Research firm eMarketer has offered a spicy-sounding headline: ‘US Spotify Listeners Surpassed Pandora Listeners in 2019, Sooner than Expected’. That’s based on the company’s prediction last year that Spotify would overtake Pandora in the US by 2021. Now it reckons that it’s already happened, with Spotify growing from 52 million US listeners in 2018 to 65.4 million in 2019, as Pandora slipped from 68.6 million to 63.1 million in that period.
This isn’t a surprise if you’ve been following our coverage of the two companies’ respective financial results. Spotify ended 2019 with 73.2 million monthly active users in North America, which if eMarketer’s US-only figure is correct, suggests that Spotify had around 7.8 million additional listeners in Canada – about right given the countries’ respective populations. Meanwhile, the latest financial results from Pandora’s parent company SiriusXM revealed that it ended 2019 with 63.5 million monthly active users, down from 69.4 million at the end of 2018.
No surprises, then, but there is more meat in eMarketer’s report. It predicts that Spotify will add 10.5 million listeners in the US this year (taking it to 75.9 million) and that by the end of 2023 it will have 93.4 million Americans on its service. Meanwhile, it expects a shallow decline to continue for Pandora: to 60.8 million US listeners by the end of 2020, and 57.8 million by the end of 2023. SiriusXM may bridle at that prediction though: its plans to return Pandora to listener growth have yet to really kick off, so it’s very early for a research company to be writing them off.
But here’s the interesting thing: eMarketer has also published estimates for Apple and Amazon’s music streaming audiences in the US: 38.7 million people on Amazon Music and 33.7 million on Apple Music. While this sparks some questions (for example: does the US really account for more than 70% of Amazon Music’s 55 million global users?) it also points to something that really would be big news: Amazon potentially being the biggest paid music service in the US.
Here’s our maths on that. Spotify’s financials revealed that North America accounted for 30% of its global subscribers at the end of 2019, which is around 37.2 million Americans. If the same US/Canada ratio as the total listeners figures applied here – around 90:10 – that could mean around 33.5 million US Spotify subscribers. Compare that to eMarketer’s guess of 33.7 million listeners to the subscription-only Apple Music, and 38.7 million Amazon Music listeners.
Caveats! We got ‘em! Amazon Music has a free tier with an unknown number of listeners. Apple Music has free trialists who may or may not be included in eMarketer’s estimates. Family plans and Prime memberships muddy the calculations further. Let’s just say this: it’s not wild speculation to suggest that Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music may be running neck and neck for US listeners on paid subscriptions – and if anything, Amazon might have nosed ahead. A dark horse indeed.