All Audio is Not Alike: What Each Type Brings to Listeners and Advertisers

Audio type

Lots of people are talking about audio these days. And for good reason. Smartphones and smart speakers have people listening to more audio and more different types of audio than ever.

The downside, though, of talking about “audio” in general is that it can put every type of audio—radio, music streaming, and podcasts—into the same bucket, as if they are all shades of the same colour.  That suggests there’s a zero-sum game at play here: as people start listening to one type of audio, they stop listening to another; or, from an advertising perspective, that new ad dollars going to one type of audio need to be re-allocated from other audio rather than from other media altogether.  

AM/FM radio, music streaming and podcasting each serve a distinct set of needs and listening activities, creating opportunities of their own for advertisers.

We just conducted some research that confirms the widely varied roles played by each audio medium.

In a June 2021 online survey of 1,510 Canadian adults in conjunction with Radio Connects, we asked weekly listeners of different types of audio where, when and why they use each type of audio. To get the full picture, we included listener’s owned music (downloaded songs, CDs, vinyl) even though it lies beyond the reach of advertising.

Below is a profile of the needs served by each type of audio, ranked by the leading reasons for listening to each audio medium.

audio types

Three of the four audio types show unique profiles.

AM/FM Radio stands alone as the audio most widely used to “get information” and “feel connected.” Podcast listeners most commonly listen to satisfy their curiosity: they listen “to learn something new” but also “to be entertained” and podcasts are the only audio type where many also listen “to be inspired.”

Meanwhile, motivations for listening to owned music and music streaming services look remarkably similar to each other, sharing six of the seven leading needs states. Listeners often use both their owned music and music streaming services to relax, unplug and escape—that’s a full 180 degree turn from radio which serves listeners’ need “to feel connected.”

Activities while listening also paint a clear picture of the differences by audio type.

audio types

AM/FM Radio again carves out a distinct profile, most frequently riding shotgun as listeners commute, shop or run errands in their cars.

Listeners to the other types of audio are more homebound, being most likely to listen while “relaxing at home.” Many listeners to podcasts and owned music also listen in the car, unlike music streamers where data charges likely get in the way.

Once again, owned music and music streaming services share nearly identical user profiles, where listening while entertaining at home and working out or exercising dovetail neatly with the need state of listening to amplify or celebrate the moment.

Five Key Takeaways:

  1. Agencies and advertisers need to think out of the ‘audio box’ when it comes to sourcing ad dollars, keeping the unique context of each type of audio in mind while planning their media.
  2. AM/FM Radio serves a particularly distinct set of needs and use cases, reaching listeners when they are seeking information and connection and when they are out and about.
  3. Programmers looking to tap into broadcast radio’s unique selling proposition in today’s audio landscape are wise to focus on informing and connecting with their audience.
  4. Music streaming services and owned music each play virtually the same role in listeners’ lives. This reinforces what we’ve seen in our research over the past 15 years—that the growth of music streaming, much of it now accessed through a paid ad-free subscription, has largely come from time spent with owned music.
  5. Podcast listening marches to its own drummer. As one of the only media used to learn something new, to entertain and to inspire at the same time, podcasts may have more in common with print and video than with other types of audio.

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Signal Hill Insights is an audio research consultancy. We partner with publishers, broadcasters and advertisers to tap new opportunities in audio. If you’d like to know more about our brand lift studies or the other audio research we do, visit us at