It's The End Of The Radio As We Know It

May 20, 2013

Radio is a standard feature in most automobiles. It keeps us company on long road trips down desolate highways, inspires fights between siblings, and encourages wallflowers to sing forgettable pop tunes at the tops of their lungs.

And in five years, it'll be dead.

At least, that's what most folks appear to believe.

Harris Interactive recently asked 2,066 American adults about their media consumption habits. The news wasn't good for traditional radio -- or cable television providers, for that matter. Millennials are forcing such companies to think long and hard about the way they do business. The study's major findings include: 

  • Among adults 18-34 who watch movies, 52% would rather watch them always or mostly on demand, using services like Netflix. For TV-watchers in that demographic, on-demand preference was slightly lower, but still strong at 41%.
  • Among adults 18-34 who regularly listen to music, 46% would rather do so always or mostly on demand, using services like Spotify. Only 23% of their older relatives in the 35-54 demographic expressed the same preference.
  • Of those who prefer on-demand services, 81% use them so they can watch or listen to programming at a more convenient time. And 68% use them to avoid conventional advertising. 
  • Most importantly, 57% of all adults surveyed believe that within five years, a majority of Americans will listen to radio programming on demand, rather than traditional AM/FM radio.

Of course, this isn't really big news. Folks have been predicting the death of radio since Pandora debuted years ago, if not before. Many radio stations have already died or been put on life support with a diet of non-local programming (thanks Live Nation!). Others have rolled with the punches, growing audiences with new offerings and streaming options.

Also, the move that this survey documents is clearly part of a larger trend, away from pre-packaged programming and toward a la carte media consumption. This is exactly the idea behind a cable TV bill proposed by Senator John McCain (R-AZ). 

In other words, most of us look at the Harris survey and shrug.

There is one caveat, though: the Harris study was funded by Stitcher, an app that streams radio programs to mobile devices. It's in Stitcher's best interest to promote the idea that traditional radio is dying; doing so gives Stitcher more authority to say that it's the proper distributor for streaming content. That, in turn, gives Stitchers more users, more advertisers, more investors, and more value. 

That's not to say that the survey's results are rigged or in any way false. Just consider the source. And enjoy flipping your AM/FM radio dial while you still can.

[h/t John Voelcker]


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