This Device Quietly Outnumbers Smartphones And Attracts More Ad Dollars, And Yet The Mobile Economy Must Avoid Its Fate.

Today, the world’s population enjoys nearly universal access to a particular device that drives massive levels of engagement and commerce. Let’s see if you can guess what it is.

  • As of 2011, on average there were 2.2 of these devices per capita in the industrialized world.

  • Worldwide, 4 billion of these existed as of 2011, meaning there’s than one for every other person in the world.

  • In 2014, Americans spent 12 percent of their media time engaged with these devices and the content they enable. That’s more than twice as much as they spent reading newspapers and magazines combined.

  • In the U.S. alone, advertisers spent over $17 billion to reach users of these devices in 2014.

With numbers like these, you’d expect these devices and their ecosystems to be a hot space for commerce, advertising, and venture capital, right?

Here’s the kicker: if you guessed that the device in question is a smartphone, you’d be wrong. These statistics all apply to radio. (I’ll include their sources at the end of the post.)

What’s clear is that in many categories, radio outperforms smartphones. Based on the 2011 statistics mentioned above, Americans own many more radios – more than 600 million, including the radios in their cars – than they do smartphones (173 million per comScore). U.S. advertisers spent about $4 billion more in radio than in mobile marketing in 2014.

Aside from growth in digital services like Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio, though, radio is fairly stable. It has had decades to establish its near ubiquity, and its business models are as familiar as they are mature. Radio ad revenues are flat because it hasn’t translated its omnipresence and audience reach into more lucrative and varied monetization.

I point this out because there is nothing guaranteeing that mobile won’t realize a fate like radio’s. American consumers spend much more time with smartphones than they do listening to the radio. Consumers can buy stuff with their smartphones, something radio cannot match. No one in our industry would suggest that the full financial potential of the mobile economy has been achieved, though, which means we still face the risk that it may not happen.

To avoid that outcome, mobile, which is infinitely more customizable and personal than radio, must unlock these advantages to drive more commerce. Advertisers must evolve their craft to deliver creative that engages, delivers relevance, and yet does not get creepy for the data it uses and collects. Apps, which account for most of the time we spend with our smartphones, must become easier to find, acquire and use.

In other words, more money must flow to more participants in the mobile economy.


Radios per capita in industrialized world and worldwide here.

Media time spent with radio, courtesy of Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends report.

Radio advertising spend here.


  1. Radio ad revenues are flat because it hasn’t translated its omnipresence and audience reach into more lucrative and varied monetisation. Couldn’t agree more.
    Mobile has some way to go in that direction. But in the meantime, Radio can still make a change – by embracing the power that Smartphones can bring to Radio. Something we are passionate about making happen.


  2. Pay attention to the interaction audio advertising space! Its going to start heating up now that the IAB created an audio advertising standard.


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