Pandora, YouTube, AM/FM, Spotify compete for ears as American listenership evolves: Infinite Dial 2016


infinite dial 2016 title 02

The Infinite Dial, a consumer research project that tracks listening habits and trends of American teens and adults, was released today for 2016, co-produced by Edison Research and Triton Digital and presented via webinar. The study has been conducted annually since 1998, producing long-running trend indicators, and is widely considered to be a benchmark piece of knowledge, and an authoritative snapshot of how and where Americans listen to audio.

The 2016 results were obtained during January and February from over 2,000 phone-survey participants, age 12 and older. “Results are fully projectable to the U.S. population,” according to Edison VP Tom Webster, who co-hosted the webinar with John Rosso of Triton Digital.

As in previous years, the Infinite Dial presentation was divided into several segments. This year’s survey topics are Media & Technology, Online Radio, Audio Brands, Music Discovery, Podcasting, In-Car Media, and Social.

Media & Technology

A key finding in this group is about smartphone ownership, which continues to stretch upward. The trend is especially evident in younger age groups. Among the 12-24 segment, smartphone ownership is at 93% — a really impressive number that Tom Webster said might be “a theoretical maximum” of marketplace saturation.  Across the entire survey, 76% of respondents owned smartphones.

Another slice of the technology segment illuminated a decline in radio ownership.

infinite dial 2016 radios owned

Over the past eight years, the percentage of respondents who don’t own a radio has grown from 4% to 21%. Among younger Americans (18-34), the non-ownership number is 32%

Online Radio

As leaked (by Edison) earlier this week, the headline stat here is that 50% of Americans listen to online radio weekly — that’s a projected 136-million people. Fifty percent is a fat, round number that represents a milestone.

Edison overlayed the growth of online radio listening with the rise of smartphone ownership to illuminate the inseparable connection between the two trends, as stream-listening migrates fast to mobile.

infinite dial 2016 relationship online radio smartphones 02



Audio Brands

Pandora is the preeminent audio brand recognized by Americans.

infinite dial 2016 brand awareness

Worth noting that when respondents were asked about Apple Music, the question included “formerly known as iTunes Radio.” That probably helped life Apple Music recognition, even though iTunes Radio was a different product for the first seven months of Apple Music, before it was folded into Apple Music at the end of January, about midway through The Infinite Dial survey period.

Pandora’s recognition lead is impressive, and backed up by listening. In the past month, 32% of survey subjects reported listening to Pandora, against 13% to Spotify, 12% to iHeartRadio, and 12% to Apple Music. However, Pandora listening did decline in the 2016 survey compared to 2015, while Spotify and some others inched up in reach.

infinite dial 2016 brand used most often 2015-2016

“Spotify is the big winner in terms of growth.” –John Rosso, Triton Digital

Music Discovery

How do Americans stay up-to-date with music. And the deeper question: Do Americans want to stay current? Infinite Dial tackled both queries.

Interestingly, only 17% of the total population prioritized the importance of keeping up-to-date. That number grows to 29% for the 12-24 cohort — still less than a third of young respondents.

Across the whole survey, three sources lead the way for staying current: Friends/family, AM/FM, and YouTube. Pandora, Spotify, and iHeartRadio are pushed down in the ranking.

infinite dial 2016 discovery sources

Now look what happens to the popularity of those sources when the 12-24 group is queried:

infinite dial 2016 discovery sources 12-24

YouTube. We’ll say it again: YouTube. Pandora is also higher in that group. Both AM/FM and SiriusXM appear to suffer from that migration.

More detailed context around general YouTube use here:

infinite dial 2016 youtube usage


During the Infinite Dial webinar, there was a Twitter clamor for podcasting information, which came later in the show. The key takeaways from this section speak to the upside of podcasting, which is growing but still relatively low in reach. A bit over one-third of Americans (36%) have ever listened to a podcast. Twenty-one percent listen monthly, and 13% (35-million Americans) listen weekly. As Edison Research has established in the past, the weekly users are super-listeners who average five shows a week.

Compared to 2015, this year’s survey saw a jump in male listeners, and a shift to mobile.

In-Car Media

Infinite Dial 2016 shows that online radio is nascent in the car.

infinite dial 2016 audio sources in car

Pausing on the above slide during the webinar, co-host John Rosso noted, “What surprises me is the CD player’s refusal to die.” (Which led to a lot of jokery about CDs for the webinar’s duration.) We are surprised at this result also.

Car radio advocates will rejoice at the continued supremacy of AM/FM in the car, which is deserved, but comes with a shadow. Edison Research also discovered that only 12% of cars driven by survey respondents were equipped with an in-dash infotainment system. (See below.) As we have repeatedly noted in RAIN News, the average age of the American car is 11.4 years. As the fleet modernizes, in-car streaming will become an easier choice to make, while the presence of AM/FM is simultaneously reduced and changed. The competition has barely started.

infinite dial 2016 in-car infotainment in dash




Brad Hill


  1. I am writing a college textbook entitled Electronic Media. I would like to use some of the information from this article in my book. Who can I contact about getting permission to use one or more of the graphs in this article?

  2. Hello Norm — the graphs belong to Edison Research and Triton Digital, co-producers of The Infinite Dial. The slides are posted on the Edison Research website. I suggest inquiring about usage and attribution in a textbook. Thanks.

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