Feb 12, 2024 - Business

Audio industry shrinks despite streaming gains

Illustration of a hand flicking the top of a microphone off of its body.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Audio companies are being hit with new rounds of job cuts and cost cutting measures, despite how music and podcast listenership continue to grow in the U.S.

Why it matters: Digital audio revenue has yet to make up for the rapid decline in traditional radio ad spend.

Data: Edison Research; Note: Radio includes all linear audio sources, including over-the-air radio, radio streams, radio services, etc. On-demand platforms includes podcasts, owned music, paid streaming services, etc.); Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Edison Research; Note: Radio includes all linear audio sources, including over-the-air radio, radio streams, radio services, etc. On-demand platforms includes podcasts, owned music, paid streaming services, etc.); Chart: Axios Visuals

Of note: The television industry is facing a similar problem.

  • While more viewership flows to streaming, TV networks are far from being able make up for their linear TV ad losses with digital streaming.

Driving the news: Some audio companies, including Big Tech firms and record labels, have scaled back in response to a slower ad market and the potential impacts of artificial intelligence.

  • SiriusXM on Monday said it would eliminate 160 jobs — or roughly 3% of staff — less than a year after the firm laid announced it would lay off 475 staffers (roughly 8% of staff).
  • Audacy, the publicly traded radio giant, earlier this month laid off 12 members of Pineapple Street Studios' podcast division, representing around 25% of Pineapple Street Studios' staff. The news came weeks after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
  • Spotify cut 1,500 jobs in December — 17% of its workforce. Last year Spotify cut 6% of its staff — roughly 600 employees — and it cut 200 roles after consolidating its podcast division.
  • Warner Music Group said it plans to lay off 600 people — about 10% of its workforce — last week.
  • Universal Music Group plans to cut hundreds of jobs this quarter.
  • Sony laid off members of its podcast division and canceled some shows last fall.
  • Amazon's ebook company Audible laid off 100 people last month — roughly 5% of its staff, citing the need for efficiencies.
  • Clubhouse last year laid off half of its employees.

Be smart: For some firms, the cutbacks or responsible growth is working.

  • Spotify last week said it lost less money than it was anticipating in the final quarter of 2023, after turning a profit the previous quarter for the first time since 2022.
  • Slate had its most profitable year in its 27-year history, in 2023, thanks in part to heavy investments in its podcast unit.
  • Vox Media has grown its own podcast network, acquiring studios like Criminal Productions and hiring podcast personalities.

The big picture: Music catalog sales have continued to capture investor interest.

  • Just this week, news outlets reported that Sony has agreed to pay more than $600 million to acquire half of Michael Jackson's catalog, which could make it the richest music catalog deal ever.
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