Answer: A little but not as much as some people think
In a poll taken a few years ago drivers were asked how they listened to audio in the car. Almost 2/3 said broadcast radio. Internet streaming was at 2%. Two. I'd guess the number has gone up since then, but that's still a teeny number. With that small a number the cell networks are already straining. 5G and the new spectrum will help, but moving even half of broadcasts numbers to cell connections would melt the entire system. It just does not scale. Fortunately there's an answer. It's called a broadcast. It's infinitely scaleable with no additional bandwidth. It works and will continue to work.
There's a long history of pundits claiming a mass media was dead when a new one came along. Television didn't kill radio. Television didn't kill movies. Videotape didn't kill movie theaters. Everyone will shift around and adjust, but I forecast radio has a long life.
I am not as sanguine as you. The survey you noted referred to streaming usage only in the context of driving. For the sake of argument, lets say that people drive for a total of an hour each day. That means that there are 23 hours that they are not driving.
When I am not driving, I never listen to broadcast radio. I might listen to the programming from a station, but it might be a station halfway across the world. In other words, I listen exclusively to streams. Right now, I am listening to an instrumental-only Easy Listening stream. Which no local radio station currently programs. Later today, if I get sleepy in the afternoon, I might switch to a stream of instrumental folk metal.
What I am getting at is that people have niche tastes. By its nature, radio has to be fairly broad format because physics limit the number of stations that can broadcast, even if digital radio had traction. By contrast, an almost infinite number of streams is possible. Plus, the audio quality of streams is, almost always, far higher than broadcast radio. And you don't have problems getting the signal in a building with thick walls or located below ground level.
Last Edit: May 21, 2019 8:42:28 GMT -7 by amanuensis
I need to clarify what I said in my original post. Besides streaming, there are an increasing number of people who while they may not be streaming audio while driving, are listening to some other music source such as an iPod or similar MP3 device. There's also the older methods of in-car audio alternatives such as CD players, although those are becoming less prevalent every year. Finally, many new cars are equipped with HD and satellite radio entertainment systems, which offers another alternative to traditional AM/FM radio. I agree with CA in that I don't think terrestrial radio is in danger of dying in the next 10-15 years. However, as technology continues to evolve, the number of radio listeners is bound to decline, which is especially true of AM stations. IMO, only the major media conglomerates like iHeart, Cumulus, Hubbard, et al are likely to have enough cash to invest in upgrading AM to digital. The local 1 KW pea shooter stations that are struggling to pay their bills are certainly not going to have $30 K or more to invest in a new transmitter and antenna upgrades for digital broadcasting.
You''re right amanuensis. I did only refer to mobile listening, though that is the majority of audio listening that Americans do. The data bottleneck is functionally irrelevant for wired based connections and that is important. I tried to find some survey comparing the number of hours spent streaming while in a fixed location that would likely be a wired connection vs a mobile connection but was unsuccessful. For the sake of argument let's use your example of driving 1 hour per day, which I think is perfectly reasonable. Even if the listener was streaming using some virtually unconstrained bandwidth 4 other hours a day that still leaves 20% of the time where that constraint is a problem. However, any other use case is actually irrelevant to the discussion. That hour still has to be taken into consideration. Stations can and have survived on very small listening windows like that. Don't get me wrong. Streaming is a good thing. You mentioned the variety that can't exist on a platform that has to appeal to a broad audience. That's absolutely correct. The advantages to streaming are undeniable. The problem is (with apologies to Star Trek) you can not change the laws of physics. It just won't work.
To David's point about audio other than broadcast radio or streaming, here are the numbers from the survey I mentioned earlier.
Broadcast radio (AM/FM) 63% Media player/CD/DVD/Tape 11% Satellite 15% Internet 2% Other 1% I don't listen 4%
I think things like MP3 players actually have a better shot at unseating broadcasts, but the panic over that threat already came and went. The industry was having this same debate when the iPod took the world by storm around 2006 or whatever it was. It made a difference for sure but broadcast radio is still humming along nicely. Ditto for satellite, which has other problems. I've seen this movie before.
Streaming isn't a threat... EVERYTHING is *already* a threat.
Any serious broadcaster who does not see the erosion well underway, must be living under a rock. Radio always bragged how they had "practically 100% of the audience." That brag has dwindled to "over half the audience."
Look at the value of an FM property? It is a tiny fraction of what it was in 2000 during the peak. It's lower than it was in 1990, pre-peak. If radio still commanded the respect from the audience the industry claims, the stations wouldn't be losing value so quickly.
Radio treated its audience poorly for 20 years. With loyalty gone, the industry is now nothing more than a depreciating commodity in the face of new competition.
Look at individual behavior: I listen to podcasts/Spotify more than 50% of the time in the car, because Bluetooth makes it so darn easy (Apple Carplay will make it even easier). Fifteen years ago, I listened to radio 100% of the time because it was all I had.
Henry, you have some good points, but there are a few problems with your statements. One, radio still reaches over 90% of Americans on a weekly basis. (https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2018/how-america-listens-the-american-audio-landscape.html) Two, the immediate post-deregulation bubble of the late 90's was severely overvalued and everybody knew it. That's pretty safe to ignore, so let's just compare 1990 to today. There were 10819 radio stations in 1990. Today there are 15514. With an increase in supply the price goes down. That doesn't even consider the explosive growth of HD subchannels and translators.
I completely agree with your point about radio treating its audience poorly. I think it goes well back even more than 20 years even. If you want to hear what great radio could sound like, take a look at the Top 40 stations on the 60's and 70's. There's a great example of that coming up on the July 4th weekend over at rewoundradio.com They'll be running airchecks of who a lot of people consider the greatest DJ of all time - Dan Ingram. (Ironically, it's an internet station doing it.)
As to your last point, go back and reread my original post. It would be really great if you could fit 50 people in a minivan. It's just not possible!