Our Insights

What Impact Has COVID-19 Had on Radio Listenership?

June 4, 2020

As subject matter experts, LMP consistently needs to understand how the COVID-19 virus is impacting media consumption.  First up, we are taking a deeper dive into the impact on audio.  How are people listening to radio now that this pandemic has forced millions to work from home, and commutes have all but disappeared?

Audio Update May 2020

As Nielsen releases the May 2020 Local Monthly Data for radio, we are reporting back with an update on how radio listener trends are continuing to evolve during this pandemic.  Across the board, all markets are seeing a recovery in listenership.  Growth is seen in all PPM markets, all demos and all dayparts.  As the country begins to re-open, we expect to see these trends continue.

The key takeaways from the data:

  • Weekly reach has grown to 90% of pre-COVID levels.
  • Average Quarter Hour audience levels are now 80% of pre-COVID levels.

In terms of both broad reach and total listeners, radio is on the rebound.  Although listenership is not quite back to where it was pre-COVID, we are moving closer.

One of the big changes in consumer behavior during this pandemic has been the decrease in time spent in the car. Morning and evening commutes aren’t what they once were.  As a result, drive time listening has been the most impacted radio daypart.  Middays and weekends are leading the recovery of radio listenership.  During the middle part of the day and weekends, consumer behavior appears more normal, even in the midst of COVID-19.  If we take a look at our own habits over this quarantine, you may find that the middle of the day and weekends are typically when you venture out in your car.  Hence, we are seeing the biggest gains in these dayparts.

The events of the last few weeks will certainly have an impact on local radio.  Radio provides a place where listeners can come together and connect over what is happening in their communities.  It provides a voice to the community, and a forum for debate and conversation.  Listeners can call in, and talk with the host, and discuss all the things that are happening right now. Radio also provides an escape, a place to hear a favorite song, or personality talk.  Time will tell how this will play out in radio listenership.  We will continue to provide updates as new data becomes available.

Audio Update April 2020

Nielsen Audio has just begun releasing their April 2020 Local Monthly data.  This data provides us with our first full look at the total impact this pandemic has had on radio.  Some initial findings include:

  • Weekly reach has fallen to 81% of pre-COVID levels.
  • AQH audience levels have dropped to 63% of pre-COVID levels.

Data has always shown us that radio is most used when people are outside of the home.  Even during the COVID crisis, where so many behaviors have been forced to change, this one behavior has not changed.  Most radio listening still takes place out of the home.  As the chart below illustrates, there was a 20% decline in radio listenership outside of the home from March to April, 2020.  Even with this decline, the majority of radio listening still takes place out of home.

Most radio formats remain remarkably consistent in their share of audience from March to April.  Overall, news/talk formats have shown a slight uptick in share.   A/C stations remain the second strongest format overall, but have been trending lower, given the format is typically one that is heavily listened to at work and in the car.

While listeners are seeking out the same information that they typically would have listened to out of home, they are now finding it by streaming audio at home.  Listening to AM-FM streams is now 60% higher than they were pre-COVID.  Amazon’s Alexa and other streaming devices are filling the audio void created by this pandemic.  So instead of listening in the car, streaming devices are providing the music or news content for listeners while they cook dinner or work from home.

Nielsen has also provided an early look at some May overnight data to understand how and if these trends are continuing.  Early May data has shown slight upticks in May radio listening overall, and it appears that the recovery of radio listenership is slowly beginning.  We will provide more updates as new data becomes available.

Source: Nielsen Audio March- April PPM, 45 market total; Nielsen PPM Overnights

Christi Barbour