Where did the listening go?
The February streaming numbers are out, and they raise a great many questions.
As the graph at left illustrates, listening is off for the second month in a row. This is the first time this has happened.
Some of the declines might be the result of a technical glitch, but declines hit the majority of services.
The leading service, Pandora is down for the second month in a row, 17% in two months. The ratings, however, are accompanied by this footnote:
the code that measures audience and time spent listening was inadvertently omitted by Pandora in some versions of their mobile applications. Therefore, not all of Pandora’s mobile listening is captured in this report.
The glitch comes at an awkward time, as Pandora prepares to go public. The footnote adds that the technical problem will also affect the next two months’ ratings.
It means we won’t have reliable ratings again for Pandora probably until after the service has gone public.
But how do we account for the fact that 16 of the other top 19 services also declined?
Did listening actually decline, or is there another explanation?
If these were Arbitron estimates, we might write it off to bad sampling. Wobbles do happen, which is why Arbitron ratings are called estimates.
When Arbitron numbers decline, we can’t be sure whether the decline means fewer people were listening or whether there was just a sampling wobble.
Wobbles don’t happen with streaming numbers, however. Streaming numbers are not estimates. IP addresses are actually counted, so we can eliminate a wobble as the source of the problem.
Assuming there is no undetected measurement problem, the only possible explanation is that consumption of measured online listening declined two months in a row.
Last year we speculated that streaming listenership growth would slow and ultimately stop at some point, well before anyone expected it.
It is too early to conclude that streaming growth is slowing, but the fact that listenership contracted in January and February should be a reminder to radio’s critics that relentless growth and ultimate dominance is far from assured for streaming services.