Online radio audience growing

Number of Americans tuning in rises by 9 mil over 2008

By Paul Heine, Radio & Records

There is good news in the radio industry: Online radio is gaining in popularity. The number of Americans who tune in weekly to online radio grew to 42 million, up from 33 million in 2008.

Stuck in the 11%-13% range for the past three years, weekly online listening now reaches 17% of the population, according to Arbitron and Edison Research, which released its 17th annual Infinite Dial study Thursday.

The number of monthly online listeners is 69 million, or 27% of the population. And nearly half of the population, or 49%, an astounding 125 million, have listened to online radio.

The Arbitron/Edison survey, conducted Jan. 16-Feb.15 with 1,858 participants, also showed the demographics of online radio listeners don't skew as young as they once did, more closely resembling the audience composition of traditional radio. Twenty percent of adults 25-54 said they listened to Web radio in the past week, up from 15% a year earlier.

"The sharp growth in weekly usage of online radio in this year's study provides compelling evidence that radio's digital platforms may be reaching critical mass," said Bill Rose, senior vp marketing at Arbitron. "The growth of online radio is reinforced with what we are seeing in the portable people meter. We are beginning to see encoded streams of AM/FM broadcasts with significant audience in local markets."

Still, iPod usage is cutting into the time people spend with radio. While the penetration of iPod or MP3 player ownership plateaued among 12- to 17-year-olds at 71%, it rose sharply among older demos: from 51% to 64% among the 18-24 demo; from 48% to 55% among 25-34 demo; 46% to 52% among 35-44; 31% to 34% among 45-54; and 15% to 24% among 55-64. Across all demos, more than four in 10 own an iPod or MP3 player, up from 25% in 2005.