How I Listen

Our Music Consumption Habits Are Changing, But Will They Remain That Way?

Here Bobby Owsinski explores how our listening habits have fundamentally shifted since the pre-pandemic era, and whether or not these changes in music consumption will continue into the foreseeable future.

By Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0

Most people don’t need a survey to tell them that what they listen to or view is different today than before COVID. Our lives have changed so much in that time that it’s a given that our music consumption patterns have as well. Even if you know that you’re listening more or less than before, it’s still interesting to know what the rest of the world is doing and that’s where the latest series of studies from Billboard and Nielsen Music come in. The surveys titled COVID-19 Tracking The Impact On The Entertainment Landscape Release 1 and Release 2 have some surprising data on how we’re getting our music these days.

The surveys look at what they call Wave 1 following the week of March 25th through 29th, and Wave 2 following the week of April 7 through 11. They’re extensive and I’m not going to go through everything here, but there are a number of data points that caught my eye as potentially significant in a post-COVID world.

Our Current Music Consumption Patterns

What stood out the most was the fact that overall audio-only streaming was down by 6% while music video consumption was up by 8%. Sure, people aren’t listening in their cars as more people work at home instead of undertaking a daily commute (more than twice as many are currently working from home), but it goes to show something that we’ve intuitively known all along. Given the choice, people would rather watch something than just listen.

The fact of the matter is that, according to the Wave 1 survey, music video streaming is at an all-time high with the overall streaming volume up by 13%. The bad part is that comes increase comes at the expense of audio-only streaming.

What’s also interesting here is that 84% of music consumers still listen to what they normally listen to. They are getting a bit more adventurous though, as there was a 7% increase in listening to music they hadn’t heard in awhile, and 6% increase in discovering new music.

Streaming Subscriptions

The next figure that jumped out was that 24% of people have added a new subscription service during both Wave 1 and Wave 2. Some of that is at the expense of another service though, as 20% have cancelled a streaming service during that time. The good news here is that 76% are happy enough with the new service that they’ve decided to keep it even when things get back to normal.

Of these new subscriptions, 81% were for a video service (Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video in that order), while only 38% were for music (Spotify, Apple Music or Amazon Music). The service most cancelled was Hulu, but that may be because of the lack of live sports, which is its key differentiator.

Live Shows

As the reality seeps in of just how insidious the virus is, people of all ages are realizing that going to a live concert might not be on the table for some time. Only 29% of people said they’d return to a live event after the pandemic, although 56% of teens said they would. The demo that would choose to avoid a large event is driven mostly by 35 to 54 year olds and music consumers with kids.

Virtual concerts get a mixed response though, as fewer people watched a virtual concert during the Wave 2 period than in Wave 1. That said, teens are warming up to the idea more than any other age group as there was an 11% jump in viewing for them during that time. Interestingly enough, most people said they weren’t willing to pay to attend a virtual concert, which potentially dashes the hopes of many entrepreneurs in the space.

Conclusions

A figure that jumped out to me was that 60% of people now spend more time with entertainment, and that figure seems unlikely to maintain when things get back to normal and real-life activity away from home presents itself. Even if people are more cautious, they’ll still be more active and less connected.

Now that’s actually good for audio-only music consumption as the first thing that will take a hit is music video viewing as people spend more time in their cars. The next thing that I think might decrease is even though people say they’ll maintain they’ll keep their new subscriptions now, they may feel they’re unneeded as they get busier with normal life.

When it comes to live music, people may relax their fears sooner than anyone thinks, even if a COVID vaccine isn’t found. The problem is that many venues will not survive in the meantime, so the demand will outstrip the supply. Virtual concerts may be the current rage, but people would still prefer to attend a live music event, according to the survey. Still, expect virtual shows to continue to increase after COVID, especially as new presentation technologies come to market.

Even though we’re all feeling out the current state of the industry, these surveys give us the data on music consumption patterns that we need to see the future of the music business more clearly.


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