As Radio Days Africa 2020 starts to draw to a close, the conference is still playing host to insightful daily conversations about the radio landscape, and how it is being called to adjust and adapt in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Day 18 featured moderator Refiloe Mpakanyane in conversation with Melissa McNally (Research Consultant Specialist at Primedia in South Africa), Nick Grubb (Chief Executive: Radio at Kagiso Media in South Africa) & Larry Rosin (President at Edison Research in the US) about how COVID-19 has impacted audio consumption around the world in the first half of the year, based on findings presented across three short presentations by each of the respective panelists.

Today’s discussion started by noting that Larry’s company, Edison Research, was responsible for bringing a 2019 study called ‘The Infinite Dial’ to South Africa for the first time. He was quick to attribute it happening to “the leadership of the two other people on the panel and others”. The study — which he hopes will be able to be done again in 2021 — provided a detailed overview of the landscape of audio consumption in South Africa at the time. These learnings set the tone for a more detailed approach towards looking at how consumers engage with audio on a daily basis. “With Infinite Dial, there was immediacy around looking at audio,” Melissa said. “We needed to get a broader understanding of what was actually happening out there in the country”. The data was useful to researchers, broadcasters, media houses and others looking to better understand how consumers were engaging with audio across all platforms, in turn helping to shape a better understanding of behavioural trends of radio listeners in the country as well. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made an impact on the lives of billions of people around the world, and through his presentation, Larry was able to offer new insights into how consumer behaviour has changed relative to audio consumption in the United States. His ‘Share of Ear’ study indicates that while TSL (time spent listening) was the lowest ever recorded for Q2 of 2020, there was a major and important difference in where consumers were spending time listening. At home listening increased, while work and car listening naturally decreased. Regardless of the lower TSL figures, astonishingly, radio still held a 42% share of all audio consumption during the period studied. This is a significant number in a society of people presented with many options to choose from, and other choices like podcasts (5%) and YouTube for music (10%) — while growing when looking at data in a holistic sense — paled in comparison somewhat. “Two thirds of Americans told us that on the day they were contacted, they had listened to the radio”, he added. It became evident that radio’s reach was still very high, albeit that TSL was down because less people were listening in their cars on their (suddenly not applicable) morning and afternoon daily commutes.

South Africa might not be as commuter centric as the US and other parts in the world, but Melissa’s presentation highlighted that as the country moved between lockdown levels and restrictions were eased, an increase in car radio listening is clearly visible. The ‘Kantar: Barometer May 2020’ study suggests that in its month of study alone, radio listening was up 28% in South Africa, and online streaming for radio also increased by 24%. Interestingly, South Africans may also have turned to streaming music and podcasting during this time, with the segment experiencing a 40% increase in the month of May. Melissa emphasized the importance of not downplaying the increases of audio consumption as a whole. From a content perspective, the coronavirus pandemic has presented an opportunity for audio creators and creatives to place an emphasis on three important areas of immediate need for consumers: health, mental and financial wellbeing. While each audio platform provides largely untraceable personal benefits to individuals, according to Melissa, radio does something very important: it creates a connector response. “[It] is here to assist consumers with navigating their new normal during the lockdown and into the future”, she said, alluding to the fact that pandemic aside, it continues to be one of the most powerful mediums in the country. 

Last but not least, Nick’s presentation provided further insight into how South Africans have been engaging with audio, and radio in particular, since the pandemic was first declared. He referenced a survey being done by the NAB, which is due to be released shortly, revealing that there has been a sharp increase in three things, namely “intended listening”, streaming and trust. “Audience reliance seems to have spiked,” he added. “Both here and abroad. Engagement really is up”. People are listening to radio more, and intending to do so more than ever before. This could have something to do with how well the radio industry has responded to the pandemic, creating value to their listeners in a host of innovative new ways. Nick suggested that Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio have given away more than R4 million in cash to communities, NGOs and individuals during this time. Equally insightful although somewhat less positive, he also referenced the seismic revenue losses the industry is now facing. According to his data, the South African market saw ad revenue losses of between 40 and 55% in March, which was somewhat ahead of global trends. “Radio commands a healthy share of media ad spend in the South African market”, he said. “When the tap turned off, it turned off quite drastically. The challenge will be how we recover in the long term”.

Today’s discussion showcased that the coronavirus pandemic presents an interesting perspective in terms of how and where people are consuming audio during the course of their days in the “new normal”. The pandemic also shines a spotlight on intentional engagement from listeners through the mediums of their choice. It’s clear that radio continues to be one of the strongest audio mediums to connect with audiences, presenting a major opportunity for stakeholders to build long standing trust with listeners which will hopefully translate into new avenues for revenue moving into the future. 

As is the case in most industries, the coronavirus pandemic has presented a lot of new challenges, and decision makers are being forced to do some hard thinking about new ways to innovate within a tough economic landscape, coupled with the fast growing and ever changing digital nature of the world. Audio consumption and radio in particular continues to be a trusted confidant for millions of people around the world, providing solace in a time when it’s never been more important for us to feel connected to each other, and as we make a collective effort to do what we can to navigate as gently as possible towards the other side of the pandemic.