Comparing Audio in Different Countries

As regular readers may know, I love a good bit of research. In the audio space there’s one piece that towers over the others – the Infinite Dial. First published in the US in 1998, the Infinite Dial started asking questions that many audio practitioners didn’t realise were important – about changing listening behaviour and this thing called the ‘internet’.

In the first report a lot of the analysis concerns things that were important issues of the time (should we have a website?, do listeners want track and artist names displayed?), but there’s the odd nugget that hinted at a changing future:

Radio’s average time spent listening among those not online is 22 hours 45 minutes a week. Radio’s time spent listening among those online is nearly three hours less, 20 hours per week.

It was probably one of the first times radio people heard that those listeners who were engaging with the expansive content on the internet, changed how they listened to the good old wireless.

Today, much of the value of the Infinite Dial is that they’ve often used the same questions over 20 years of studies, producing a true tracking of listener behaviour.

The study has been replicated in many other markets, but it’s taken until this year (and some cash from partners Bauer and Spotify) to reproduce the survey in the UK. Whilst it doesn’t have the year-on-year comparisons that America has, it can now though compare similar questions asked to listeners in the US, Canada and Australia.

The Data

To me there are few bits information that stem from the core insight – Brits. Love. Audio.

The first is how strong linear radio is. 81% of those surveyed said they had listened to any form of radio (broadcast or online) in the last week. This compares to 79% in Australia, 70% in Canada and just 59% in the US.

My assumption is this strength in the UK comes from there being a public broadcaster of scale (in the BBC), a competitive commercial sector, and – through the DAB journey – a commitment to creating high-quality, content-rich new radio stations. I think some similar reasoning shows why Australia is strong too.

Anyone can throw up a jukebox stream, but the UK has invested in radio content, so that the 50-odd new national radio stations provide choice and quality, with presenters, production and speech content. Taken together, the sector has done a good job (compared to other countries) and making sure the radio ‘product’ is of high quality. It’s not the same in many other countries.

Secondly, the choice through digital radio – for all ages – from 1Xtra to Boom Radio – and a multi-platform strategy that’s put them on lots of devices – has also pump primed UK ears to be open to more new audio types. The data shows that monthly listening to podcasts is at at 41%, which ties the US (a market that is generally though of as ‘ahead’ on podcasting) and is stronger than Canada at 38% and Australia at 36%.

We don’t, however, listen to podcasts in the same ferocity yet as other countries, the weekly podcast listening figure is 25% in the UK, compared to 23% in Canada, 26% in Australia and 29% in the US.

Finally, the weekly reach online listening number – this combines listening to the radio online along with any streamed content – is once again, very strong, with 66% of the UK, that’s two-thirds of the country, consuming online audio in some form, each week. This matches the same number in Australia and beats both the US (at 62%) and Canada (at 61%).

What all of this shows is that the UK market is pretty well educated about digital audio, they use it (or at least sample it) and have integrated it into their listening habits. For established operators – with routes to large numbers of people – there’s a great opportunity to bring new material to consumers and increase the amount of time they spend with them. For new operators, there is a large, but still growing market, ready to consume digital audio if its high quality and marketed well.

There’s a lot more data online from Edison Research’s Infinite Dial, on their website.

Podcast Awards

I’m also fortunate to compare different markets through my involvement in podcast awards in different territories. After the success of the British Podcast Awards, we were asked to help run the secretariat for the Australian Podcast Awards, which had its ceremony on Thursday night.

It was a great event, with some brilliant winners that you should definitely check out. Just like in radio, the Australian podcast market is very competitive, with a public broadcaster, existing media operators branching out, new entrants and of course radio companies. The interplay between the commercial radio companies has meant a much greater push into podcasts than we see here in the UK. With a mix of radio stars, commissioned work and repping from all the big networks. Similar to the UK, Acast are making a strong push for stand-alone creators and Spotify are creating an interesting slate of Originals too.

We’ve also made another move with our awards caravan – this time to Ireland, announcing last week the Irish Podcast Awards. Since we’ve been doing the British awards we’ve had lots of requests about involving Irish podcasts in the ceremony. Rather than combine the two, we though it better to create something alongside Irish podcasters and companies, specifically for that market.

The reason companies and individuals podcast is really varied, we think that’s why there’s rarely associations created in countries that bring everyone together. The participants are probably too broad in their objectives to find the sort of common ground you might get in other sectors like radio or television. Awards, however, can be a meeting point, an independent one, that just champions creativity and helps grow awareness for great shows (from anyone). We’re really excited to be working with a vibrant and growing Irish podcast sector to help them create something brilliant. You can sign up to the mailing list for more information.

How similar and different are we to our audio neighbours? (5min read)