Wednesday, December 13, 2006

This Earbud's For You (or maybe not)

Since podcasting emerged as a mainstream media option 18 months ago, I’ve conducted an informal study every time I’ve ridden the subway in New York, Boston, and Washington. After a few dozen rides and observing more than 500 passengers, I offer the following:

· The number of people wearing headphones on the subway has held steady at about 1-in-10 over the course of 18 months.
· There are always more people reading something, usually the newspaper, than listening to recorded audio.

I realize subway riders in these cities aren’t representative of the entire population, different subway lines will yield different results, and that my survey is far from scientific. But it makes me wonder if the iPod and podcasting are significantly increasing the number of people who are sticking headphones in their ears.

Perhaps the bigger threat is people choosing to listen to downloaded podcasts right from their computers or in docking boxes. Anyone know if there is solid research on the topic?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, your observations are clearly misleading.

We all know that Over The Air audio is as dead as the Dodo bird, and iPod rules.

Don't lose the mantra, John: "Everything you know is wrong."

1:23 AM  
Anonymous Todd Mundt said...


I remember coming across a statistic from a study that came out over the summer. It found that somewhere around 90% of downloaded podcasts never make it to the iPod - that listening at the computer is much higher.

I cannot remember where I saw it, I'm sorry to say.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a user, I wound first "sample" a podcast on my desktop before choosing to whether to "keep" it and send it to my mp3 player.

Music will still be the #1 listened to item on iPods for quite some time, I think.

Nathan at TPR, San Antonio

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tough sell there, John...I think there's too many mitigating factors here; you'd need a more controlled study to really have any useful info.

For example, I can immediately think of three factors that can (and no doubt do) skew the reasons why people listen to iPods:

1. GSM Cellphones (like Cingular and T-Mobile) emit an obnoxious dit-dit-dit, dit-dit-dit interference sound to all audio gear within a 3-15ft radius. This is especially true whenever a phone is actively making a call, but it's also true whenever the phone is "touching base" with the nearest cell site...which is near-constant when it can't find a cell site. Such as, when you're underground on a subway.

2. Subways are often very noisy; unless you've got noise-cancelling headphones, or the right kind of deep-canal in-ear buds, you can't hear the iPod worth a damn...even with the volume cranked.

3. iPods...especially the iconic white iPod earbuds...are a crime-magnet in many cities. Good way to get mugged or "podjacked". Get your iPod stolen once while on the subway? Not too likely to ever listen to the iPod on the subway again, I'd imagine.

Individually or even collectively, these may or may not add up to much...but I can easily imagine them to skew the results.

For what it's worth, I ride a subway (trolley, actually...the Green Line) in Boston every day, and the iPod (or iPod like) rate is much higher than 1-in-10, but only at certain times. Specifically...times when lots of Boston University and Boston College students are going to/from classes. :-) It's actually damned obnoxious...many of them have open-ear headphones and the volume cranked to hear the music over the trolley noise. Which means everyone within 15 feet can hear the music just as well as they can. :-(

8:23 PM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

Thanks folks. A final note on this topic. I was just at a meeting at Arbitron with a bunch of other radio consultants and the general sense was the radio is losing tne 12-24 generation to iPods and MP3 players. That's the real threat. It hit me during one of these discussions that what makes the MP3 player different for this generation is the amount of content storage. I used to have a poratbale cassette player. Then a portable CD players. I could carry two hours of music if I was willing to risk a 120 tape. The radio was a greater source of content. It was easier to listen to radio than haul several cassettes (or CDs) around. Mass storage changed that equation. Listening time on an MP3 player lasts as long as the batteries now, not the tape. That means the consumer is not forced in making as many choices about what to listen to next. That's a really interesting dynamic to consider.

6:30 PM  

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