Another Study Says Lots Of People Like To Listen To Radio In The Car. Duh. Here's Why.
March 17, 2015
A recent radio study that was funded by a radio company has revealed that when driving, lots of people still like to listen to radio.
Some have questioned the validity of a study that was put in the field by a broadcasting company. And while that detail should raise some eyebrows, I think the findings — that people prefer radio over other audio mediums in the car — are very plausible.
No, seriously. That's my whole answer.
It's not because the content is better (Taylor Swift again?!). And it's certainly not because I like seven-minute commercial stretches. And while I do think your DJs are funny, their breaks are not long enough to have a big impact on my listening decision.
It's just that I'm driving.
I mean, I could fumble with the streaming music or pull up a podcast or hunt down an audiobook, but that's hard to do when I'm stuck in traffic and I'm questioning whether or not my GPS is really providing me with the fastest route. Any extra attention I have will be used to read a text message while trying to look like I'm not reading a text message just in case there's a cop in the car behind me. So I make a quick cost/benefit analysis and decide, "Eh, screw it. I'll just listen to the radio."
But don't confuse "easier" with "better."
I put up with the shortcomings of radio's content for the convenience of its hardware. When the hardware improves, don't expect me to stick around.
While many services, from Pandora to Spotify to Stitcher to iTunes, have tried to displace radio, none have been able to fully do so. Despite the proliferation of user-generated content in the form of podcasts and online stations, there's no equivalent of YouTube in the audio world. Most people still confine themselves to the narrow spectrum of audio entertainment choices found on the AM/FM band.
The answer is because the way people consume audio is different from the way they consume video and text. When you read or watch video, it requires your full attention. That's not the case when I consume audio. In fact, when I'm listening to audio, I'm usually doing something else at the same time. My top activity is driving — presumably that's why the aforementioned study seems to have conceded all ground outside of the car — but I also listen to audio when I'm at the gym, cleaning the house, or riding my bike. In short, I never give audio my full attention the way I do with radio and text.
But here's the kicker: Audio discovery and audio consumption are different activities. Audio consumption doesn't require my full attention, but audio discovery does. When I am deciding if I want to listen to something, I usually use my eyes to read a description or look at an image.
With video and text, the act of discovery and the act of consumption is simultaneous: I see something I want to read, then I read it. I see something I want to watch, then I watch it. Because the act of discovery and the act of consumption occur so close together with video and text, we often don't recognize that it's actually two different things that are happening.
But when it comes to audio, the act of discovery — which requires my full attention — and the act of consumption — which does not — usually do not occur simultaneously. I download the audio book now that I want to listen to on my five-hour road trip tomorrow. I see an interesting podcast come up in my Facebook feed now and I subscribe so that I can listen at the gym later.
But sometimes I forget to plan ahead.
Oh, let's be honest: I usually forget to plan ahead. So now I want something to listen to, but I'm driving and I can't give audio discovery the full attention that it requires. What do I do?
Fortunately, radio's hardware has solved this problem. By reducing me to a limited number of choices that I can scan through with an unthinking flick of the finger, it has brought the moments of audio discovery and consumption back together. Sure, the results aren't ideal, but that's the price I pay for not planning ahead.
All this means radio's safe, then, right?
Because as soon as a company figures out how to bring the moment of audio discovery and audio consumption together in a way that produces more satisfying results (Katy Perry again?!), radio will see a decline. Even in cars.
But what could be easier than a flick of the finger? How could the hardware possibly improve?
And it's already here. So while Serial probably won't kill radio, Siri just might.