The importance of digital audio to advertisers

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Sara Eslami examines the findings of the latest wave of IAB Ireland’s Digital Audio research which was carried out by RED C.

NOTE: This piece was originally published in Adworld on July 9th, 2021

The importance of digital audio to advertisers is further underlined in an update on listenership behaviour among the Irish public. Strong gains in listenership seen during the lockdown in 2020 are maintained, with online radio and music on demand continuing to thrive, while the public’s appetite for podcasts continues to grow.

The latest wave of IAB Ireland’s Digital Audio Research, commissioned by IAB Ireland’s Digital Audio Council and carried out by RED C Research shows that in 2021, 5 in 7 adults (71%) listen to digital audio content in an average week.

This follows a surge in listenership seen in 2020 (+9% vs 2019) when the restrictions posed by the pandemic meant that many, myself included, switched from the car radio to an app on the phone, and exchanged podcast recommendations with friends and family in an effort to enliven endless walks within their 5km radius.

The latest wave of the research shows that engagement with digital audio has remained steady in 2021, despite easing of social restrictions. In fact, the proportion of those who say they listen to digital audio exclusively (15%) has more than doubled compared to the previous year. Listenership remains heavier among younger 18-44 age cohorts and has a bias towards more upmarket social groups often coveted by advertisers, but can be seen across all demographic profiles.

Despite the easing of restrictions in the past few months, and the increased competition for people’s attention and time, the amount of time spent listening to digital audio in an average week compared to 2020 has reduced by only just over 1hr, further reinforcing the fact that digital audio seems to have successfully maintained the engagement created over the period of the pandemic.

Results show that online radio remains a popular channel, with 3 in 4 (74%) reporting listening to radio through online means (live radio online, catch up radio or radio aggregator services) on a weekly basis. Just under 2 in 3 use digital audio to listen to on demand music, while 1 in 3 say they listen to podcasts on a weekly basis.

Despite the widespread popularity of online radio and on demand music, podcasts have been a bit of a dark horse, recording steady but notable increases in proportion of weekly consumers (22%, 29% and 33% in 2019, 2020 and 2021 respectively) as well as the amount of time spent listening to this channel on a weekly basis (1.8hrs, 2.4hrs and 2.6hrs in 2019, 2020 and 2021 respectively).

A notable proportion of digital audio users report they now listen more to online radio or music (44%) and podcasts (60%) compared to a year ago. In addition, 1 in 3 say they expect to further increase their consumption of these channels in the next 12 months, with men and those aged 18-34 over indexing in particular.

Incidence of having a smart speaker has also grown exponentially year on year, with over a third of the population (35%) now report having a smart speaker. In addition, 1 in 7 of those who don’t have a smart speaker now claim they’re likely to buy one in the next 12 months.

Digital audio has developed significantly over the past number of years. Maintaining a strong user base overall, and recording growth among certain channels, despite easing of lockdown restrictions, reflects the strength of digital audio as a channel in the Irish market as we move into the new normal.

The full research report is available to view here.

Sara Eslami is Associate Director at RED C Research