By year 2122, one hundred twelve years from now, only half of Americans will be listening to broadcast radio.
The last broadcast radio listener will switch to streaming (or however people listen then) in 2254, two hundred and forty-four years from now.
It looks like you’ll have plenty of time to update your resume'.
Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR, recently remarked that in five to ten years from now, Internet radio will replace broadcast radio, apparently abandoning AM/FM radios for computers and smartphones.
To her credit, she’s the first new-media proponent we know of who has been willing to go out on a limb and give us a date for radio’s death.
Pundits love to declare broadcast radio dead without offering supporting evidence. They love to claim that radio will soon collapse under the weight of new-media without offering a timetable or date when radio will succumb.
The reason pundits avoid specifics is that there aren’t any. No research, no studies, nothing but their self-inflated egos to back up their claims. At least Ms. Schiller had the guts to throw out a number for the end of broadcast.
We decided to look a little more closely at her timetable using a statistical technique called regression analysis. It takes past performance and projects it into the future.
Futurists like to use the technique to tell us how soon we’ll all be using iPads or commuting to work using hovercraft.
Arbitron produces a yearly report showing radio’s reach in the markets it surveys. According to Arbitron, in 1999 radio reached 95.1% of Americans over the age of 12. By 2005, radio’s reach had fallen to 93.5%. The latest report has radio’s reach at 91%.
Most people are surprised to learn that radio’s reach has only declined 4.3% in the past decade. The decade of satellite radio, the iPod, Internet radio’s adolescence, and the birth of the iPhone barely impacted radio listenership.
Perhaps future innovations will hasten radio's decline, but perhaps some future innovation will reinvigorate broadcast. Rather than guess, we just assumed that radio would continue moving in the same direction at the same rate.
Using data from 1999 to 2009, we projected the decline into the future. For example, regression suggests that radio’s reach will be 87.7% in 2020, and down to 83.9% in 2030, two decades from now.
The graph above shows reach beginning in 1999 projected out to 2032.
How reliable is the forecast? Just as reliable as the many forecasts we read in the trades every day, and considerably more reliable than the off-handed guess of Ms. Schiller.
Remember, more than two decades after television stations starting broadcasting in color, half of Americans were still watching TV on black and white sets.
So what should you think about a forecast that shows 80% of Americans still listening to AM and FM in 31 years? Believe it as much as you believe broadcast radio will be gone by then.
Based on our research, we think there’s a very good chance a majority of Americans will still be listening to broadcast even three decades from now.
Just remember that next time you hear a new-media pundit declare radio dead.