Pandora or dinner?

Is it me, or has anyone else noticed that new smart phone pricing policies could alter the listening landscape and force marketers to rethink how to reach their targets?

I recently contacted my cell phone provider to question an unusual charge on my bill. It seems I went over my data plan limit. Limit?  I thought it was unlimited. I quickly learned that when my contract renewed, unlimited was no longer part of the plan. Ah, the fine print.

Adding up the ramifications, I spent the next 24 hours monitoring exactly how much data I was using. I listened to Pandora during my daily 80-minute roundtrip commute, watched a couple of YouTube videos imbedded in e-mails, downloaded a few apps, and did some miscellaneous stuff I do every day while out of the office and home. I was spending money without realizing it. It was insidious, and the next thing I knew, another twenty bucks appeared on my cell phone bill. Cha-ching!

Knowing that my unlimited data plan was no longer limitless, I immediately started tightening my usage budget. That got me thinking how other users might change habits as well and gravitate to lower-cost (free) listening options instead of those that suck up megabytes and dollars. And that got me thinking how marketers might be the next in line to change their spending habits if audiences tune in elsewhere.

Lately, we’ve been hearing lots of talk about the connected dashboard coming to a car near you. Eventually, we’ll have a major fuel leak, but with data and dollars, because it will be so easy to check e-mail, send text messages, listen to streaming audio or video, and get hooked on anything that’s possible on a smart phone or tablet. But, we’ll be in the car, where we won’t have Wifi to cover us all the time.

It could be a rude awakening when that first bill arrives under the new limited data plans. Many consumers will have to question the importance of personal listening preferences when there is a hefty cost factor that didn’t previously exist. Imagine it: What will it be tonight, Pandora or dinner?

 Maybe that sounds extreme, but it’s highly likely that if listening patterns change, so might the advertising dollars associated with them. There’s always the chance that many will pay the premium to keep doing what they want, but not all.

Do I see dark clouds on the horizon? Not yet. But you can bet people will be a lot more judicious and the number and length of sessions will decrease for Pandora, Spotify, broadcast streaming, and other “data eaters.” As marketers, it might mean that you’re not getting the message exposure you think you are. It may result in people spending even more time with broadcast radio, particularly if more tuner chips are activated beyond just the phones we have today.

I took a personal poll of four Millennials, all working and paying their own way. On the issue, they all said they would watch their bills. Two said they would not change their data use unless it got a lot more expensive, and the other two said they wouldn’t pay more, even if it meant they had to change their habits. Hardly scientific, I know. Only time will reveal the true impact on media consumption. But I can tell you this—it really caught my attention. It affected my behavior, and you can bet it will affect others as well.