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Premium Audio Entertainment Returns to Homes

While people stayed home during the pandemic, they invested in higher-quality audio systems

We are currently seeing a return of premium audio equipment to the home. People are now buying high-end audio/video receivers and surround systems, and they are appreciating high quality audio.

This is a call to action for broadcasters and streaming groups to up their game.

Concept art from Sony for the HT-A9 Home theater system with 360° sound mapping

At the SVG Summit in New York in December 2021, I had the pleasure of listening to Tom Sahara speak. He made several very good points about changing consumer expectations when it comes to audio quality.

The pandemic has encouraged people to choose high fidelity playback for the streams they listen to. No longer are they listening on poor quality speakers via their computers.

During the pandemic, many people invested in improved audio and video systems to reduce the fatigue caused by poor audio. As companies implemented work from home policies, people spent many hours on conference and video calls with poor audio and video quality.

Many will argue that audio quality is more important than visual, however, radio broadcasters have long argued that a listener will continue listening even through static if the content is compelling.

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Consumer surveys conducted since the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020, help us better understand how consumer demands and expectations are changing.

  • Sound quality is the top priority for end-users, with 52 percent of the respondents saying that they are seeking high-resolution or lossless quality audio. (NPD Group)
  • A key growth driver is increased spending on audio content, including streaming and satellite subscription services, as well as podcasting, which grew 12.4 percent. (PQMedia)
  • Voice integration became a sought-after feature as “smart home” purchases increased during the pandemic. (FutureSource)

The audience will continue to expect premium quality audio even when the pandemic ends. People have accepted that they have to pay a premium for better products.

  • After a breakout year in 2019, Apple AirPods and Samsung Galaxy Buds accounted for more than 67 million units sold, a 35 percent increase. (ReportLinker)
  • Apple’s introduction of the high-end AirPod Max demonstrates a belief that consumers are willing to pay for high-quality sound. (FutureSource)
  • Immersive sound is a key feature of the AirPod Max. (Apple)

The ease of installation and the presence of disposable income has encouraged consumers to have better AV systems in their homes.

  • Sound bars have become popular due to their ease of installation and immersive, spatial sound. (ReportLinker)
  • High-end sound bar systems are Dolby Atmos and DTS:X enabled. (ReportLinker)
  • Sales of home theater systems costing more than $1,000 grew by 32 percent in 2020. (ReportLinker)

The advent of smart speakers has introduced many to streaming audio, and listeners have discovered that it can sound good. Smart speakers are the fastest growing home appliance.

  • Smart speakers sales grew by 31 percent in 2020. (ReportLinker)
  • Smart speakers are emerging as common appliances in the American home; 27 percent of all households own at least one. (Edison Research)

The r revolution has happened. 2020 was the year that 50 percent of home televisions were connected to the internet. Online advertising is exceeding 50 percent growth annually! Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, and Apple TV are common in U.S. households. Over-the-top television is here!

  • Digital video overtakes broadcast TV. In close to half of all countries surveyed, 75 percent of internet users had viewed streaming video-on-demand within the past month. (GlobeNewsWire)
  • Uptake of VOD reached 92.5 percent, further reinforcing the fact that digital video is far more popular among internet users than live TV. (GlobeNewsWire)

The consumer is expecting superior audio.

  • With immersive audio formats, such as Dolby Atmos, video service providers are empowered to deliver a next-gen listening experience for live sports. (TVB Europe)

Audio quality is not confined to the home. Many will discover that streaming will be the crown jewel of the 5G revolution. With low latency, sports streaming will be common.

  • Three apps that saw the most gains in listenership during this pandemic: (Comscore)
  • Pandora ↑ 42 percent
  • iHeartRadio ↑ 11 percent
  • Spotify ↑ 1 percent

The pandemic has pushed the public to want the best quality of audio, and the importance of quality audio is clear. Now the broadcasters have to provide that desired quality or the consumer will go elsewhere. And as consumers continue to invest in high-fidelity, premium audio equipment, broadcasters have to be prepared to always deliver the best.

The author is a consultant who has held technical broadcast and streaming positions for companies like Entercom and CBS Radio. He is co-chair of the AES Technical Committee for Broadcast and Online Delivery and chair of the Metadata Usage Working Group of the National Radio Systems Committee. Contact him at [email protected] or 845-634-6595.