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Listen up: audio content is booming in a media landscape dominated by visuals

Rumour has it that audio is to the web what the web is to print: an emerging successor. But while content for both senses will likely continue to peacefully coexist, it is remarkable that multiple forms of lengthy audio content are thriving in a world where snappy visuals – preferably short videos – are more present than ever before. The latter is particularly the case in the life of Gen Z-ers who have a reported average attention span of just eight seconds – down from twelve seconds with Millennials.

Regardless of whether this content led to the shorter attention span or vice versa – being a chicken-or-egg-story, a March 2021 TikTok study found that one third of its users watched videos at double-speed. Half of TikTok viewers found videos longer than one minute stressful. Not because of a time issue, but due to lack of concentration, one of the participants said. So with youngsters seemingly preferring short and visual content, why is long-lasting audio content on the rise, even within those same age categories? 

Radio: a safe and personalised haven 

In the latest annual imec.digimeter from 2020, that charts the trends on the use and attitudes of media and technology in Flanders, 79% (up from 73% in 2019) of all Flemish people listened to the radio on a monthly basis. The biggest jump (13%) was noticeable in the age category 16-24. Today’s youth clearly digs a return to the classic news channels for their news consumption. The Centrum for Information on Media (CIM) showed that in early 2021, even 92.4% of the Flemish listened to the radio on a weekly basis

Why the jump in recent years? ‘Due to a combination of clear disadvantages of modern communication such as fake news, privacy violations and risk of addiction’, according to Prof. dr. Lieven de Marez, professor of media at the University of Ghent. On top of that, radio is a real-time medium that does not require your full attention as you can combine it with an automated task such as driving. Upcoming hyper localized and personalized playlists in radio  apps add to the image of radio as a safe and personalized medium. 

Podcasts are reaching the unreachables

By giving a brand a voice and providing a human connection and involvement in a snackable and accessible format; podcasts are possibly the best thing since sliced bread. Podcasts create enormous engagement as 88% of people starting a podcast, listen to the whole piece. And whereas the average reading time of an online news piece is one minute, a podcast lasts 25-30 minutes. Plus: they tend to be enjoyed by groups of people not easily reached through other media channels. 

Numbers don’t lie: 60% of the audience of the Dutch newspaper NRC’s podcast for instance are aged 18 to 35. And while the New York Times reached two million people with its print newspaper at its peak, four million people listened to its podcast ‘The Daily’ already back in 2019. Closer to home, the podcast from De Standaard had 100.000 unique listeners and downloads at the end of 2020, compared to 75.000 at the beginning of 2020 – and only 1.500 in 2017. 

How come? Podcasts do not simply carry voices and stories into our ears, they bring in the outside world. Take KLM for example, whose podcast ‘The Journey’ tells true stories about people whose lives were changed by one journey. Or Reebok’s ‘Flipping the game’ – about the world’s first sneaker for women – on innovation and gender. Decathlon shares audio content on sport – on its advantages, how to bounce back from injury etcetera – as well its business transformation to inspire entrepreneurship. All three podcast examples tickle listeners’ imagination with timeless and intense personal stories – free of charge and marketing. 

Audio books: listening is the new reading

In a world in which we’re consuming more media and screen time than ever before, immersing yourself in a lengthy paper or digital book – and not getting distracted by notifications – can be a hard task. A recent study by Storytel, one of the world’s biggest subscription services for streaming audio books, showed however that 15% of Belgians listened to an audio book in the last twelve months. 

As Storytel and Spotify are teaming up this year in the Netherlands and with the earlier this year hyped social network based on voice called Clubhouse – where people come together to talk, listen and learn from each other in real-time – it is safe to say that listening is the new reading. A global forecast predicts that the value of the market for audio books will multiply by no less than five between 2019 and 2027. This indicates that the European audiobook market will grow by 25% each year, compared to just 4% for the overall entertainment sector. 

Key factors for this whopping growth? Increase in younger listener inventory and easy accessibility of copies –  Storytel for instance offers a library of 300.000 audio and e-books – according to the global study. 

Hear, hear: audio content and influencers from a PR perspective

As an industry, it’s our job to create, predict and adapt to new trends in consumer habits and demands. The rise in consumption of audio content has presented us and our clients with the opportunity to explore extra ways of communicating with new audiences – or former ones, such as the ones lost touch with due to the changing media landscape. Creating an own audio product or working via renowned audio influencers might do the trick. 

The latter are a vital part of the phenomenon of social audio; where people connect through conversation and chat rooms – providing great opportunities for companies to share and extend thought leadership. Just imagine reading this article and being able to hear industry experts discuss the content in real-time, or hearing opinions recorded from your most trusted circle: resulting in a one-of-a-kind immersive audio experience.  Interested in finding out more about how Walkie Talkie can help your company stand out and effectively reach Gen Z-ers and Millennials with tailored content? Please reach out to us via walkie@talkie.be or +32 (0)9 391 60 63.