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  • Writer's pictureRon Jaworski

Numbers and facts you need to know about audio content in 2022

With another year of explosive growth, it’s safe to say that audio content is going strong. With listening habits now deeply ingrained, people are feasting on audio content in more ways than one.

Everyone has preferences in how they want information presented and how they consume it - and audio plays a major role here.

So, if you’re not offering an audio experience, you’re missing out. But just how much are you missing out on?

I’ve compiled all the relevant numbers, stats, and facts that highlight the ongoing listening trends.

Quick disclaimer: stats about music are not included unless specifically indicated. Data presented primarily refers to listening habits in the United States but is very much indicative of trends taking place around the world.

Let’s get down to brass tacks:

How much listening is there?

In terms of online audio listening, which includes AM/FM online radio stations and streamed audio content, there are significant gains year-over-year. Data from the latest The Infinite Dial 2022 from Edison Research shows that:

  • 73% or an estimated 209 million people of the U.S. 12+ population are listening to online audio on a monthly basis, up from 68% in 2021 or about 16 million more listeners.

  • 67% or an estimated 192 million people are weekly listeners, up from 62% in 2021, which is about 16 million more listeners.

In Canada, time spent with digital audio surpassed that of radio for the first time in 2021 - and the gap is only going to widen from there.

At 1 hour, 33 minutes a day on average in 2022, time spent with digital audio will be 8 minutes more than time spent with radio. In fact, digital audio listeners will surpass 25 million in 2022, which means almost two-thirds of the population will listen to digital audio this year. This includes users who stream music, digital audio, and podcasts.

Who is listening?

The growth was primarily driven by listeners aged 35+, as the number of those aged 35+ who listen to online audio monthly increased by 13% year over year. They are followed by their older cohorts aged 55+ with an equally impressive growth rate of 11%. The 12-34 age group slightly added to their already all-time high listening levels, remaining the audio’s most faithful audience.

What’s also interesting is that people like to listen to audio content together. Data shows that 19% of listeners frequently listen with other people, while 28% do it sometimes.

So, almost half of the total listenership has the habit of sharing the audio experience, as the medium has that strong emotional impact that brings people together.

Podcasting keeps on growing

Audio’s blockbuster star isn’t letting go any time soon, increasing reach to an all-time high level:

  • An estimated 226 million people are familiar with podcasts, which is about 79% of the U.S. aged 12 population, up from 78% in 2021.

  • 62% or an estimated 177 million people have ever listened to a podcast - up from 57% last year, adding 15 million new listeners.

  • 38% or 109 million people listen every month, which is a decrease from 41% in 2021.

  • Similarly, 74 million or 26% listen weekly, which is down from 28% last year.

  • On average, weekly podcast listeners listen to eight podcasts.

The conclusion here is that while monthly and weekly listeners have returned to pre-pandemic levels, more people are discovering and trying out podcasts. In turn, this could lead to new frequent listeners as newcomers discover the show(s) that best suit them.

When it comes to podcast demographics, here’s the scoop:

  • Men comprise 53% of monthly listeners, women make up 46%, and non-binary/other 1%.

  • Agewise, 50% of the 12-34 age group are monthly listeners, compared to 43% of those aged 35-54 and 22% aged 55 and older.

  • The ethnic composition of the podcast audience is diverse, with White comprising 59% of monthly podcast consumers, African-American and Hispanic at 16%, Asian at 3%, and Other at 6%.

In terms of devices and locations where podcasts are listened to most often:

  • Throughout 2021, the switch toward mobile was happening, culminating in 73% of weekly listeners preferring smartphones as their go-to device, while 13% used desktops/laptops.

  • In-car podcast listening also registered growth, clocking in at 20% of weekly listeners by Q4 2021, while the at-home listening remained at the top with 59%.

Audiobooks hold the line

There wasn’t much fanfare in 2021 as audiobook listening stayed relatively flat. An estimated 129 million or 45% of those aged 12+ in the U.S. have ever listened to an audiobook, compared to 46% in 2021.

The global audiobook market size is estimated to grow at a CAGR of almost 19% with $1.23 billion between 2022 and 2025. The year-over-year growth rate for 2022 is estimated at 16.12%” by the end of 2025.

  • 56% of audiobook listeners are under the age of 45; this is up from 52% in 2020.

  • 70% of consumers agree audiobooks are a good choice for relaxing.

  • Daily audiobook listeners spend more time listening to books than any other form of audio (radio, podcasts, and so on).

  • Daily audiobook listeners spend nearly 2 hours more per day listening to audio than the general population. To be precise, 5 hours and 35 minutes compared to 3 hours and 46 minutes.

Spoken word audio scored big in 2021

Spoken word audio, which comprises podcasts, audiobooks, talk radio, news, and sports, continued its upward trajectory. Its share of audio listening has increased by 40% from 2014 and 8% in 2021, slowly nibbling away at the music’s share of listening.

Furthermore, three-quarters or 75% of all adult Americans listen to spoken word audio each month while 45% listen daily, up from 43% in 2020. Here are some more fun facts:

  • In 2021, spoken word audio daily listeners average 2 hours and 6 minutes per day listening to spoken word audio.

  • Listening is evenly distributed by content type between spoken word audio and music, both at 50% among daily spoken word audio listeners.

  • The share of time listening to spoken word audio on a mobile device has increased by 278% since 2014. Naturally, mobile devices are a major factor in spoken word audio’s growth as they account for 35% of spoken word audio listening, followed by AM/FM radio receivers at 29%, computers at 27%, and smart speakers at 24%.

For me, one of the more fascinating insights lies in the motivations behind listening to spoken word audio. Besides the obvious multitasking benefits that 71% of listeners say are the primary driver, people listen for a variety of reasons:

  • 62% feel it’s made for people like them, while 60% listen because of perspectives they don’t hear in other media, want to better themselves, and want to process info more efficiently.

  • 58% say it makes them aware of more content, 57% listen for encouragement and positivity, 56% need a break from negativity, 56% like listening more than reading, and so on.

  • Also, 54% of listeners agree that spoken word audio engages the mind in a more positive way than other media.

Also worth mentioning is that spoken word audio’s growth is driven by large increases in young and multicultural audiences. While most listeners cite the ability to multitask as one of the main motivations for spoken word audio listening, young and multicultural audiences are more likely to cite other reasons such as connection, education, new perspectives, and self-improvement.

The rise of audio articles

Located somewhere between podcasts and regular textual articles, audio articles may not offer the robust listening experience of long-form peers like audiobooks and podcasts - but they do offer immense convenience for listeners.

This is widely recognized by audiences who are too busy to read but want to stay in the know or simply prefer consuming via eardrums rather than eyeballs, as well as publications who want to improve user experience without the need to invest in the equipment and training.

Trinity Audio’s research that focused on AI-narrated audio articles revealed that almost half of the total listeners listened through the entire content as the completion rate clocked at an impressive 48.87%.

In addition:

  • The click-through rate on the audio content was 2.03%.

  • There was a listen-through rate or LTR of 69.14%, which means that once a listener clicked to listen, they had clear intent as more than two-thirds of the audio content was listened to on average.

  • 71.1% of listening was done via mobile, while the remaining 28.9% falls on desktop devices.

  • Listeners are tuning in the most at 14:00 to 17:00 local times, which are the peak hours. Afternoon work hours generally had a steady listening rate, followed by evening hours between 21:00 and 23:00 as the time of day when listeners sought out audio content.

People still listen to the radio

As the pandemic continues to dial down, public concern wanes, and commutes to work and school resume, AM/FM radio listening habits change once again - but they’re still there.

Data from CivicScience reveals that 59% of U.S. adults listen to live radio at some cadence, with the highest percentage listening in the early morning, from 6 to 9 AM.

Almost half or 44% of U.S. adults who listen to the radio have changed their listening habits over the last 12 months. More than one-third of listeners say they are listening to the radio less often, while 20% say they’re listening to the radio more often and another 20% say they are live streaming radio more often.

On top of everything, radio is among the most trusted media. Nearly two-thirds or 64% of Americans, to be precise, say radio is either “very trustworthy” or “trustworthy”, topping every other media type other than newspaper, trailing by a mere 1%. In fact, radio surpasses both computer internet and mobile internet and magazines by double-digit margins.

The indisputable opportunity of digital audio advertising

Here’s something interesting:

no digital advertising segment grew faster in 2021 than digital audio - up 57.9% to $4.9 billion.

IAB's Internet Advertising Revenue Report, which includes podcasting, streaming radio, and digital music services, shows digital audio’s share of the total digital revenue increased too, from 2.2% in 2020 to 2.6% in 2021. What's more, gains were twice that of display advertising.

There was growth to be had all around for digital audio. Most of it came from mobile ad spending, which grew by 66% to $4.1 billion, increasing to 85% of digital audio revenue from 81% year-to-year. Its desktop counterpart rose 24% year-over-year to $739 million.

According to the report, the proportion of desktop versus mobile ad dollars remained consistent with roughly $7 out of every $10 ad dollars being allocated to mobile.

Audio has a proven ability to hook audiences and hold their full attention. With earbuds, for example, the experience is so intimate that brands are literally inside a listener's head so when they are talking about something in the audio environment, they really have the awareness of their audience.

When it comes to advertising purposes, this works like a charm. According to a study by Spotify and Neuro-Insight, digital audio and ads seem to generate more engagement and emotional activation than other forms of media thanks to their interactivity and personalization.

Researchers took real-time readings of the brains of people listening to different kinds of music accompanied by ads. They found out that digital audio was more likely to engage long-term memory for both details and past memories, as well as increase the emotional intensity, more than radio, TV, social media, or digital video.

More so, 93% of the brain’s measured engagement with the musical or podcast content transferred directly into engagements with the ads that followed.

There you have it

Once again, audio content has proved its importance in delivering a better user experience due to its ability to reach the listener at any time and place, and more importantly, in any context. Whether it’s for engagement or advertising purposes, its intimate and immersive nature that leverages storytelling is a huge advantage.

For that reason alone, expect to hear more about the audio in the near future.

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