How often do you listen to the radio online? And what does this mean for the medium of radio?
In recent years, there’s been a huge evolution in how we consume information and entertainment.
A few decades ago, the only way to catch up with what was happening in the world was to twiddle with a radio dial to tune into the BBC or a pirate radio station.
You could also wait for a news report in a local paper – but the radio was the easiest way to get information in real-time.
As time progressed and technology became even more innovative, we discovered new ways of transmitting data on the World Wide Web. The internet became the go-to source for news, entertainment, and communication.
However, the rise of the digital world hasn’t meant the death of radio.
Instead, radio stations have discovered a new way to connect with their target audience through websites, smartphone apps, and computer software.
In the age of Spotify, iTunes, and online streaming, internet radio stations are still growing.
Over the past 5 years, the growth of online radio has skyrocketed by 10.3%, reaching a value of $4 billion in the US alone in 2019.
So, why is listening to online radio so popular?
An introduction to online radio history
Dubbed “Internet Talk Radio,” the first station to introduce us to online radio history was created by Carl Malamud in 1993.
The channel was pretty niche, catering to people in the academic industry with interviews from the technology and science spaces.
Though Internet talk radio might not have appealed to everyone back in the day, it did introduce us to a new way of streaming radio content.
Soon after Malamud entered the marketplace, we saw the rise of online live concerts broadcast over the internet.
Companies like Microsoft and Nullsoft even began designing their own audio players so customers could easily access online radio from their laptops and computers.
When RealAudio streaming over HTTP appeared, the growth of online radio began in earnest. The new tech meant that anyone could easily start building their own online show.
You could even broadcast information live – just like you would on an AM/FM terrestrial station.
Since then, the impact of radio streaming over the internet has developed significantly.
According to a report on the Internet Radio Market, companies in the digital world are finding new opportunities for online radio in the emergence of 4G and 5G network connections and a reduced cost of bandwidth.
Massive data storage capacities available on the cloud, combined with the rising availability of Wi-Fi in homes and offices, means that listening to the radio online is an option for countless consumers.
The growth and potential of web-based radio are so significant that countless new players in the market have begun to appear over the years.
Today’s listeners have thousands of stations available that they can tune into each day, either from their computer or smartphone.
Additionally, the demand for internet radio in the automotive sector is making it easier to listen to radio online too.
Many car manufacturers have begun exploring ways to implement internet radio streaming into their vehicles.
Since most of us spend most of our time listening to the radio in the car, it makes sense to make vehicle-based radio more accessible.
The opportunities of online radio
Online radio is one of the most exciting opportunities that the broadcasting world has to offer today.
According to many experts, streamed radio online has the potential to capture your attention more than television, video, or books.
That’s because regardless of how busy you are or what you’re doing, you can still listen to music or shows in the background and absorb the message they’re sending.
According to reports from Statista, about 4.4 billion people were active online internet users in April 2019. That means that more than half of the world (58%) are actively searching online for entertainment and information.
The reach of the World Wide Web means that there are endless opportunities to convince customers to listen to the radio online.
No matter what your niche might be or where your radio station is located, having an online version of your stream could be one of the easiest ways to reach a new audience.
Today, many leading radio stations, including the BBC and Virgin Radio, are experimenting with internet-based radio. Through the iPlayer app, you can listen to your favorite shows live or download streams that have aired in the past.
This means that you can even tune into radio programming that you might have missed accidentally. No other form of radio has this flexibility to offer. Usually, leading radio stations provide online radio alongside FM and DAB streams.
This gives consumers a range of choices based on how they want to listen to music.
Going forward, the growth of data in the digital landscape also ensures that online radio companies will be able to deliver more personalized experiences to their target audiences.
Already, some of the leading streaming services are taking advantage of digital analytics tools and customer relationship management (CRM) services so that they can find out what kind of programs people listen to most.
The vast amounts of personal data available online mean that companies from any radio background can find out what their audience is interested in hearing.
In the future, the growth of online radio and new methods of streaming could mean that we not only have more kinds of radio to listen to online, but we also have more personalized experiences catered to our needs.
Problems for people who listen to online radio
It’s difficult to argue with the phenomenal growth of online radio today.
However, as exciting as listening to internet radio stations can be, it isn’t perfect. Just like other broadcasting strategies that came before, online radio history has been plagued with issues that broadcasters need to overcome to make their stations more accessible.
Currently, in the United States, internet radio usage is enormous.
According to Deloitte, the global revenue for radio will reach $40 billion in 2025. In fact, 85% of the worldwide population will listen to the radio weekly this year.
That makes radio one of the most popular sources of information and entertainment in the world.
Unlike other forms of media, radio continues to perform relatively well with virtually all demographics.
Unfortunately, there’s one major issue with internet radio that has prevented it from completely overtaking FM and AM radio broadcasting so far.
Although listening to radio online gives listeners more freedom, it also means that they’re reliant on the data allowances and bandwidth that they have access to on their devices. There are limits on the amount of data you can even access at home with a broadband provider.
This means that if you listen to the radio throughout the day, you could quickly eat up your allowance. If you’re not careful, streamed radio online can lead to a hefty monthly bill from your internet provider.
Additionally, even if you have unlimited data from your broadband provider when it comes to home and business broadband, there are more places to listen to online radio, too.
If you want to tap into the radio online in your car or from your smartphone, then you’ll have mobile and roaming fees to think about. This extra expense can make it very difficult for some consumers to access their entertainment and information programs as much as they would like to.
Smart speakers and the rise of streamed radio online
Although the expense and limitations associated with listening to radio online can be problematic, they don’t necessarily mean that the growth of online radio will stop.
Instead, it’s likely that the rise of technology like 5G streaming will allow data providers to offer larger data allowances to their customers without any huge fees.
5G is one of the most exciting new technologies on the market for online radio. 5G wireless technology makes it easier to send vast amounts of data across the airwaves at break-neck speed.
According to experts, the arrival of 5G will make the delivery of streamed content faster, more ubiquitous, and potentially even cheaper. However, there’s a good chance you’ll need to buy a new phone or device to make sure that 5G is accessible.
Another significant tech development that’s impacted the growth of online radio is the smart speaker.
The adoption of smart speakers has been astronomical in recent years. Studies suggest that there are around 57.8 million smart speaker users in the United States alone.
Importantly, people with smart speakers aren’t just using these devices to check the time and order pizza. They’re also accessing them as a means to enjoy their favorite radio channels.
According to some studies, 54% of households specifically use their smart speaker to access streamed radio online. This is the third most popular thing to do with a smart speaker device.
As the adoption of intelligent tools continues to ramp up around the world, it’s sure to have a sustained impact on how we listen to radio streams.
Data revealed in 2019 found that the number of total listening hours spent on online radio has doubled thanks to the rise of smart speakers.
The combination of faster and more efficient mobile technology and the rise of smart speakers and intelligent assistants means that the future of online radio has nowhere to go but up.
We’re continually finding new ways to make it easier to listen to radio online, regardless of where you are or what your tastes might be.
The continued growth of online radio
The growth of online radio is set to continue at an incredible pace in the years ahead.
Predictions from leading market analysts like Deloitte suggest that global radio revenue grew by around 1% in 2019.
Although that might not seem like much, the same studies also indicate that about 3 billion people around the world are listening to the radio each week as of this year.
The UK is the fifth largest market for delivering ongoing radio revenues, with a net income of around £1.3 billion in 2017.
However, the United States shows its love for listening to radio online, with an annual revenue of approximately £17.2 billion in comparison.
There are many reasons why radio, in general, and online radio continue to grow as exceptional sources of entertainment across the globe. Specifically, one of the biggest benefits of the digital world is the freedom that it provides us.
Online, we can stream endless radio shows from around the world without having to worry about things like geographical boundaries or limited network reach.
Some of the biggest reasons for the continued growth of online radio are:
1. Ease of access
Accessing the radio hasn’t been particularly challenging since the days of Guglielmo Marconi. However, it’s fair to say that streaming broadcasts online makes it easier to access your favorite shows.
Whether you’re taking the tube to work or on vacation, if you have internet access, you can find the shows you love.
Additionally, many of the specialist apps available for online radio today come with the option to tune into previous streams that you might have missed. That means you never have to worry about being late to a program again.
2. Discover new sounds and experiences
If you’re a true music fan, then there’s no doubt that you love tracking down new sources of entertainment, wherever they are.
Most terrestrial radio stations available these days focus on introducing you to the top trending music on the market.
There are endless top 40 streams that you can listen to when you’re in your car, but that’s not very exciting when you’re looking for something new.
Unlike traditional radio, online stations give you the freedom to discover brand-new experiences online.
You can track down music from different cultures and explore an exhaustive variety of incredible shows from people you might never find with a typical broadcasting stream.
There are even niche websites devoted to particular types of music that you probably wouldn’t be able to tune into with a typical radio station.
3. Good audio quality
Not only does online radio give listeners a wider variety of music and shows to listen to, but it could also improve the quality of the broadcasting that you can access.
There are none of the network issues or interference problems you’d expect with FM and DAB radios.
You can even stream popular radio stations from across the planet if you want to, with virtually no loss of quality.
As technology like 5G becomes even more accessible, it will become increasingly easy to access CD-quality sound through the internet, whether you’re tuning in via your smartphone computer or a Wi-Fi-enabled radio set from brands like Roberts or Pure.
For true audiophiles who hate the scratchy sound of a radio station that just can’t connect, there’s nothing like that in streamed radio online.
4. Social Media Influence
If you’re active on social media, you’ll agree that most online radio stations are highly active on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. It’s no wonder social media has been deemed the fuel for online radio’s growth.
According to Demand Sage, 4.9 billion people use social media in 2023. Going by this statistic, 60.49% of the world’s population is on social media.
Being aware of this information, online radio stations are currently leveraging social media platforms to engage with their audience. This explains why more stations are getting on social media.
Shazam has made it even easier to leverage social media to grow online radios. You can select songs to listen to on this app, which then compares your selection to that of your Facebook friends. This makes it easier to discover radio stations and popular songs among your friends list.
Online radio stations are taking advantage of these connections to curate music suited for their target audience.
5. Extensive Music Variety
You’ll agree that online radio apps have more music than you can listen to. The best part is that these radios categorize their music into genres to make identification easier for listeners.
Whether you’re a hip-hop, reggae, or classical music lover, these radio apps have something for you. Consequently, many people are turning to these apps to stream their favorite music without the need to download them.
With online radio apps, producers can produce and submit their music for listeners. As a result, there is an exhaustive list of songs and categories on online radio than there is on their terrestrial counterparts.
You should expect that as more people keep turning to online radio platforms for music, these platforms will continue growing. We should expect the trend to continue into the future.
Why are people listening to radio online?
With so many different ways to find entertainment online, you might be wondering why people are still turning to the radio. After all, you’ve got everything from video on YouTube to online games and social media today.
Studies from the Lots of Online People group suggest that millennials and younger generations don’t necessarily listen to online radio as regularly as older generations. However, that doesn’t mean that the growth of online radio is dwindling.
Instead, the biggest drop-off in young listeners for radio stations happens when those channels don’t offer a reliable source of online streaming.
We’re living in a world where many of the younger generations are used to being able to access the information and entertainment they want instantly, with no waiting whatsoever.
That means that streamed radio online makes it easier for everyone – no matter their age – to find the shows that they want.
Additionally, more companies are investing in tools and applications that make it easier for younger generations to access the most popular radio stations they enjoy on their smartphones and tablets.
As mobile browsing becomes increasingly more popular than standard desktop computer use, it’s no surprise that radio stations that cater to the mobile world are becoming more valuable.
The rise of online radio has ensured that the medium of radio entertainment can remain a powerful solution for companies all around the world.
Just as we relied on radio to access information and entertainment in the early days of broadcasting, we still turn to our favorite channels today.
Like DAB radio broadcasting, online radio has given yet another lifeline to a medium that many customers would probably describe as old-fashioned.
According to a report from Neilson, 91% of people in the US still depend on their radio sets and digital streams.
Is online radio the future of broadcasting?
Since the dawn of the very first radio set, radio has evolved consistently with the times. From the initial Morse code messages broadcast on the front lines to the pirate radio stations that emerged as a way to deliver a wider variety of entertainment to the masses, it seems as though the radio can always adapt to the needs of its audience.
That certainly seems to be the case when we look at online radio history and the continued growth of internet stations today. However you look at it, it appears that radio continues to be the most effective way to capture the hearts and minds of listeners.
Whether you’re a news station broadcasting announcements around the world or a music station, someone out there wants to hear from you.
Although the online world introduced a new variety of entertainment opportunities for the modern consumer, it didn’t spell the end for radio. Instead, online radio became a new and exciting way for people to continue enjoying the shows that they love with more freedom and diversity.
According to the annual Music 360 report from Nielson in the US, the radio is still the number one most popular way to discover new sounds.
Additionally, the All Dimension Audience Research report also indicates that the number of Americans over the age of 12 who listen to the radio has remained consistent since the 1970s! If that doesn’t speak to the enduring potential of radio, we don’t know what does.
Although traditional “terrestrial” radio might not be as appealing as it was a few decades ago, online radio has offered a new lifeline to the radio channel, ensuring its popularity can continue.
Radio continues to be one of the best ways to listen to music and consume news reports – and streamed radio online plays a big part in that fact.
Radio Fidelity: For the love of radio.