The growth of audio content has been on a constant upward trajectory for the past few years, with the latest push coming from social audio. Slowly but surely, the medium has become an essential element of the media mix for publishers, advertisers, and listeners alike.

Audio is the evolution and future of content. Don’t believe me? Just take a peek or a listen below and you’ll see or hear what I’m talking about.

Stats about music are not included. Data refers mostly to listening habits in the United States but is very much indicative of trends taking place across the globe.

How much listening is there?

Besides creating a new habit they have incorporated into their daily routine, listeners are also maintaining it.

When it comes to online audio listening (including AM/FM online radio stations and streamed audio content only available online), there is continued growth in consumption:

  • An estimated 193 million or 68% of the US 12+ population listens on a monthly basis, which is 1 million more than in 2020.
  • Weekly online audio listening is estimated at 176 million or 62% of the US 12+ population. This is 7 million more or 60% of the population as opposed to 2020, an all-time high for this category.
  • The average time spent listening weekly is 16 hours and 14 minutes, a significant increase from 2020’s 15 hours and 12 minutes.

Weekly Online Audio Listening US population stats

According to eMarketer estimates:

  • The time US adults spent with digital audio recorded an 8.3% growth for a total of 1 hour, 29 minutes per day.
  • Digital audio accounted for 11% of total media time per day for US adults in 2020 and will account for 11.7% in 2021 or 1 hour and 34 minutes per day.
  • In 2022, the average time spent listening should rise to 1 hour and 37 minutes per day.
  • Active digital audio listeners spent 2 hours and 5 minutes per day on audio in 2020 and will likely add another 5 minutes this year.
  • More than 70% of US adults listened to digital audio content at least once a month in 2020 and 91.7% of this occurred via mobile.

Digital Audio: Average Time Spent in the US, 2018-2022 (minutes per day among population and %25 change)

Who is doing all this listening?

Listening audiences are diverse. As expected, Gen Z is leading the charge but Millenials and Gen X aren’t far behind. Also, almost half of the older and senior adults are active monthly listeners. Here is the percentage of monthly listeners per age group:

  • Age 12 to 34: 86%
  • Age 35 to 54: 72%
  • Age 55+: 46%

Furthermore, 51% of those aged 12+ “frequently” or “sometimes” listen to audio with other people, with this percentage rising to 69% among those aged 12 to 34. A more detailed breakdown of the demographics can be found for the podcasts segment below.

Podcasts, audio’s blockbuster star

Podcasting is a familiar term to around 222 million or 78% of the population in the United States, continuing its significant and steady growth while its overall audience is more diverse than ever.

  • About 162 million or 57% of U.S. citizens over 12 listened to a podcast at least once.
  • An estimated 116 million or 41% of the U.S. population tunes in monthly.
  • The weekly podcast audience includes around 80 million people or 28% of the total U.S. population over 12.
  • On average, weekly podcast audiences listen to eight podcasts or 5.1 podcast shows.

Age of monthly podcast listeners:

  • Most are from the 12-34 age group, comprising 56% of the listenership in 2021, an increase from 49% in 2020.
  • 39% of monthly listeners are those aged between 35 and 54 with a 39% listening share in 2021, down from 40% in 2020.
  • The smallest portion of listeners is coming from the group older than 55 who represent 26% of monthly listeners, up from 22% in 2020.

Gender of monthly podcast listeners:

  • 48% of monthly podcast listeners are men; women 49%, while 3% are non-binary/other.
  • 43% of male listenership are monthly listeners in 2021, up from 39% in 2020
  • 39% of female listenerships are monthly listeners in 2021, up from 36% in 2020.

The ethnic composition of the podcast audience is increasingly diverse, with numbers significantly rising in favor of Hispanic, Asian, and other podcast consumers. That said, the largest portion of the podcast audience is still predominantly White:

  • White: 57%
  • African-American: 13%
  • Hispanic: 16%
  • Asian: 4%
  • Others: 10%

Ethnicity of Monthly Podcast Listeners US populations stats

Audiobooks still going strong

As one of the oldest digital audio formats, audiobooks are a familiar sound to many eardrums across the globe.

  • An estimated 131 million people listened to an audiobook in 2021, which is about 46% of the total 12+ U.S. population and a 1% increase compared to 2020.
  • Even though the number of people commuting plummeted in 2020, audiobook revenue was up more than 17% compared to 2019.
  • The audiobook market size, measured by revenue, is $1.3 billion in 2021.
  • The market size is expected to increase by 5.5% in 2021.

Audio articles are surging

While audio articles may not offer dramatic storytelling and fancy sound effects like their podcast and audiobook counterparts, they do offer a convenient way for listeners to consume information.

These are people who are multitasking (driving, at the gym, doing house chores etc), simply prefer consuming via eardrums rather than eyeballs, have some form of vision impairment or blindness, or are illiterate to some degree.

Hence, it’s no surprise that spoken word audio (includes news, sports, talk/personalities, audiobooks) listening has increased by 30% over the last six years and 8% in 2020.

  • Three-quarters or 75% of all Americans listen to spoken word audio each month while 43% listen daily.
  • Those who listen to spoken word audio daily average two hours per day listening, nearly half or 48% of their daily listening time.
  • Spoken word listening accounts for 26% of all listening of the U.S. 13+ population, up from 24% in 2019.
  • Mobile technology is driving spoken word listening as 30% of all listening on a smartphone is to spoken word audio.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on listening as 40% of spoken word audio listeners age 13+ say they are listening more since the quarantine restrictions.

Trinity Audio’s research shows that:

  • The total listen-through rate or LTR for audio versions of news articles and blog posts is 59%, meaning more than half of the total listenership listened through the entire audio content.
  • Long-form content (five minutes and longer) has the highest LTR at 70%, while content up to three minutes long and content between three and five minutes long both have the same LTR at 55%.
  • CTR or people that clicked on a player on long-form content is three times higher than that on short-form, including editorial articles, short stories, and novels.
  • Morning hours between 7 and 10, as well as evening sessions between 17 and 20 registered the highest spikes in listening times.

Percentage of content LTR based on content length

Percentage of top ten spoken word audio topics:

  • News and Information 62%
  • Music 50%
  • Comedy and Humor 44%
  • Movies/TV 39%
  • Sports 38%
  • Health 37%
  • Food 35%
  • Wellness and Self-improvement 34%
  • History 34%
  • Mystery/Thriller 34%

Radio is still on the radar

The omnipresence of smartphones has played a big role in keeping the oldest audio format on-air, along with the pace at which technology and culture move these days. So, it might surprise you to learn that:

  • 63% of those in the U.S. age 18+ are reached by radio every day.
  • 41% of all daily audio time in the U.S. is spent with radio.
  • 55% of all Gen Z listens to AM/FM radio each day.
  • Almost 50% of the time spent listening to audio in the car among 13 to 24 year-olds is to AM/FM radio, surpassing streaming audio, YouTube, and others.

With the further development of the ‘car as an entertainment platform’ concept, radio listening will likely sustain its high listening share in 2021 and beyond.

How listeners perceive audio

As a hands-free medium that can follow listeners throughout their day, audio is a powerful way to reach people. It also offers a unique way to cut through the visual clutter and increase personalization, convenience, and loyalty with targeted, meaningful content.

As evident by the data, people are willing to listen for a variety of reasons:

  • Audio is the most immersive media format that triggers memorability, trust, and connection, beating out the ad-based video on demand, digital video, linear TV, and social media.
  • Audio platforms are trusted more than other media sources, while local content and host trust are the most influential drivers for listening.
  • In addition to the convenience and multitasking benefits long recognized for spoken word listening, other strong motivators for increased listening are personal growth, better content, and spoken word’s ability to improve mental health.

The impact of audio advertising

The number of cases for how audio fits in with advertising campaigns is increasing, as digital audio showed great resilience in 2020. IAB’s annual ad revenue report shows that:

  • Digital audio advertising revenue grew by more than $350 million in 2020, increased by 13% to a total of $3.085 billion.
  • Eight of every ten dollars is attributed to mobile devices, with mobile audio revenue growing at a faster 15% rate in 2020 compared to desktop audio.

Arguably, this increase is driven largely by the positive sentiment listeners have towards audio ads. According to Adobe’s survey:

  • 58% of people find smart speaker ads to be less intrusive than other major formats such as TV, print, online, and social.
  • 52% find them more engaging.
  • 57% find them more relevant to their needs and interests.
  • 51% of consumers said they found it easier to recall the brand behind a smart speaker ad versus other major ad formats.
  • 53% reported a smart speaker ad drove them to make a purchase at a later time.

Pandora’s study found that:

  • Nearly half of streaming audio listeners say audio ads are less disruptive than other forms of advertising
  • Thanks to streaming audio’s ability to be highly personalized and dynamic, 43% say the audio ads are more relevant to them.
  • 42% stated that audio ads are more likely to capture their attention than ads seen or heard in other places.

Trinity Audio’s data shows that:

  • The total ad completion rate is 91%, which means that nearly everyone who listened to audio content also heard an advertisement in its entirety.
  • 15-second ads had a 91.7% completion rate, while 30-second ads had a 90.5% completion rate.

When it comes to audio’s role in media plans:

  • 81% of media agencies used streaming digital audio advertising in 2020 and 65% used podcast advertising.
  • 69% of media agencies now have streaming digital audio advertising as a significant part of their activity or regularly consider it, while 36% of media agencies now regularly consider podcast advertising.
  • The predominant objective for all audio formats is to increase brand awareness, followed by increased engagement, direct response, and support for specific promotions.
  • While less frequently used, audio assets are on average more effective than some visual assets.

Final thoughts

With the audio revolution in full swing and not turning down the volume anytime soon, I hope you got the full picture of just how loud this revolution is. What’s more, digital audio has shown extreme resilience and adaptability in 2020 and 2021.

The COVID-19 didn’t negatively impact audio content consumption. On the contrary, listeners developed new habits and preferences while working and schooling from home.

Audio has a growing importance in delivering a great user experience as it can reach the listener at any time and place, and more importantly, in any right context. Its intimate and immersive nature that leverages storytelling is a huge advantage both for engagement and advertising purposes. So, it’s safe to say we’ll be hearing more about the audio revolution.

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Read more: 6 Reasons Why You Should Start Listening to Audiobooks Today