There's nothing more frustrating than “shrinkage.” That's the lesson we learned on “Seinfeld” in an episode called “The Hamptons” (season 5, episode 21). It's a classic where George is humiliated over a “shrinkage” moment after going swimming. (See end of blog for the clip.)
It's never fun when things aren't as big as they seem to be. That's especially true with the so-called “media pie” – the collective mass of media that includes all forms of audio and video.
Now we have SVODs, podcasts, social media, e-readers, short and long-form video, and all sorts of media choices that didn't exist a couple of decades or so ago. And in each of these categories, we've absorbed the expansion of content. Now there aren't thousands of podcasts – there are millions of them. Where there was just Facebook and MySpace, we now have generational social media channels to meet every need.
And the experts have told us consumption has continued to grow. While there have been warnings about ultimately reaching “peak content,” producers, showrunners, game designers, and videographers keep cranking out more and more media to consume in order to meet our insatiable needs and desires.
But what if all that content has actually had the opposite effect? It may sound like a case of “cognitive dissonance” where we are confronted with facts that seemingly contradict common sense and the facts we have at hand.
That's why when I saw a research study by the respected IPG Magna that upends our conventional wisdom, it caught me off guard. Covered by both MediaPost and Inside Radio, “The Media Time Paradox” is a mysterious research study flies in the face of what we've been told – especially since COVID.
Our logic suggests that when the lockdowns that started in March 2020 began, we hunkered down at home – watching Netflix, making Spotify playlists, listening to podcasts, and doom strolling like never before on social media.
But Magna insists that's not really so. And in fact their consumer tracking data indicates a drop of more than 11% in time spent using media since 2019, continuing to head south through this year.
And projections for next year point to another drop, this time nearly 2%. It's not a freefall by any means, but the data suggests we may be looking at our world of expanded media all wrong.
So what explains this modern day version of Firesign Theater's aptly named “Everything You Know Is Wrong” album (one of the greatest titles ever)? Their data even shows TikTok is slowing down as people spend less time on the platform.
The guy who owns this study at Magna is EVP-Audience Intelligence, Brian Hughes. He says, “TikTok keeps getting new users, but the new users are older and older people spend less time on TikTok overall.”
MediaPost points out TikTok has fallen in TSS (Time Spent Socializing – my acronym) by a precipitous 42% since its height in 2020 – the year of huddling together at home.
The chart below breaks out 18-49 year-old U.S. adults. Only “on-demand TV” and “mobile” show increases in weekly hours consumed. “Radio” (and we can only assume it's broadcast) is down a whopping 21% since 2019, and has dropped 3% since 2021.
Hughes attributes these falloffs to “burnout” (especially for social media), and a renewed urge to enjoy experiences IRL (in real life).
Now, no one gets more rankled than me by “black swan” research that goes against the grain of so many other studies. But in the case of our Techsurveys – conducted among mostly radio fans – we've tracked the slippage as well.
In our analyses, I've talked about the “slow leak” that has impacted broadcast radio listening, especially in the car. We've attributed the drop to less commuting (although it has come back a long way since those dark days of 2020), but also in-car infotainment systems offering greatly expanded driver and passenger choices.
Is the “IRL boom” real? Are consumers seeking actual experiences rather than virtual ones? Those who work in travel and tourism or the concert industry have had remarkably robust years. Plans that were put off – for expensive trips, weddings and family celebrations, and “bucket list” items – have come roaring back this year.
Earlier this fall, MediaPost's Joe Mandese wrote a story titled, “Experiential Rebounds, Surges Double-Digits In Years Following Pandemic.”
The chart below from PQ Media clearly illustrates Hughes' theory about consumers spending less time on their screens and a renewed focus on IRL experiences. Sponsorships and live event marketing are clearly bouncing back from the scourge of COVID:
And so for radio, the Magna study suggests a renewed focus on the experiential – meet & greets, concert trips, station open houses, and other events that bring audiences and stations together.
The pieces are already in place. Local radio is one of the few media categories that can offer experiences to hometown listeners – right now, “Christmas Wish” promotions dot the airwaves, while stations give away vacations, concert tickets, and other IRL prizes that “print.”
Does it get any more “real” than when your station raises hundreds of thousands of dollars during a Children's Miracle Network Hospitals “Radiothon” to support sick kids in your community?
Or when that key starts that new car or truck? Or you give hundreds of listeners the chance to see that new movie before it opens to the public? Or when you give away front row seats to the big concert? Or sponsor your own free concert series or music festival?
For years, listeners talked about these experiences. And now, they proudly display them to friends, family, and the world on social media.
I know….”cash is king.” And in inflationary times, that might even be more true. But when radio was in its heyday, even cash contests activated the senses. Rather than the bland simplicity of text-to-win, promotions like “The Birthday Game” activated the imaginations of millions, making winning cash bigger than life.
In these strange times, radio has the opportunity to forge stronger connections by providing creative experiences that make listeners feel good about their lives. The signs are pointing in the right direction.
This chart from Techsurvey 2022 last winter underscores radio's ability to strengthen listener connections post-COVID. Note how strong agreement with the statement, “I feel a sense of connection to the station that sent me this survey” reached new highs the past couple years.
We'll be tracking this question in next year's Techsurvey, going into the field early next month. I'm hopeful we'll see this numbers hold – or grow.
There's a lot to be said for experiencing life again, especially after an incident that dragged everybody down for most of a couple years.
Radio broadcasters might discover a new formula for generating loyalty and passion:
To sign your station up for Techsurvey 2023, click here.
And now as promised, “Shrinkage.”
- The Eyes Have It - March 20, 2023
- The JacoBLOG Junk Drawer: The CRS 2023 Edition - March 17, 2023
- How Radio Can Best Deal With A Global Pandemic: Live And Local, Of Course - March 16, 2023
John Covell says
IRL = In Real Life = real and LIVE = TSL. Couldn’t have said it better, Fred. The burden is on the broadcaster to submit “proof of life” if he wants the audience to fork over the ransom (in the form of TSL). That’s real currency.
Fred Jacobs says
I love the “proof of life” phrase, John. Thanks for contributing to the blog in the comments.
Dave Mason says
Obvious or brilliant? Please text your answer to . . .. (just kidding). We all remember Jack McCoy’s “The Last Contest” airchecks on KCBQ from 72. The level of excitement created by this promotion is unrivaled even to this day. Of course the legalities are in question but when radio brought “Superman” and “The Lone Ranger into our homes no one blinked that a man couldn’t fly, or that “cloud of dust and a mighty ‘Hi-Yo-Silver'” wasn’t real. If it’s true the media pie is shrinking, then we’re not doing our jobs in bringing “IRL” to radio. The first time I was told “relate to your audience” I had to go look it up. Maybe it’s time for the bean counters in the front office to do the same. Thanks for this (and all the rest), Fred.
Fred Jacobs says
Appreciate it, Dave. “Back to the basics” isn’t always the best way to go. But in this case, there’s a lot to be said for getting an audience excited about what you’re programming.
Marty Bender says
Some of the social media decrease might be due to an eventual sharpening of the big search.
When the oh-wow wears off:
Facebook users eventually go from browsing to friend/group focus.
Many people eventually settle in on just their targeted Twitter folks/sites.
Same with Instagram.
TikTok browsing will eventually point you to your algorithm and/or interests.
Follow any of the above, and you’ll mostly just be going to those sites when notified.
So, it could be boredom or it could be efficiency.
Fred Jacobs says
Interesting outlook. Predictability is good thing…until it’s not. And boredom sets in. (Sound familiar?)
Tito Lopez says
Great article, Fred.
Some times you just get so involved in social media that forget what has made radio great.
It’s like everyone is blinded by digital and forget the basics of great radio.
Fred Jacobs says
It’s important to stay focused, Tito. I have to remind myself of that, too.
The IPG Magna research for me is spot on! It’s what I hear and I see when I pick a strangers brain about their listening habits. And I agree with Tito, too blinded by digital and many times programmed by digital. There lies the problem
Fred Jacobs says
Appreciate the comment, KC.