Headphones and earphones sales to spike after earlier flat projections

With remote work, home schooling, and entertainment-in-place now underway, manufacturers need to enhance user experience, said Parks Associates.

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Demand for headphones and earbuds will likely experience "an initial spike" with work-at-home and entertainment-in-place now the standard for many households, according to consumer technology market research firm Parks Associates. This new demand will not diminish consumer expectations for advanced functionality, so device manufacturers still need to prioritize app development and software enhancements to enhance the user experience, the firm said.

Purchase intentions were flat prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, due in large part to the emergence of smart speakers, Parks Associates said. Currently, 44% of US broadband households own speakers; 37% own headphones bought separately from a phone or music player; and 33% own a separate set of earbuds, according to Parks Associates' Smart Product Market Assessment – Audio Devices research.

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"Everyone in the household now needs their own headphones and earbuds for privacy during this time of shelter-in-place orders and work-at-home mandates," said Steve Nason, research director at Parks Associates, in a statement. "Following this initial wave of purchases, users will look to integrate these standalone products with their smart speakers and other connected devices in the home."

This trend was already underway with the gradual dissolution of the "home theater system" concept, Nason said, and now, households feature a collection of different audio products, brands, and devices that must work together to deliver a seamless user experience.

Soundbars, a type of loudspeaker, are now a prominent standalone product category in the audio device landscape, with adoption at nearly one-fourth of US broadband households, Parks Associates said. It is the most likely audio device to be connected to the TV, so soundbars have not been as impacted by smart speakers and displays as other audio products, according to the firm. However, growth has remained flat, Parks Associates said. Adoption of more niche audio devices such as internet-connected audio visual receivers and multiroom music systems has remained low.

"Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the traditional audio device category was at a crossroads," Nason said. "Adoption and usage of devices such as wired/wireless speakers without voice assistants, audio/visual receivers, home theater systems, and multi-room music systems had waned."

While consumers are making purchases now to accommodate working at home and homeschooling needs, manufacturers need to maintain their emphasis on innovation, particularly the integration with voice assistants, so that their devices can have value beyond the initial stop-gap usage, he said.

Device manufacturers and voice assistant providers alike have to better market and communicate the value that integrated voice control brings to audio devices, Parks Associates advises. Increased integration of audio devices and use of high-resolution and 3D audio with the most-used CE video device, smart TVs, will also raise the profile of the audio category.

New patterns expected in podcasts and news consumption

In related research, in March, Parks Associates reported that 36% of US broadband households listen to podcasts weekly, especially younger consumers, and that almost half of podcast consumers are "heavy users, spending more than five hours per week listening." Podcast users are also very interested in bundling podcast services with video and music, according to the firm.

In Q3 2019, Parks Associates research found that 9% of US broadband households subscribed to an online news service. Now, however, the research firm said it expects new patterns of video, music, and news consumption to emerge as a result of the current public health crisis with COVID-19.

"While news consumption is going up during the COVID-19 crisis and daily briefings, most online news outlets have provided their coverage free of charge or outside of the paywall, Nason said, "so the number of households subscribing to an online news service will likely not increase as much in the short term." 

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Yellow headphones on blue background. Music concept.

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By Esther Shein

Esther Shein is a longtime freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in several online and print publications. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of Datamation, a managing editor at BYTE, and a senior writer at eWeek (formerly PC Week)...