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Podcasts, smart speakers soar as social media stalls, based on new survey

The 2019 edition of a popular annual survey shows usage of social media by Americans is stalling while ownership of smart speakers and tablets has soared over the last year, as has consumer engagement with podcasts. The results are promising for Amazon and Spotify in particular.

Earlier today, Edison Research and Triton Digital presented their Infinite Dial report with findings from a phone survey of 1,500 Americans (age 12+) during January and February. Since 1998, the report has tracked the adoption of mobile devices, social media services, and online audio.

Here are my key takeaways from it:

1. Social Media: Consistent with the trend from last year, the market for social media users appears to be saturated. The percent of Americans who say they have ever used social media is 79%, up from 78% last year but down from the 80% peak in 2017.

Among Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Twitter, only Instagram saw an increase in the percent of the population who say they use it (39% compared to 36% in 2018). Facebook lost roughly 15 million users since 2017 based on this survey data. While the majority of people age 55+ now say they use Facebook, that doesn’t make up for the drop in usage among those age 12-34 from 79% in 2017 to 67% in 2018 to 62% now.

Pinterest, which recently filed to go public, also appears to be losing popularity among that key demographic. Now only 31% of Americans in the 12-34 age group say they use the social pinning platform, compared to 36% last year, and only 1% say Pinterest is their most used social app (compared to 3% in 2015). In this context, potential competition from Instagram looks especially threatening.

2. Smart Speakers: 23% of Americans now own a smart speaker, with 16% of them owning an Amazon Alexa device (that’s more than twice the percent who own a Google Home device). Just two years ago, only 7% reported owning a smart speaker. The percent of those owners who have 3 or more devices has more than doubled from 11% last year to 26% this year as well. Many consumers are crossing a threshold from testing these speakers to making them a ubiquitous presence throughout their home.

3. Tablets: While ownership of smartphones is flat, there was a 12% year-over-year increase in the population of tablet owners from 50% of the population to 56%. According to Triton president John Rosso’s commentary, Amazon’s Fire tablet led the pack with 23% year-over-year growth.

4. Online Audio: 24% of respondents said they used Spotify and 12% said they used Amazon Music in the last month. That compares to 20% and 9%, respectively, last year and places Amazon Music on equal footing with Apple Music.

5. Podcasts: 32% of Americans are monthly podcast listeners compared to 26% in 2018, representing the largest year-over-year growth in that statistic since Infinite Dial began. The format saw a 33% surge in popularity among young people (age 12-24) from 30% listening monthly to 40% doing so.

A full 22% of Americans are weekly podcast listeners and those people consume an average of seven episodes per week. Also, in a notable symbolic shift, the majority (51%) of Americans now say they have listened to a podcast at least once.

Amazon’s gains: The explosion in smart speaker ownership is disproportionately benefiting Amazon with its Alexa devices and the same scenario is occurring in tablets with the Amazon Fire. The company is the most immediate winner in the growth of these markets.

Moreover, people who own a smart speaker are dramatically more likely to use Amazon Music as their primary music streaming service (16% vs. 9% for the general population of people who have used online audio).

This could be a mere correlation that Amazon Music has an older demographic (according to this data, it does) and smart speakers are bought by an older demographic; on the other hand, it may suggest causation that people who buy smart speakers often adopt the default Amazon Music streaming service. If the latter is true to a substantial degree, it suggests Amazon Music’s momentum against Apple Music (and other streaming services) is likely to only pick up.

Spotify’s podcast push is working: Spotify is making a big play into podcasting. Its market share is growing substantially, it surpassed Apple’s podcast app in popularity in several countries, and just announced a major commitment to the format that included acquiring Anchor and Gimlet.

According to the Infinite Dial survey, the percent of Spotify users aged 12-24 who listen to podcasts monthly jumped from 32% last year to 54% this year. That’s 69% year-over-year growth. This shows Spotify’s users are buying into its new promotion of podcast content. It also lends credibility to the argument that Spotify is expanding the market of podcast listeners, not just poaching users from other podcast apps.

As I argued in my analysis about the entry of music streaming services and Hollywood into podcasting, Spotify has the ability to rapidly ingrain podcast listening among its 207 million monthly active users and to make premium (subscriber-only) podcasts mainstream by bundling them into a music subscription that 96 million people already pay for.

You can review the the full Infinite Dial deck here.

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