Half of Americans burned out by screens, turn to podcasts: study

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Americans increasingly are closing their eyes and opening their ears for their entertainment, says a new study of pandemic-fueled trends.

Half of consumers feel burned out by screens and now listen to digital audio podcasts in their free time, according to the National Research Group, a global strategy firm focusing on entertainment and technology.

The research firm’s Aug. 12-18 internet survey of 1,569 entertainment consumers between 18 and 54 years old found that 1 out of every 2 Americans said they were suffering screen fatigue and using podcasts “to travel to new places and hear new perspectives.”

Jon Penn, the firm’s CEO, compared options for video and audio entertainment to choices for dining out.

“Video streaming is like going to a food hall: Video consumers use a variety of services to meet their diverse viewing needs,” Mr. Penn told The Washington Times. “The report shows the audio wars are more of a buffet: Audio consumers plan to turn to a single app to satisfy all their listening needs in one place.”

“The winners in the audio wars will uniquely deliver a one-stop slate that meets rising demand for social, global and creator-driven content,” he added.

And listeners have plenty to choose from: There are more than 2 million podcasts, with more than 48 million episodes, according to the website PodcastInsights.com.

The National Research Group study comes as the world’s largest music streaming provider, Spotify, reports significant third-quarter revenue growth in its podcasting properties.

“Excitement from advertisers for the podcast industry has increased substantially over the last year and we are ahead of our plans for podcast monetization. Audio ads on the internet are now becoming a bigger part of advertisers media mix overall,” Spotify founder Daniel Ek said in an Oct. 27 shareholder letter.

Spotify’s total monthly active users grew by 19% over the third quarter last year, reaching a total of 381 million consumers across 86 global markets, according to the shareholder letter. A 75% jump in ad-supported revenue and a 27% rise in overall revenue accompanied the podcast-driven spike.

In addition, Buzzsprout, the world’s second-largest podcast host, “nearly tripled” its business in 2020 “just from people deciding to start podcasts,” Alban Brooke, the platform’s head of marketing, told The Times.

“We saw an incredible amount of growth as soon as lockdowns came from COVID,” Mr. Brooke said.

Dusty Jenkins, Spotify’s global head of communications, told The Times that the National Research Group study confirms a “strong performance in podcasting and ad revenue” that propelled the Swedish-based provider to the top stop for U.S. earnings over the past year.

The study notes a particularly dramatic rise in digital podcast consumption among Generation Z and millennials over the last year and a half, as social media options like the Clubhouse App and Twitter Spaces have exploded in popularity.

After spending six to eight hours a day videoconferencing at school or work, young people seek out podcasts as a diversion while doing yard work and chores around the house, settings where video platforms fall short, the study found.

One in 3 Gen Z respondents said audio is indispensable as an entertainment medium, half of millennials said they’ll use more audio in the future and 3 in 5 millennials said they turn to audio to learn something new.

The study added that Gen Z and millennials are migrating to audio podcasts at higher rates than other generations, providing their largest and most loyal audience demographic.

But Justin Jackson, co-founder of podcast platform Transistor.fm, took issue with the study: “I don’t believe reports like this should lump stats for music streaming and podcasting together like this.”

Only 28% of Americans older than 11 years old listen to podcasts on a weekly basis, Mr. Jackson said, citing recent media data from Edison Research.

“[P]odcasting has been growing ‘slow & steady’ for a decade; it hasn’t had the meteoric growth rates that streaming music has,” he said in an email.

Mr. Jackson also disagreed with the study’s finding that listeners tend to use only one app to meet their needs, citing Edison Research data showing that “24% of weekly podcast consumers use Spotify and 21% use Apple Podcasts.”

“Our own internal research showed that only 50% of Gen Z respondents (who were also podcast listeners) used Spotify to listen to podcasts,” he said.

 

‘Read a book, take a walk’

 

Concerns about too much time in front of screens extend beyond the adults surveyed in the National Research Group study: Adolescents now spend nearly eight hours each day in front of a screen, doubling their estimated pre-pandemic screen time, according to a study of 5,412 adolescents published Monday in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Media psychologist…

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