The Rebirth of Audio: Podcast, Smart Speakers and Online Consumption Habits in Canada

If the advent of television signalled the end of radio’s dominance back in the day, the media is now enjoying a sort of rebirth online.

Audio content on the web is more popular than ever, due in large part to growing demand for podcasts and virtual digital assistants, according to the most recent Infinite Dial study published by Edison Research. The study analyzes the behaviour of Canadian consumers when it comes to their use of media and technology.

Familiarity and frequency

A majority of adult Canadian consumers (63%) are familiar with podcasts. This tendency seems to reflect what is being observed South of the border (70%), even if this last proportion includes people aged 12 and over.

However, the frequency of audio consumption isn’t yet generalized. Indeed, only about a third of Canadians surveyed had listened to a podcast over the previous month, and only 23% over the previous week. This represents an increase of 8% and 4%, respectively, compared to 2018.

While the 18-34 segment was the one that listened the most to podcasts last year, it has been surpassed this year by the 35-54 demographic, both in terms of frequency over the previous month (45% vs. 41%) and the previous week (31% vs. 29%).

On average, people listen to podcasts about five times a week, compared to seven in the US.

While some 36% of Canadians listen to a podcast all the way to the end, 45% say they listen to most of it, and 11% only get to about half its duration.

In addition, three quarters of Canadians listen to most of the podcasts they have downloaded – anywhere from 51% to 100% of them. Much more the respondents, however, accelerate the playback speed (27% vs. 9% in 2018).

“Tell me what you listen to and I’ll tell you who you are”

A recent study by the Canadian Podcast Listener (CPL), conducted by Audience Insights Inc. and Ulster Media with the support of TPX (The Podcast Exchange), shows that in 2018, less than a third of the 50 most popular podcasts every month was produced in Canada. Furthermore, most of them (9 out of 15) weren’t original podcasts, but rather delayed programming that had already aired on ICI Radio-Canada or its Anglophone equivalent, CBC Radio One.

These results are reflected in the segment of people who are the biggest podcast enthusiasts, i.e. those who listen to them at least five times a week. Again, only about a third of them (34%) listen to Canadian content, while 56% turn to American content. Canadians aged 55 and over are more likely to prefer national podcasts (54%, compared to 34 % among the 18-34 age group).

Also, nearly two thirds more French-speaking Canadians tend to choose national content than their Anglophone counterparts. However, they tend to listen to podcasts less frequently – something that might be explained by a shortage of French content, according to Audience Insights President Jeff Vidler.

Listening Alone or With Others

The platform on which people listen to podcasts has dramatically changed in merely a year. While last year, 41% of Canadians turned to their computer, three quarters of them now prefer their mobile devices, according to Edison Research.

No big change has been observed in terms of where people enjoy podcasts, however, with 91% of people listening to them at home, 35% in their car and 29% at work.

The study reveals that 85% of Canadians surveyed had been in a car over the previous month. Their preferred choice of audio accompaniment was AM/FM radio (79%), online content (11%) and Sirius XM (6%). Only 3% of respondents had listened to podcasts.

Consumption of online audio content over the previous month remained relatively stable among Canadians (59%). Online radio constitutes 22% of listening habits, while content only available online climbed from 27% to 32%.

Spotify is the most popular platform with 32% of users, compared to 25% for Apple Music and 16% for Google Play Music.

While virtual digital assistants have only hit the shelves in Canada since June 2017, the number of people who bought one has tripled, going from 9% in 2018 to 26% in 2019. This proportion surpasses what has been observed in the US (23%), where this technology has been available since 2014. Google Home wins the popularity contest among Canadians (14%), followed by Alexa (9%).

Last year, three quarters of Canadians owned only one virtual digital assistant. This year, 46% of them own two, and 28% have three such devices in their home. Half of Canadian consumers leave their assistant in the living room (OTM), a place that would seem more favourable to creative and interactive content, rather than a utilitarian use.

According to the CMF’s latest Trends Report 2019, virtual digital assistants recall the early days of radio, when people gathered in their home or in public places to enjoy music or a show. Nowadays, these devices seem to have become the new source of collective audio enjoyment.