Everyone’s Home but With No Radios

 In Blog

Everyone’s home, but can smart speakers save the day for radio’s loss of drive time listeners? Amplifi Media CEO Steve Goldstein, gives us a clear perspective on the media winners and losers during the pandemic.
– Randy Lane

If there is any humor to be found during Covid-19, it is the oft-used term the ‘new normal.”  As a wise analyst recently said, “No one knows anything.” That seems right.  The only thing we know is that habits have been altered and the chance of everything reverting back are pretty minimal.

What’s been happening with audio during this time is a series of lessons in audience migration and listening patterns.

Radio station drivetimes have been slammed hard – anecdotally, more than 35%.  On the rise is smart speaker usage, especially with young people seeking news. Spotify says, “Every day now looks like the weekend,” suggesting that Covd-19 has indeed flattened the curve of drivetimes.  Podcasts took an early hit as people stopped commuting.  News podcasts surged, children’s content spiked, true crime and sports took a hit, but lately podcasts have seen an increase in downloads and advertisers, for the most part, have hung in.  With people at home, My Podcast Reviews tracked a record 90,000 new podcasts started in April to add to the 1 million already out there.

For radio stations, the pandemic reality is that everyone was sent home, but according to Edison Research, one-third of homes don’t have even one radio anymore.  Among 18-34-year-olds, that number exceeds 50%. The radios ended up in the garage or attic and that should cause plenty of hand wringing and introspection in radio circles.

While radio stations have marginally benefited from the rise of smart speakers during the pandemic, they are not, as some broadcasters have suggested, the new home radio. Smart Speakers are audio devices packed with choice; big streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, 100,000 worldwide radio stations and the aforementioned 1 million podcasts.  They are great media players and good at setting alarms and converting ounces to quarts.

The likely learning from the pandemic for commercial radio is the need to accelerate the mastery of multiple platforms and transition from being linear over-the-air broadcasters to audio content houses. Other media have invested in the future. Local TV news is a great example. They have built multi-platform assets for the web and mobile – and have developed custom content for each platform – and are seeing a surge in use and relevance. The Daily, a podcast from the New York Times has already been a chart topper, but the Covid-19 coverage has caused a surge to almost 3 million downloads every day. Digital subscribers for the Times web and apps have crossed the 6 million mark. The New York Times is no longer a newspaper, they are a fully integrated media company.

We have long urged radio companies to cast a wider lens and think beyond simply checking-the-box and shoving their current content on to other platforms. Being more introspective about how people are listening to audio these days creates opportunities to evolve. Many radio stations have valuable but buried content.

Covid-19 has been a great time for all of audio to shine; however, the newer and buzzier platforms with fresh voices and on-demand content have garnered the most attention.

The pandemic may have put a fork in the notion of linear-only content for commercial radio. Hopefully it forces change.

Photo by Mirza Mustofa on Unsplash

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