The NAB argues that the government should require that every mobile phone have an FM chip. New media defenders respond that the FM chip is unnecessary because of radio apps. People can listen to radio on their smartphones now. Why bother with a chip?
New research from comScore’s MobiLens pours gasoline on this raging debate.
As of July, 234 million Americans were cell subscribers, but only 22.8% of them owned a smartphone and could access the web.
That’s important because iPhone owners listen to considerably more music than owners of competing cellphones.
An additional 17% own a Google Android mobile.This means fewer than 21.8 million people have a wide selection of apps including the most popular radio apps.
So a relatively small proportion of cellphone subscribers can listen to radio on their phones using apps.
The bigger problem, however, is that there’s little evidence that even if more people could, they would.
Nielsen’s Netview recently found that smartphone users spend less than two minutes an hour listening to music on their phones. (Nielsen didn’t break-out radio separately.)
Now comScore research shows there's an even bigger problem than the two minutes suggests. Most subscribers never listen to music on their phone.
Nielsen reports time spent listening (TSL) to music, while comScore measures reach, the number of subscribers who have listened in the past month. (Note that comScore activities are a percentage of all subscribers, while Nielsen numbers are just of smartphone users.)
The graph at the left shows the percentage of subscribers who do various tasks with their phone. The most popular activity is texting. Two-thirds of subscribers text. One third surf the web, and a similar number have used an app.
The least used activity is listening to music. Only 14.5% of mobile subscribers have listened to music on their phone in the past month.
In other words, fewer than 34 million US subscribers listen to music on their phones. For reference, Arbitron estimates there are nearly 200 million radio listeners in the top 300 radio markets alone.
Study after study shows that a very small proportion of cellphone users listen to music on their phones. iPhone users are the most likely to listen to music (about twice the over-all average), but only 5.4% of mobile users have an iPhone, and the proportion is declining.
These studies are measuring music, not radio, so the numbers for radio might even be worse.
Mobile users claim they want an FM chip, but their behavior suggests that most won’t use the radio, and they probably won’t spend much time listening.
If mobile really is the new battleground for broadcast listeners, radio has a lot more to worry about than Pandora. Email, social media, and the entire web become our competitors.
Can radio create content to compete at that level? Is it willing to do what it takes?