Radio killed the Spotify Star: the rise of radio under lockdown

May 5, 2020 |4 min read
radio lockdown spotify

Tech trends during lockdown

In a surprise to absolutely nobody, lockdown style restrictions across the globe has resulted in a huge upswing in the number of people consuming media. Netflix added 16 million new sign-ups in the first 3 months of this year, while Disney+ has grown to 50 million subscribers in just five months. Video games are also seeing a huge boost, with a sharp increase in Twitch viewership, a big rise in concurrent Steam users or huge sales of the new Animal Crossing game.

Somewhat more surprisingly, music streaming is down.

The New York Times reported on 6 April that combined streams of the Top 200 on Spotify in the US slipped for the third consecutive week, hitting their lowest point of the year. During the week of March 13th through March 19th streams dropped 7.6 percent, to under 20.1 billion.

This Guardian article points to two potential factors that may be contributing to this streaming downswing, the promotion cycle has been killed and artists like Lady Gaga and Sam Smith are delaying their releases in a hope that we return to business as normal in a few months.

The global loss of the commute to work and travel time in general is likely a huge blow to streaming figures, as is the loss of people listening to music on headphones in offices or at the gym. Lockdown has reduced the number of moments where we block out the world and retreat into our own personal music bubble.

Another indicator of a shift in behaviour away from more private listening is that podcast listening is also suffering under lockdown. Downloads in the space overall have dropped about 10 percent since the start of March, according to data from Podtrac, which follows trends and usage in the space. Total unique listeners also dropped roughly 20 percent in the same time frame. The downturn for podcasts is likely also a casualty of the loss of the commute and travel time.

A growth in radio listenership

Interestingly, the inverse trend is happening to radio listenership. Radiocentre reported that stations across the UK reporting double-digit increases in online listening in recent weeks. According to new research published in April 38% of commercial radio listeners in the UK are tuning in for an extra hour and 45 minutes each day under lockdown. These listeners are now tuning in for an average of 26 hours every week, compared the average time spent listening of around 14 hours a week prior to COVID-19.

This is not just seen in the UK, but the world over. For example, in the US, radio is similarly providing ' comfort food', as 28% of adults report listening to more radio due to the crisis to feel informed and fulfil connection/social needs. While in India, recent research has shown that radio listening has increased 23% on average.

The upward trend in radio listening points to a few potential behavioural and attitudinal changes in how we want to consume music and spoken word audio under lockdown:

Recent research from Radiocentre (Staying Connected During the COVID-19 Crisis) found that 90% percent of respondents agreed that commercial radio kept them in touch with the outside world, while a similar number agreed it kept them informed (89%). A further 84% - possibly missing regular social activities - said that radio keeps them company.

It seems that under lockdown radio is providing an important (and much missed) 'live' experience and social connection. Radio provides us with a shared experience to tune into, a personal connection keeping us company and a trusted source of news. During this lockdown period we aren't trying to escape the world anymore, we're inviting it in.

Radio brands have a huge opportunity during this period to create and build relationships with new listeners who may stick around in the long term. For other brands, radio advertising may be one of the quickest and most effective ways to reach a large and engaged audience during under lockdown. The audience for radio has expanded, but many brands are likely to overlook this opportunity as a trusted channel to reach a larger than normal and newly engaged audience.