Digital Audio Continues To Rise Despite Mobile Stagnation

Pandora's new audio trends report finds that digital listenership is being driven by smart speakers, desktop

Pandora is seeing huge growth in connected device listening—but with little thanks to mobile. Pandora

In early May, several weeks after the pandemic first shut down the United States, Pandora noticed a “double-digit” surge in connected speaker listenership and fashioned a brand campaign designed to appeal to those new homebound habits.

Five months later, as everyday life gradually reopens in fits and starts due to sporadic spiking Covid-19 cases in various parts of the country, that situation hasn’t changed much.

That’s the main finding in the SiriusXM-owned streaming service’s latest audio trends report. The study, released in partnership with Edison Research and Omnicom Media Group, found that daily time listening to smart speakers has risen 43% since the beginning of the year, while PC and desktop audio streaming has grown 54%.

Meanwhile, with commute times for many Americans still non-existent, mobile listening has rebounded only slightly to just 4% growth overall this year, and digital listening has surpassed analog channels for the first time. Overall, streaming hours have increased 32% since the beginning of the year.

“What comes with that is lots of fragmentation,” said Lizzie Widhelm, svp of ad innovation and B2B marketing at Pandora. “You can’t just buy, for example, mobile audio and reach that scale; you really need to work with a partner that’s bringing all that fragmentation of devices, of publishers, of content types together in order to reach those scaled audiences.”

Pandora thinks that it can solve this fragmentation problem through the scale of the content it’s able to offer and its platform-specific targeting. It can run a unified campaign that includes ads tailored to each device—interactive elements via voice, for instance, or desktop display ads—across wide swathes of bundled music or podcast titles.

The company is hoping that its acquisition of podcast platform Stitcher Radio, which it just officially closed this week, will help aid in this quest. Additionally, that deal aims to keep Pandora competitive amid a digital audio arms race among platforms like Spotify and Apple.

Those rivalries are also fueling growth in programmatic business in the space. Digital audio has long lagged behind other media formats in the use of ad automation, despite the ever-growing popularity of streaming services and podcasts. The report cites a projection that programmatic is on track to account for one-fifth of audio ad transactions by 2022.

“[Advertisers] are seeing the benefits of and wanting to buy it easier, buy it programmatically, buy it at scale, and be able to get significant reach out of a given campaign,” Widhelm said. “Our goal is to be the largest player in the audio space and an ecosystem of really high-quality content and audio supply for our advertisers.”

Pandora is also advising brands on how they can adjust their messages to this new normal. Being extra cognizant of the tone of the ads Pandora runs is part of that sales strategy. For example, the company’s ad team is advising marketers on how to make creative assets more empathetic and cause-oriented without seeming disingenuous. The report claims that Pandora helped State Farm revamp its sonic identity in the early days of the crisis, boosting it 14 points in consumer positive association in Veritonic’s annual Audio Logo Index.

While music still makes up the bulk of people’s listening with a 73% share, news content has risen to the second-place spot during the quarter, eclipsing talk radio and sports, the report found. Other audio trend reports have found that consumer interest in the news has fluctuated throughout various stages of the pandemic as people alternated between it and more escapist content.


@patrickkulp patrick.kulp@adweek.com Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.
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