5 Important Facts We Learned From the 2017 Infinite Dial Study

Eric Suliga, Creative Director

What were you listening to 19 years ago? If you’re like most people, your primary sources of audio were likely radios and your own music collection--perhaps even a carefully curated mixtape on your Walkman.

In 1998, the founders of Edison Research picked up signals that online media--including music and other formats--were becoming a “thing,” so it embarked on a study to measure consumer usage of “new” media. While that first report concluded that only a small portion of the population used online media, they detected plenty of listener enthusiasm for what the future held.

Obviously, much in the media world has changed since the late 90s, except the fact that Edison Research still measures online consumer behavior every year. Their annual Infinite Dial report has become a much-anticipated annual event among media providers and advertising professionals.

With each new Infinite Dial study comes new and interesting findings, but one trend that never seems to change is the pace of change. For example, Edison only began measuring smartphone ownership in 2009, yet mobile penetration has since reached near-saturation among young adults. Here are 5 key findings we learned from the recently-released 2017 Infinite Dial:

  1. America’s love affair with the smartphone grows stronger
Four out of five Americans (aged 12 and over) own a smartphone, with an astounding 95% of 12-24 year olds owning a device. Even 60% of adults aged 55+, a group that often lags in technology ownership, also own a smartphone.
Searching back through the industrial revolution, even the research experts at Pandora couldn’t find a device that was as commonly owned as the smartphone is now. Wristwatches? No. Alarm clocks? No. Portable music players? No. Cameras? Nope. One of the many reasons smartphones are popular is because they’ve replaced all of these devices, and more.

Edison’s studies have documented the correlation between smartphone ownership and online audio usage, and there’s every reason to believe that as more people own a smartphone, the likelihood of them listening to online audio, including music, increases dramatically. As of this year’s Infinite Dial, an estimated 170 million people listened to online radio in the last month; 148 million listened in the last week.

  1. Media habits at home keep evolving
About two-thirds of Americans now have an internet-connected TV at home, allowing them to view what they want, when they want it. Half of Americans have a subscription to Netflix and about 90% of them use the online video service weekly. While only 7% own a “smart speaker,” such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, awareness of these devices is widespread.

There are also signs that AM/FM’s grip on in-car is loosening. While 47% of respondents cited AM/FM as the medium used most of the time, that figure is down from 61% last year. Owned digital music, online radio and satellite radio are on the rise. We have seen via other studies that drivers of newer cars (which tend to be equipped with more advanced media features) are more likely to listen to digital audio instead of AM/FM.

  1. People listen to substantially more audio online
Average weekly time spent with online audio skyrocketed from 12 hours, 8 minutes in the 2016 study to 14 hours, 39 minutes this year. When you combine that finding with the increased number of Americans who use online radio, the total amount of audio streaming hours jumped 24% in one year.

This finding aligns with other research from Nielsen that reported a sharp uptick in time spent with smartphones among people of all ages. [1]

  1. Pandora leads the streaming scene in usage and awareness
This year’s Infinite Dial study affirmed that Pandora remains the No. 1 most recognized streaming brand, substantially ahead of Apple Music, Amazon and Google. It also found that a third of the U.S. listened to Pandora last month, which places it far ahead of any other streaming service. Plus, it is the streaming service “used most often” by a 2-to-1 margin over any other streaming service.
The study did call out a realignment of brands underneath Pandora. Spotify appears to have stunted Apple Music’s growth, and Edison’s “other” bucket, which includes Google Play, Amazon Prime Music and others, has seen significant growth over the last couple of years.
  1. Music discovery is rapidly moving online
Just three years ago, AM/FM was the most popular source of keeping up-to-date with music among music’s most avid followers. In the 2017 study, AM/FM fell to third place behind “Friends/Family” and YouTube. Among music fans aged 12-24, AM/FM fell to fifth place, behind YouTube, Friends/Family, Spotify and Pandora. Online media now accounts for eight of the top 12 music sources among young Americans.

These five Infinite Dial findings once again underscore the growing popularity of personalized, online media, particularly as more people use internet-connected devices at home and on the go as their primary way of consuming content. Music has always been at the forefront of this shift to online and, as a leader in streamed music and digital audio advertising, we are emboldened by these results.

If you’re still curious about just how powerful digital audio is for delivering brand messages that stick, check out our new podcast series: The Power of Audio. You can tune into Episode 1 here...but keep an eye out for more episodes COMING SOON!

1. Nielsen Comparable Metrics Report, Q3 2016