, Smart Speakers Take Hold & Pandora Dominates: Study

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Streaming reached a new peak this year, potentially driven by smart speakers and a surge in podcasting, new data from Edison Research and Triton Digital shows.

According to the 2019 Infinite Dial study, Americans are spending more time listening to online audio (defined as listening to AM/FM radio stations online, or streamed audio on the internet) than ever, with weekly listeners reporting an average of nearly 17 hours of listening in the last week. Overall, the percentage of Americans who listen to online audio has doubled since 2012, surging from one-third of the population to two-thirds.

Where are they getting their audio fix? Pandora emerges as the leader -- 30 percent of the population using audio brands choose the streamer most often, the study finds, compared to 25 percent who choose Spotify and just 11 percent who go for Apple Music. Pandora also claims the strongest brand awareness among streamers: 89 percent of the population is familiar with Pandora, compared to 73 percent for Apple Music and 71 percent for Spotify. 

But those numbers shift when focusing on Americans aged 12 to 34, where Spotify reigns: 46 percent of the demographic listened to Spotify in the past month, compared to 36 percent for Pandora and 20 percent for Apple Music.

The study also reflects YouTube’s growing footprint in the music streaming realm, as more than half of Americans now report having used YouTube specifically for music in the last week. That number is now 70 percent among 12- to 34-year-olds.

Podcasting hits the mainstream

Amid the streaming surge, podcasting now has a grip on the majority of Americans, as the portion of the U.S. population aged 12 and up who have ever listened to a podcast passes 50 percent for the first time.

Roughly one-third of the population -- or 90 million listeners -- reported having listened to a podcast in the last month, up from around a quarter of the population in the previous year’s survey. The podcasting grip is strongest among young people: 40 percent of Americans aged 12-24 have listened to a podcast in the last month. And those who reported listening to podcasts on a weekly basis averaged seven podcasts per week.

That’s good news for brands like Spotify, which last month began a push into the podcasting market with plans to acquire podcast firms Gimlet Media and Anchor, tapping veteran television exec Liz Gateley to lead the charge. Just weeks after acquiring Pandora, SiriusXM created the streaming platform’s first ever content team, tasked with creating -- among other things -- original podcast content.

“This is a watershed moment for podcasting -- a true milestone,” notes Edison Research senior vice president Tom Webster. “With over half of Americans 12+ saying that they have ever listened to a podcast, the medium has firmly crossed into the mainstream.”

Smart speakers take hold in homes, and in cars, drivers still favor radio

The study says just as much about what people are listening to as where they’re hearing it. Smart speakers are finally taking hold in American homes, as an estimated 65 million Americans now own a smart speaker, or nearly a quarter of the population aged 12 or older. That portion has more than doubled since 2017, when only 7 percent of Americans owned a smart speaker.

Among those owners, Amazon Alexa takes precedence, followed by Google Home, Sonos One with Alexa and Apple HomePod. The mean number of smart speakers per home has grown from 1.7 to two.

Even as streaming takes hold nearly everywhere else, the study finds that drivers are still leaning on AM/FM radio and CDs for their in-car audio consumption. Among audio sources for the car, 52 percent of drivers cited radio as the audio source they use most often on the road, though that figure is down from 56 percent in 2018.

As for online streaming in cars, any potential growth has stalled. While the portion of drivers who use online streaming most often in the car jumped from 9 percent to 12 percent in 2018, that percentage didn’t budge a point this year -- meaning the competition will be stiff for streaming companies looking to use aotmotive partnerships and direct-to-car integrations to take hold of that small chunk of listeners.