The audio space has been on a wild ride in 2022. There were massive changes in every corner of the audio business across consumption, marketing, organizational structure, and beyond. We’re looking back to see what happened and offer a glimpse of what’s next in 2023. Let’s dive in.
Spoken Word Audio Grows
Music dominates audio listening but spoken word’s share of listening has increased a healthy 45% in eight years. Much of spoken word’s growth is coming from the often-elusive younger demographics. The Spoken Word Audio Report 2022 from NPR and Edison Research found among 13-34 year-olds, spoken word was up 117% from 2014 to 2022.
Podcasting’s share of Spoken Word audio listening has increased 163% over the last eight years.
Overall, 131 million people now listen to spoken word each day. Bravo.
How much of Spotify listening is from spoken word? Based upon Q3 2022 data from Edison Share of Ear, 6% of all listening on Spotify is to spoken word audio. That is essentially the same number from one year ago (5.8%). Interesting, considering their substantial focus on the podcasting sector.
Right-sizing of the podcast business
After years of go-go-go building staff and capacity, in 2022, we saw podcast companies pivoting to managing their portfolios for yield. In September, Acast trimmed 15% of its 470-person workforce. CNN Audio pulled back on capacity. By October, Spotify canceled shows and people. NPR recently joined the list, announcing that due to an operating shortfall, they must severely restrict hiring, and now we hear SXM is due to make cuts– but we’re not sure how that will impact their podcast business. One to watch in 2023 –Audacy is reportedly exploring the sale of Cadence13.
In October, we wrote about the inevitable changes in the podcast business. While it’s still healthy and growing, many podcasts are no longer in production. Making hits has become far more challenging. We appear to be moving past the let’s-throw-food-against-the-wall phase to something more thoughtful, measured, disciplined, and intentional.
That, my friends, is a good thing.
Amp, we hardly knew you
Wow. That was fast. Even big stars like Nicki Minaj couldn’t save the ill-conceived rollout of Amazon’s live radio-audio entertainment service Amp. In a Clubhouse-like attempt, the app enabled users to host their own live radio shows using Amazon’s extensive music catalog. By November, they were 90% below their target of 1 million users with just over 100,000 people. That resulted in cutting half of the 300-person staff a few weeks ago. While the land speed record for killing off media initiatives still belongs to CNN+, Amp went from “reimagining and reinventing radio” to almost-zombie in 8 months.
This is not the first disappointment in social audio. Apple launched international live radio Beats 1 in 2015 – some seven years ago, with social aspirations. Mark Cuban’s Fireside launched in early 2021, promising live social conversation. And Clubhouse? It is still around but it’s hard to find anyone still using the service.
Hey Alexa – what’s 10 billion in the hole?
Amazon is long on audio but change is underway with significant layoffs, and Alexa is likely to be one of the areas hardest hit. The voice activation service is bleeding money, on pace to lose $10 billion in 2022.
The Alexa team is to be admired for so many innovations, but as is always true, complexity is the enemy of progress. Consumer customization was challenging so most people defaulted to the default settings. Weather, the timer and several basic functions rose to the top of the action list. Importantly, listening to music and spoken word audio continue to index high. Don’t ignore the power of these devices. They bring audio to every room.
Amazon goes commercial free
One more Amazon item …
Prime members with Amazon Music can now listen to 100 million songs and a growing list of ad-free podcasts, including Amazon Exclusive podcasts and shows from CNN, NPR, ESPN, Wondery, and The New York Times.
Will this new initiative move the needle to make Amazon a podcast destination? It’s too early to know. Feedback from one major hosting platform suggests people aren’t running toward Amazon as a podcast listening source, and its app use is still anemic. New data from the Cumulus Media Signals Hill’s Podcast Fall 2022 report shows only 23% of listeners would pay for an ad-free experience. When it comes to Amazon, this is nuanced for sure, as Prime members are paying for a bundle of services, including video, music, and package shipping.
Barely a year after Facebook jumped into podcasts, they faded out. Facebook announced plans to add audio mid-pandemic during the mania of social audio when Clubhouse was valued at $4 billion. Meta abandoned the effort in April 2022.
See you later, Audio Rooms and Soundbites.
Hello YouTube podcasts
Let’s hope the third round for Google and podcasts goes better. First, there was Google Play Music, then the fledgling podcast app. This iteration stars YouTube, which makes more sense given YouTube’s prominence as the second-largest search engine after the Google mothership. Even before YouTube launched a podcast home page in August, it was already one of the top three podcast listening apps. According to Cumulus/Signal Hill’s latest Podcast Download, 1 in 3 prefer podcasts with video – making “podcast watching” a growing segment of podcast consumption.
Video can be tricky. For some shows, especially interview podcasts, it is a natural extension. Less so for other forms of audio. Podcasters will figure out where they fit. It will be a natural extension for some, and the watchability factor will be a critical determining factor for others. YouTube just provided a 67 page guide on best practices. 67 pages; what could go wrong? We will dig in on YouTube Podcasts in the new year.
Here comes TikTok?
With more people watching podcasts, it might make sense for TikTok to enter the podcasting party. Late this year, rumors started flying that TikTok is gearing up to release a podcast app. With its massive audience of more than one billion monthly users, even if TikTok only takes a little piece of the listener pie, it will impact Apple, Spotify, YouTube, and everyone else.
This development is one to watch in 2023.
Gaming downloads and listens
One of the most shocking revelations in podcasts this year came from the intrepid reporting of our friend Ashley Carmen at Bloomberg. Ashley broke the story in late September about Jun Group, which uses an autoplay scheme that makes it appear that gamers are downloading and listening to podcasts. In search of more audience, it turns out some major podcast companies have been buying millions of downloads for shows that may not be heard for more than a few seconds.
It pays to be in the “cool club” (aka podcasting)
In 2022 ad spend for traditional media was under pressure and is likely to go down in 2023, but… according to the IAB, podcast ad spend will rise 8.1%. Investments in the sector continue to come: Lemonada $8m, Descript $50m.
Americans spend more time with audio on mobile devices than AM/FM radio receivers
Based on Edison Research findings, in 2014, mobile devices accounted for 18% of all audio listening. In 2022, mobile devices slightly edged out AM/FM Radio receivers in terms of time spent for the first time. Mobile is now 33.3%, with radio just behind at 33.1%.
Competition is changing – there were fewer new podcasts in 2022
This year, the number of new podcasts is down from the crazed pandemic levels. As of early December, Listen Notes shows fewer than 200,000 new titles in 2022. That is the lowest number since 2018.
156,000 podcasts produced a new episode last week
In August, Podnews Editor James Cridland teamed up with Amplifi Media to explore how many podcasts were active and produced an episode in a one-week period. We dove into Podcast Index and discovered that out of 4 million podcast titles, roughly 156,000 podcasts fit the criteria. That’s just under 4% of all podcasts. This data helps frame the lazy debate about how many podcasts you are competing with for audience.
Stream that music
Digital downloads almost killed the music business, but streaming now accounts for 83% of music industry revenue, according to the just released Musonomics study “How Streaming Has Impacted the Value of Music” from the Director of the Music Business Program at NYU’s Steinhardt School Professor Larry Miller. In 2022, streamed music is expected to drive $41.6 billion dollars in revenue. Before Spotify showed up in the US market in 2012, it was negligible.
By mid-year, on-demand song streams exceeded 1.6 trillion (and that’s before Taylor Swift’s mega entry). Another interesting nugget: 70% of music revenue comes from catalog, which is defined as music older than 18 months.
Shop local, Listen Local
Podcasting has been national – but this is rapidly changing. Amplifi has been forecasting and writing about the growing opportunity with local podcasting. We recently teamed with the RAB (Radio Advertising Bureau) for the first benchmark study.
Local podcasting has been slow to develop but is now seeing investment from companies including early podcast stakeholder Graham Holding’s (Slate, Megaphone) latest initiative, City Cast which is now in 10 markets, sports-centric BlueWire has 260 local pods and recently raised 2.5 million.
We are a long way from voice synthesizers or the “computer” voice on Star Trek – but synthetic voice generation is becoming scary good. Whether it’s speech-to-speech, or text-to-speech, synthetic voices are becoming more lifelike and in some cases indistinguishable from human voice. Is this an inevitable tool for podcast and audiobook creators? Does it change workflow and productivity? The New York Times Hard Fork podcast offers an example of AI voice in action. Sounds Profitable’s Bryan Barletta uses his own “voice” to translate the company podcast to Spanish.
Radio’s Reach in the competitive 18-34 sector
Podcasting and streaming have a stronghold in Adults 18-34. Where does commercial radio stack up? We took a look at Nielsen’s Audio Today 2022 and found radio dominates with an 87% reach, followed by streaming music services at 65% and podcasts at 42%. The data is over a year old, but illustrates the durability of commercial radio in an age group which has seen a lot of change in consumption patterns.
Steve is a business and content advisor who creates value for his clients by creating actionable plans and thoughtful, targeted content.
A recognized leader in audio programming, marketing, and management, Steve has developed scores of successful radio brands around the country, nurtured and advanced local and national talent, and pioneered many podcasting and voice-first initiatives.
Prior to founding Amplifi, Steve’s sharp focus on cultural and demographic trends led to the creation of innovative radio formats and strong brands for significant broadcast companies, including NBC and ABC. He was a founding partner of Saga Communications (NASDAQ: SGA), serving as Executive Vice President and Group Program Director from the company’s formation in 1986 until 2015 when he started Amplifi Media.