Audio has always had the feel of an intimate medium, that trusted voice conversing directly with us one-to-one. But digital innovation has changed how we think of audio as an entertainment vehicle and overhauled how we engage with it every day.
Where once the only control we had over audio was changing the radio station or popping in a new tape or CD (or LP), digital audio now gives us seemingly endless choices right at our fingertips. People today are using digital audio to soundtrack their lives, flowing in and out of audio experiences that reflect who they are, what they’re doing, and how they’re feeling in the moment—whether it’s workout time, focus time, party time, bedtime, or downtime.
Perhaps no other channel offers authenticity, connection, and flexibility the way that audio does. And this, in a nutshell, is why brands are increasingly inserting themselves into the audio conversation. The emergence of audio as a mainstay in media plans, alongside developments within the space (including concepts like sonic branding and voice interactivity), is a top digital advertising trend to watch as we move through 2023. But what consumer listening habits can marketers tap into to drive performance? Just how effective are audio ads, really? (Hint: very.) And where exactly are consumers tuning in? (Hint: everywhere.) Here, we’ve compiled a collection of stats that answer all these questions and more, helping advertisers separate the signal from the static noise and craft audio strategies set up to make a buzz.
The Digital Audio Market is Building Momentum
A perfect storm of circumstance and opportunity is propelling digital audio into the marketing spotlight. You have younger generations coming of age and placing higher importance on audio as they look to alleviate screen time. You have brands embracing the idea of advertising on a cost-effective channel where they can command share of voice (amongst many other benefits). And you have new technology making audio content in all its guises much more accessible and personalized. It’s a medium that has long been overlooked...until now.
- This year, an estimated two-thirds of the US population (225.8 million people) will listen to digital audio at least once per month. Future growth is projected to be slow, rising a shade over 1% every year through 2026.
- More than 62% of those listeners (141.7 million) currently pay for a streaming audio subscription. This share will continue to inch up on the back of strong gains during the pandemic, increasing to 65.5% by 2026.
- The average US adult has been listening to more than an hour of digital audio per day since 2016, and 2023 is forecast to be another year of growth—moving from 1:40 to 1:43 (the equivalent of 13% of overall media time and 20% of digital media time).
- More than half the US population listened to audio on a smartphone in 2022. By 2026, an estimated 193.3 million people (or 55.8% of the US population) will listen to audio on their smartphones every month.
- US digital audio ad and subscription revenue is projected to climb 13.9% in 2023 to $19.72 billion. And experts believe that by 2026, that number could surpass $24 billion.
- US ad spend on digital audio services (such as Spotify and Pandora) is anticipated to move past $7 billion for the first time in 2023, with YOY growth slated to stay at 9% or more for the next three years.
- Digital audio adoption is most prevalent in younger generations: Among 16- to 24-year-olds, 91.1% listened to digital audio in the first half of 2022—a hefty jump from 2021.
Podcasting has Reached Mainstream Status
Over the last couple of years, few stories in digital media have been more compelling than the rise of the podcast. After a blitz of spending and high-profile acquisitions, the podcast market appears to finally be slowing down, but the podcast advertising market is an entirely different story, with the medium still largely underleveraged and undervalued. Listenership is still rising, albeit more slowly, and technology continues to add more layers of contextual targeting and flexibility to podcast advertising, signaling more opportunities for brands on the horizon.
- This year, an estimated 130.5 million people in the US will listen to podcasts monthly. That’s a total of 57.8% of digital audio listeners, up from 55.9% last year.
- US adult time spent with podcasts is expected to increase by 10.1% through 2023, reaching 25 minutes per day. That amounts to 5.1% of total time spent with digital media.
- Spotify is the biggest US podcast platform today with 35.7 million listeners. That’s about seven million more than Apple Podcasts, whose growth has flatlined while Spotify projects double-digit growth through 2026.
- Thirty-four percent of US adults listen to podcasts “to be entertained”, while 32% tune in “to learn something new” and 22% tune in “to stay informed on current events”.
- US podcast ad spending is on course to hit $2.25 billion in 2023. That figure represents 31.8% of digital audio services ad spending and 1.4% of total digital display ad spending, and those shares are predicted to grow to 38.0% and 1.5%, respectively, by 2026.
- Programmatic continues to account for an increasing portion of total podcast ad spending—in 2020, it was 3.3%, but by 2024 it’s projected to hit 9.3%.
- When considering the time the average consumer spends listening to podcasts versus ad spend on the medium, experts say podcasts are undervalued by $40 billion relative to other channels, including linear TV, social media, and online video.
- The most successful podcast ads for generating website visits? Pre-roll spots, which generate about 9% more website visits than those in the middle of an episode (i.e. mid-roll) and about 16% more than post-roll ads.
Audio Advertising Primes Consumers for Brand Engagement
Cutting through the metaphorical noise has always been a major challenge for brands as they compete to connect with audiences, and that challenge keeps growing as attention spans shrink. In audio advertising, though, marketers have a powerful ally in the battle for engagement—an outlet that can dynamically link ideas and narratives to help create an emotional association between the brand’s message and the listener.
- Ninety-three percent of the brain's engagement with audio content transfers directly into ad engagement.
- Eighty-six percent of consumers recall ads on podcasts more than any other channel.
- Fifty-three percent of smart speaker owners who have heard an ad on their device say they’re likely to respond to it.
- Sixty-one percent of audio listeners stay tuned through ads. To put that in comparison, only 19% of TV viewers actively watch TV ads.
- Seventy-four percent of consumers report visiting a company or product’s website as a result of hearing an ad on a podcast they listen to regularly. Additionally, 72% say they would consider a new product or service, 65% say they’ve made a purchase, and 54% say they’ve visited a store because of a podcast ad.
- Podcast ads of 30 seconds or fewer drive a six-point increase in consumer intent to seek out information about the brand. That intent jumps another two points if the ad includes a CTA.
Steady (but Slowing) Growth for the Streaming Sector
The streaming audio ecosystem is dominated by a few key brands. Spotify is the top dog in the market, one of the most widely used digital products in the US and a powerful presence in broader culture. But the likes of Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube, SiriusXM (parent company of Pandora), and iHeartMedia all retain a huge presence in digital audio. Fluctuating economic conditions and price increases at several streaming services (including Apple Music and YouTube Premium, with Spotify potentially joining them soon) are colliding to ease some of the breakneck growth from the past several years.
- Three’s a crowd—most digital audio listeners get by with one streaming service plus YouTube. What’s behind this trend? The nature of licensing agreements dictates that subscription providers broadly offer the same audio catalog. Their features also overlap significantly (on-demand listening, custom radio, playlist tools, etc.). Put it all together and consumers have little incentive to use—let alone subscribe to—multiple services at once.
- In 2023, more than 30% of US internet users (93.1 million people) will listen to Spotify every month. That’s nearly twice what it was five years ago, and thanks to some steady growth, Spotify’s US monthly listener base is projected to reach 102.8 million in 2026.
- Spotify US ad revenues are anticipated to grow by 30.0% this year, reaching $1.15 billion, while subscription revenues look set to climb 16.0% to $4.49 billion. Apple Music is forecast to grow more slowly, reaching 40.2 million listeners in 2023—a YOY increase of one million users—and creeping up to 42.1 million in 2026.
- Amazon Music will have an estimated 54.7 million listeners in 2023, up from 52.8 million in 2022, but from here it’s projected to gain fewer than three million new listeners through 2026. This slow growth sits in contrast to Amazon Music’s pre-pandemic years, when it more than doubled the size of its audience between 2016 (16.9 million) and 2019 (38.7 million).
- US ad revenues on Pandora are increasing despite a dip in monthly listenership—they are predicted to jump 3.5% to $1.68 billion this year before climbing another 4.0% in 2024 to $1.74 billion.
- Over at iHeartMedia, digital ad revenues are surging. On the back of 24.2% growth in 2022, iHeartMedia is expected to see a 16.8% rise in digital ad spend in 2023 (to $771.7 million) and then another 19.9% (to $925.2 million) in 2024.
Audio Advertising by the Numbers—Wrapping Up
Digital audio is ubiquitous and unique. Playlists and podcasts are providing the soundtrack to peoples’ lives, and brands looking to build strong, lasting connections with their audiences must find ways to penetrate those spaces. The good news is that advertisers already have a plethora of tools at their disposal to develop strategies that lean into consumer listening habits—and when it comes to future innovation, there’s a lot to look forward to.
If these numbers are any indication, the audio advertising revolution is really only just getting started.
Want more insights on the power and potential of this channel and how it can impact your media plan? Check out our Audio Advertising Guide.