Music vs Podcasts vs Radio - which is better?

There's only one way to find out... FIGHT!

It’s easy to write an article about a new medium killing an old one. The giveaway, as James Cridland often tracks, is a headline remarking on something killing the radio star.

Of course, in the real world, nothing is black or white - it’s just a series of grey areas.

I often hear people make a simplistic statement like “music streaming will replace radio - just look at its growth”. In truth, one going up isn’t necessarily correlated to the other one going down. Why people do something should be looked at far more closely than just what someone seems to be doing.

Different media types are initiated for different reasons and where and how that can be consumed has an effect. Of course, over time what scratches a certain itch changes and evolves. The Radiocentre’s Audio Now research looked at “need states” and the job different media - radio, streaming etc did in satisfying those states. Lines blur as people fade up and down different sources to satisfy their mood.

Spotify has a unique platform that now brings together podcasting and music streaming. This gives them a great data set to understand how their millions of users consume audio and whether listening to one replaces the other. They talk about it in a new blog post.

The key thing they notice is that podcasts are almost entirely additive to consumption. Podcast listeners consume around 20% more audio than music-only people. So how did it affect music consumption?

While adding podcasts very mildly lowered users’ music listening time on average, the change was insignificant in relation to the 20% increase in overall listening time. 

How did listeners manage that? They added podcast consumption to other day-parts when they weren’t listening to Spotify’s music content.

These listeners had already used streaming music to meet a certain need state. They now added podcasts to satisfy a different one.

Their music consumption was more regular, not a great surprise as podcasts are a new addition for them. Overall there were less podcast sessions than there were music sessions. Instead they found that podcast listening started earlier in the day - on the commute. Music then lasted longer into the night, whereas podcast sessions dropped in early evening.

In the post they show a consumption curve over the day which ends up very much looking like radio’s daily listening when looking at RAJAR figures. Again, not a surprise as some radio and podcast need states overlap, just like some streaming and radio ones overlap too.

It’s easy to read this and think that radio will be superseded by this combined streaming and podcast partnership. But again, looking at the data, radio’s listening hours hold up pretty well overall. In the last two years, hours of radio consumed by 15 to 24s and 25 to 34s has been relatively stable. 15-24s in March 2018 listened to 83m hours of radio, in March 2020 they listened to 79m. Similar to Spotify data, whilst there may have been some replacement by other audio sources, the vast majority of the streaming and podcast growth seems to have come from new, additional listening hours.

Of course, that seems pretty good, for the moment - but you would be mad to be complacent about what could happen next.

For anyone in the audio sector I would counsel to think a little less about other competitors in your space, or even competition from whole other platforms and think a little more about need state competition.

If people listen to your radio station to relax, I’d be thinking about what other products you could make that satisfy that need state? Maybe it’s chill out playlists, or maybe it’s a mindfulness app? Consumers are unlikely to stop needing something to satisfy their need to relax, but they may change the product that fills that hole.

If I was a news podcast, I’d be thinking about a daily email newsletter or a smart-speaker briefing. I would want to be satisfying my audience’s thirst for my take on the news, whatever the format.

I think radio doesn’t do a particularly great job of thinking broader than the linear audio stream, but really, stand-alone podcasts are probably further behind. Of course some are seeing good growth, but is this less than, or ahead of, the podcast platform as a whole? If your podcast is growing slower than podcasting, there might be a problem on the horizon for you as more shows compete for listeners’ time.

For all media products, satisfying the needs of the consumer and defending the time they spend with you (on any platform) is the key to prolonged success.

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