High cost data plans stifling online audio growth: Infinite Dial Canada

Tom Webster, Edison Research and Stephanie Donovan, Triton Digital, presented the 2nd Annual Infinite Dial Canada at the Radio Interactive Conference at Canadian Music Week. (Connie Thiessen/Broadcast Dialogue)

Thirty-six per cent of Canadians 18+ are now weekly podcast listeners, according to the second annual Infinite Dial Canada research project, previewed by Edison Research and Triton Digital at last week’s Radio Interactive conference at Canadian Music Week.

However, Edison Research senior vice-president Tom Webster cautions that the high cost of data plans in Canada may be holding the growth of online audio listening back, which was relatively flat, monthly, moving from 57 to 59%.

The survey finds technology adoption continues to grow in Canada with 82% of Canadians 18+ now owning a smartphone. Smart speaker penetration also continues to grow with 26% of Canadians owning a smart speaker vs. 23% in the U.S. Amazon Alexa ownership grew from 3 to 9%, while Google Home adoption is up from 6 to 14%.

While Webster says that presents an opportunity for radio, increasing the number of people who say they have a radio in their home, AM/FM online tuning was flat on a monthly basis at 22% year-over-year. Webster and Stephanie Donovan, SVP, Publisher Sales, Triton Digital, believe the comparatively punishing cost of data plans in Canada is stifling growth when compared to its findings in the U.S. and Australia.

“Your data plans suck,” Webster told the conference. “The data plans are really, really poor here in terms of gigabytes per dollar and I have to believe that has something to do with it…I really think that broadband data issue is real.”

While Google, Apple and Spotify continue to dominate the online audio space in Canada, listenership of Radioplayer Canada significantly spiked, doubling year-over-year. Online streamer Deezer more than tripled in awareness. CBC Music and iHeartRadio also saw significant growth in weekly listening patterns.

Donovan says new time spent with audio is being taken from owned music and terrestrial radio.

“This is audio moving where the listener wants to be…moving to other sources beyond over-the-air radio. Radio still has 65% penetration (weekly cume)…this is just an audience extension moving to those other sources,” said Donovan.

Growth of audio in the car

Infinite Dial Canada found AM/FM radio listening shrank from 83 to 79% in-car. While radio is still dominating in-car listening, the rise of connected cars and in-dash entertainment (which grew 80% from 10 to 18%) are increasingly competing as an audio source taking the time of drivers and passengers.

Eight out of 10 respondents are still listening to AM/FM radio in the car, however there was double digit growth from 5 to 11% of those listening to online audio in-vehicle.

Podcasting

Monthly podcast listening is up to 36% from 28% – more than a third of Canadians 18+ have listened to a podcast in the last month. Infinite Dial found the gender split is more even than it is in the U.S. with 37% of men and 35% of women making up podcast listeners. The biggest growth, demo-wise, is in the 35-54 age group which spiked year-over-year in monthly listening from 29 to 45%.

Weekly listening grew from 19 to 23% across all demos, with Canadians listening to an average of five podcasts a week vs. seven in the U.S.

Webster says that’s a story in itself because it means new listeners aren’t casual listeners. He says that can partly be explained by a lot of those new listeners consuming podcasts on their mobile phones.

“There’s certainly an association between Spotify really promoting podcasts and the growth of podcasts in terms of exposing them to a new audience,” said Webster.

At home podcast listening grew from 80 to 91%.

Public radio podcast awareness (CBC, BBC, NPR, etc.) went from 42 to 46 per cent. Almost half of podcast listeners listen to at least one show from a public media producer.

Webster says one anomaly in the Canadian study is that Canadians have woken up to the speed button on their podcast player. The number of listeners who say they’ve sped up a podcast tripled from nine to 27%.

“I think as we’re discovering more and more podcasts…we’ve got to cram them in,” said Webster, who added that 80% of respondents say they are listening to almost an entire show and most of the episodes they download.

“I think what’s interesting is that there’s a lot of pent up demand for digital audio in Canada. You see that with the tremendous smart speaker adoption, the tremendous growth in monthly podcast listener – again higher than it was in the states, so there’s great pent up demand for digital audio of all kinds and we haven’t seen that kind of growth in online audio like the pure plays like Spotify and streaming AM/FM stations. Some of that may be data plan-related but I don’t think it’s desire related because actually Canada seems to be tracking ahead of the U.S. in some very key technologies,” Webster told Broadcast Dialogue.

Infinite Dial Canada was conducted using random digit dialing, both landline and mobile, surveying 1,065 people, in both English and French. The Canadian survey is 18+, while the long-running U.S. version uses a 12+ sample.

A webinar releasing the full Infinite Dial Canada 2019 results will stream May 21 at 2 p.m. ET. Register here.


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