Are Older Listeners the Key to Unlocking Streaming’s Growth Potential?
The often overlooked 55-and-over age group's monthly online listening rate stands at just 53%, leaving lots of room to expand that audience.
The areas of the audio marketplace with the highest growth rates don’t involve music or young people. As online listening growth slows and smartphone ownership is nearly ubiquitous, podcasts and audiobooks stand out in Edison Research’s The Infinite Dial 2023 report.
In 2023, weekly podcast listening reached 40% of people aged 12 to 34, up from 33% in 2022; and 39% for the 35-to-54 age group, up from 31% the year before, the report states. The 55-and-over audience remained at 14% after falling from 17% in 2021. The average U.S. podcast listener averages nine podcasts per week, with 19% listening to 11 or more.
Those growth rates contrast with slowdowns in smartphone penetration (now at 91% of the U.S. population), social media usage (flat at 82% of the population for three straight years) and monthly online audio listening (up slightly from 73% in 2022 to 75% this year).
But podcasts appear to have room for more growth. The percentage of people who listened to a podcast in the last month was 42% — 28 percentage points lower than online audio listenership.
About 183 million people — 64% of the U.S. population 12 and over — has ever listened to a podcast. That’s up from 44% of the population five years earlier and 27% a decade ago.
Audiobooks are also growing. The percentage of Americans who listened to an audiobook in the last year rose to 35% of the U.S. population — up from 28% a year earlier — or about 100 million people. Still, there’s lots of room for growth, and companies will likely see that percentage as an opportunity to introduce the format to new listeners.
Podcasts and audiobooks are tangentially related to music in the streaming age. Digital platforms increasingly combine music and non-music content to keep listeners engaged and make the apps more attractive to subscribers. To improve both its product and margins, Spotify has invested handsomely in podcasts — from DIY tools like Anchor and Megaphone to content creators Gimlet, Parcast and The Ringer — as well as audiobooks, through the acquisition of audiobook distribution platform Findaway.
Streaming companies tend to obsess about young consumers, but the growth opportunity appears to lie in older age groups. Edison found that 89% of the 12-34 age group listened to audio online in the previous month, up from 87% in 2022 and 86% in 2021. The 35-54 age group’s monthly listenership rate improved from 72% in 2021 to 81% in 2022 and 85% this year. The 35-54 age group’s podcast listening improved from 43% in 2022 to 51% this year — a big leap, but still below the 12-34 age group’s 55% mark.
The often overlooked 55-and-over age group has significant room to grow. Its monthly online listening rate stands at just 53%, up from 52% in 2022 and 46% in 2021. The age group is also slow to adopt podcasts. Just 21% of people 55 and over listened to podcasts in the last month. Worse yet, the 55-and-over crowd is losing enthusiasm: Its monthly podcast listening rate was 22% last year and 26% in 2021.
The other major trends found in the report reflect smartphone penetration, the prevalence of mobile broadband and the use of mobile operating systems in cars such as Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. In the last decade, the percentage of U.S. consumers who have listened to AM/FM radio in the car dropped from 84% to 73%, while CD listening declined from 63% to 29%. SiriusXM satellite radio use in the car improved from 15% to 20% over that time, while online audio jumped from 12% to 37% on the same metric.