While people can now listen to thousands of streaming online radio stations, hundreds of channels on services like Rhapsody, and over a hundred channels on satellite in addition to local radio, the number of radio stations people listen to in a typical week has hardly grown.
Technology has created a virtually limitless source of audio entertainment for listeners. However, a new technology doesn’t always change the way people behave. People adopt a new technology only when they find it solves a problem.
Few people are yearning for more radio options. Few listeners need thousands of streaming stations or hundreds of satellite channels.
As it turns out, there is little relationship between the number of stations available to a listener, and the number of stations a listener regularly tunes to.
The number of radio stations a person uses is based on need, not availability.
Most people listen primarily to two or three stations. They occasionally switch to other stations, but they have two primary stations they return to time and time again.
The graph at the left shows the average number of radio stations people listen to in three different size markets. The largest market has over twelve times the number of choices as the smallest market, yet the average number of stations barely increases.
Has the explosion of digital options changed this relationship? A lot less than you might think.
While Sirius XM boasts over 150 channels, most subscribers use fewer than seven channels and listen primarily to just two or three.
Listeners of online services show a similar pattern. While one could conceivably listen to hundreds of streaming stations from around the world, most people gravitate to one service and listen to a couple of channels within it.
Listeners regardless of whether they prefer broadcast, satellite, or streaming ultimately settle on a handful of outlets that they tune to time and time again.
This is one reason so few people have abandoned broadcast for digital. The average listener only needs two or three stations to be reasonably satisfied.
A second reason relatively few listeners have replaced local listening with digital options is the convenience of broadcast.
For many listeners, digital just isn’t worth the extra effort.
The days when listeners sat in rapt attention staring at the radio are long gone. Radio is a service that is primarily consumed passively while doing other things. Today radio is background, an accompaniment to other activities.
(As an aside, academic research has shown that radio advertising works despite the secondary nature of the consumption. People are generally involved in a visual activity while they listen, so as an aural medium, radio still cuts through.)
Yes, for a small segment of the radio audience, listening is a much more foreground activity. These are the listeners who have embraced digital. They are young with time on their hands. They have considerable interest in music discovery--just like their parents before them.
Because radio is primarily an accompaniment, most listeners don’t want to work at finding something to listen to. The reason that broadcast radio continues to be the overwhelming choice for most people is that it is simple.
You turn the radio on, scan quickly to find something acceptable, and leave the radio alone. As Nielsen recented demonstrated, broadcast listening even among teens has shown little decline. There are times when the simplicity of broadcast appeals to even teens.
Listeners gripe about commercials and hearing the same songs over and over, but the “costs” involved in finding another station often outweigh the benefit.
Now with thousands of digital alternatives, the cost of seeking a better choice is even greater, too great for the majority of listeners. It’s just not worth more than minimal effort to find something intended to be background.
The reason is that few people are willing to invest the money and time necessary to use them. Table top Internet radios promise access to tens of thousands of audio sources, but the effort required to program them just isn’t worth it for the majority of listeners.
We find that the majority of listeners don’t even have all their car radio buttons programmed.
Android and iPhone radio apps offer greater convenience than computers and appliances, but they too present complications that most listeners don’t want.
People primarily use mobile phones to communicate. People use a smart mobile to text, email, and occasionally have a conversation. It is just easier to turn on a radio.
Again, while some listeners are willing to endure the inconvenience to have the control, the majority of listeners just want some background music.
Online radio has to become a lot more convenient before the majority of people are willing to abandon something that has served them very well for their entire life.