A New Study Reinforces The Idea That The Medium Is The Message

Smart Speaker
– Smart Speaker

As consumers continue to radically change how they listen to music, the music market itself reflects those changes. The percentage of homes without a radio, for example, grew to 29 percent in the last decade, showing a legacy format will lose ground when people adopt new hardware, according to new market research. Overall, 25 percent fewer people own a radio in 2018 than 10 years ago. Instead, people are using smartphones or a Bluetooth speaker or a digital music system like Sonos.

The voice-activated smart speaker is the new – and future – piece of hardware for enjoying music in the home. Smart speaker ownership increased from 7 percent in 2017 to 18 percent of people surveyed, according to the Infinite Dial 2018 study, the latest of the long-running Edison/Triton reports on consumers’ usage of technology and audio formats.

Amazon is a perfect example of the relationship between hardware and music. The Amazon Echo is owned by 83 percent of smart speaker owners surveyed. Google Home has only a 28 percent share. (The sum of Echo and Google Home ownership numbers exceed 100 percent because 11 percent of smartphone owners have both brands.) Both Amazon and Google offer music services. Amazon has a free version, an inexpensive Echo-only tier, and a premium service that can be used on multiple devices. Google has its premium Google Play All Access.

To no surprise, the survey found Echo owners prefer Amazon’s music services. Amazon Music is pushing out traditional radio – the webcasts of iHeartRadio in this case – and whichever companies Edison/Triton puts in its “other” category. This jibes with a different Edison report that found smart speaker owners are spending less time with (in order) AM/FM radio, smartphones, television, tablets, computers, and print publications. But the hardware-music link isn’t a steadfast rule. Pandora and Spotify are equally popular with smart speaker owners as the general population – for the time being.

The automobile won’t be an AM/FM safe haven forever. In-dash entertainment systems and Bluetooth integrations allow drivers to easily listen to streaming audio and a range of streaming services. What’s more, Edison has found that 64 percent of smart speaker owners are interested in having smart speakers in their car. Once drivers start issuing voice commands, AM/FM radio no longer owns the automobile. Pandora and Spotify could be as popular in cars as they currently are on smart speakers. Even so, the percentage of drivers who listened to AM/FM radio has remained steady at about 82 percent for two years.

AM/FM’s decline could be seen as an allegory to iHeartMedia’s current financial problems. Overburdened by debt, iHeartMedia has filed Chapter 11 and is reorganizing to reduce its debt burden. In all likelihood, however, iHeartRadio will survive – it’s too big a company to fail – but the radio giant will never be the same. As the Infinite Dial report shows, many companies are more than willing to step in and take its listeners. 