Against expectations, digital audio continues to grow

by | Feb 24, 2021 | News, Thought Leadership, Voice Technology

Hero image for Suze's blog about the continued rise of digital audio

People in the UK and US are listening to more digital audio as a result of the pandemic

After taking an initial hit at the start of the pandemic, podcast listening and audio streaming are now rising considerably. eMarketer report an expected 4.8% increase in the US compared to 2020 while, in the UK, research shows a boost in audio streaming and radio listening during the pandemic.

Digital audio listening habits have changed

When lockdown arrived it disrupted our daily and weekly routines. Suddenly the hours spent listening on the commute disappeared – and podcast producers felt the shift. Listening figures took a dive and that trend was widely expected to continue. But far from a continued decline, digital audio has received a welcome boost with people changing, rather than ditching, their listening habits.

But far from a continued decline, digital audio has received a welcome boost with people changing, rather than ditching, their listening habits.

While we’re no longer listening in the car or on the train Monday to Friday, we are tuning in on the weekends and we are listening for longer. 

It stands to reason that screen-fatigued home workers are turning more to audio-only experiences such as podcasts, streaming and radio during their downtime. And fellow parents, let’s be honest: any activity we can do while juggling childcare, home-schooling, making lunch, exercising or cleaning up stops barely short of a necessity right now.

It is then no surprise that the rise the digital audio comes at a time of increased smart speaker usage – another activity boosted by the pandemic. Streaming audio via smart speaker reveals a listening experience that is both targeted and hands-free.

The impact of choice and niche

With around 1,750,000 podcasts and 43 million episodes available it is highly likely there’ll be content available on the most niche of topics. At a time when there’s not much we can control, it seems we are grabbing the chance to make choices where we can: honing in on the content we want to hear.

We are grabbing the chance to make choices where we can

Recent research shows this targeted listening trend owes a lot to a change in the way we watch TV. Nielsen and Westwood One found people who watch TV mainly via subscription services (such as Netflix and Disney+) are more likely to be radio listeners than those who watch terrestrial programming.

Digital audio is rich with connection and exclusivity

Not only do we pick what we hear, but once we choose that radio station, stream, or podcast, the audio feels as if it’s made for our ears only. The relationship between speaker and listener is a strong one. At a time when connecting with others is so limited, perhaps it’s no wonder we have turned to audio to fulfil our connection needs: it’s a medium that allows us to explore and discover without requiring our full attention. Most importantly, we can consume without staring at an over-stimulating screen.

So whether it’s recreating that commute time by taking our headphones on a morning run, or listening to the radio on our smart speaker as we work from home; the pandemic has seen audio’s flexibility, control and intimacy come into its own.

Expect to see the continued rise of digital audio for some time yet.

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