Yes, Podcast Listenership Is Still on the Rise

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From The Vulture:

If you’re a longtime Hot Pod reader, you probably know that I hold Edison Research’s annual Infinite Dial study in high regard. The survey-based study of digital media usage has been the longest-running measure of podcast audiences going back to the medium’s earliest days, and as a result, the story they’re able to tell is the one I consider the most reliable.

. . . .

I don’t need to tell you that a lot has happened over the last twelve months. From a purely podcast standpoint, the wave of lockdowns that began last spring — then ebbed, then flowed, then splayed out into a messy patchwork system — resulted in some initial declines in listenership as the morning commute went away, along with a significant restructuring of work processes and mild consternation over whether there’ll still be a podcast business on the other side of the pandemic.

. . . .

Eventually, though, podcast consumption rebounded as its structural advantages within the context of pandemic conditions came into sharper view. The medium lent well to remote-production workflows, which in turn attracted more participation from creators and celebrity talent and media companies, which in turn led to the creation of more podcasts and greater recruitment of their respective followings into the medium. Listening behaviors as a whole ended up adapting, moving away from the morning commute and towards more afternoon consumption. The case began to be made that podcasting, more so than many other new media infrastructures, was uniquely suited to meeting the moment. But the question was: To what extent?

The 2021 edition of the Infinite Dial study, published last week, gave an answer: to a considerable extent.

Let’s break the report’s podcast-specific findings out. To begin with, the study recorded gains in the major audience sizing metrics:

➽ 41% of the total U.S. population over the age of twelve, or an estimated 116 million Americans, can now be considered monthly podcast listeners, up from 37% the year before.

➽ 28% of the total U.S. population, or an estimated 80 million Americans, can now be considered habitual weekly podcast listeners, up from 24% the year before.

➽ Meanwhile, podcast familiarity — that is, the extent to which Americans are aware of the medium — continued to grow, present among 78% of the total U.S. population, or an estimated 222 million Americans, up from 75% the year before.

The American podcast audience was also found to have grown more diverse from a gender and ethnicity standpoint, with the study arguing that it has drifted towards a composition that more closely reflects the American population. (One specific finding that leapt out: There were exceptional gains among Hispanic listeners over the past year in particular.)

The report also found that the American podcast audience has deepened their engagement with the medium more generally. This is represented in the finding that weekly U.S. podcast listeners now average eight podcasts per week — typically interpreted as “podcast episodes” — up from six podcasts per week.

A quick note on some methodological progression here: This year’s report also includes a new “average podcast shows in the last week” measure, made distinct from a “podcasts per week” metric. The specific finding on that front: Weekly U.S. podcast listeners averaged 5.1 podcast shows in the last week.

. . . .

It should be clear by now that the podcast ecosystem is being fundamentally stitched into other media systems, whether we’re talking about the medium’s competition for listening time against other audio formats (like audiobooks) or how it’s being increasingly absorbed by competition between the large audio streaming platforms.

. . . .

➽ The report argues that “Spotify has solidified its spot as the largest single-source for online audio, and has played a role in the growth of podcasting (especially with younger listeners).” The platform leads in all the important measures, with Pandora consistently coming in second place.

➽ Audiobook listening seems to be flattening back out. After a spike in the 2019 study (50% of the total U.S. population, up from 44% the year before), that measure now hovers at 45% and 46% of the total U.S. population over the past two studies.

➽ Some interesting findings within the context of in-car media consumption. Of course, the broader point to consider is the fact that folks are driving less during the pandemic, but it’s still interesting to see that AM/FM radio has dropped to 75% of population from 81% of population in the “audio sources currently ever used in the car” measure and that half of the total U.S. population engages in online audio listening in the car through a cell phone, up from 45% of the population the year before.

Link to the rest at The Vulture

PG has a long and spotty history as a podcast listener.

  • When podcasts first started to be a thing, PG checked out a couple and did not return. Amateur hour, crazy people, terrible sound and production quality.
  • Later, production quality improved, more intelligent people, still didn’t connect with PG’s wowzer button.
  • More recently, close to professional radio production quality, lots of different people discussing lots of different topics, PG subscribed to a couple of podcasts and listened to 1-2 of each, but then faded.

PG thinks that if he were commuting to work, he would quite likely be a regular podcast listener. Gazing out the window on the train, rumbling on a subway or sitting in traffic on a multi-lane highway would all seem to be good times for PG to enjoy hearing someone intelligent speak about topics of interest.

However, sitting in splendor in his cluttered office in the bowels of Casa PG or sitting in a less-cluttered room in a comfy chair, PG still doesn’t feel the urge to listen.

PG can read much faster than anyone can talk. If he closes his eyes to focus on a voice talking into his ears, he’s liable to doze off or daydream off.

With a good TV show, there are spoken words and pictures. (Mrs. PG got totally hooked on Virgin River after a binge watch. Her enthusiasm got PG interested and he enjoyed it so long as he could make an occasional comment to Mrs. PG during scene transitions. PG also liked the great nature shots and wants to travel to the location where the landscape film is show for photos. But how long do we have to wait for Season 3? Mrs. PG has, PG believes, either read all the VR books or has nearly read them all.)

PG can spend enjoyable time at his computer or iPad flitting around online reading/seeing interesting things.

So, for all the visitors to TPV who enjoy listening to podcasts, what is PG missing? He enjoys listening to music (almost always classical) to unwind, but that’s about the only ears-only media experience that he really connects with.

Are there best practices for listening to podcasts? Some podcast listening technique PG has missed? Feel free, as usual, to comment.

15 thoughts on “Yes, Podcast Listenership Is Still on the Rise”

  1. I doubt if you’ve missed anything. I am a “words on paper” person and, like you, I can read much faster than anyone can talk. I also absorb more information by reading than I do by listening. I began my revolt against “noise” many years ago by falling asleep in a history lecture. And have never looked back! 🙂

    • I used to fall asleep regularly in my intro to Western civ class. It wasn’t the instructor, he was very good – but it was an early morning slot, and I have never been sufficiently caffeinated before about 10 AM or so.

      Strange thing is, I could be asleep – but processing. The professor was certain he caught me out once, asking me a question when I was definitely snoring. I woke up, answered the question correctly, and promptly went back to sleep. (This according to my future wife; I had no recollection of it. She says there was absolute silence for a good five minutes after that.)

      Same professor tried to convince me to change my major to history. I sometimes regret that he didn’t succeed.

      • Heh. I hear you.

        I did something like that, way back, first year in college, Calculus 101.
        The school had an excellent library with a deep SF collection (courtesy of the nearby Air Force Base) that I discovered on day one. And Calculus was the last class of the day. Plus I took Advanced Math in High School. So I sat way in the back, reading LENSMEN, until the prof called on me. I answered and went back to the story. Did wonders for my rep even if it annoyed the prof. Did fine on quizzes and tests, too…
        …for the first two months…
        …then he got to Integrals…
        I muddled through the second half and got out with a good grade but by then I’d whittled the library down. 😀
        And rep lives forever even for young and foolish twerps. 😉

  2. I am 100% on PG’s side. I don’t like listening to people talk to me. I make exceptions for long drives, when we listen to podcasts from NPR (A Way With Words and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me). Other than that, I have no patience for listening. If I click on a news story and it’s just video without the printed story, I click away immediately. I read faster than I listen.

    • I forgot to mention that Mrs. PG and I enjoy audiobooks when we’re on a long drive.

      I quit taking long flights before audiobooks-on-iphone were a possibility, but that would have been another audiobook/podcast time for me.

  3. When I was commuting I listened to a lot of audio books (in those days ripped from CDs or on cassette tapes) but – like you – I cannot sit down and with the aim of just listening to a podcast or an audio book at home. I get distracted, mostly by an ebook, sometimes by the cricket on TV.

    However, I have recently discovered that multitasking actually works for me and I am currently listening to a 2015 podcast – an author talking about her writing process – whilst writing this comment. I was surprised that this works for podcasts as I cannot listen to an audio book this way. I think that this is somehow to do with the fact that I’m sitting at my PC desk rather than in the armchair with everything being on one of the many open tabs. I also regularly listen to YouTube videos this way (though some of these muck this up by including useful visual content).

    Mind you, I really prefer podcasts to come with a transcript that I can read.

  4. I like them when I am doing repetitive tasks. Meal prep, dish washing, garden chores. Walking for exercise. I like the ones from NPR (planet money, etc.) Also ClearStory from This Old House. An interesting one to try is “Everything is alive” also from NPR where an interviewer interviews inanimate objects. Assuming any of these use cases apply to you, I suggest putting a little more effort into discovery. There is something out there for everyone.

  5. Podcasts are on-demand talk radio.
    Talking heads without the heads (unless you watch them on Youtube, where they add video clips and animations).

    • And normally without the adverts? And also more likely on a subject that interests you rather than the radio’s producer.

      • The On-Demand aspect of podcasts (and video streaming services) is vastly undersold.

        Some ad-supported video services run their content continuously, like the cable/satellite services folks are ditching in droves. You have to know their schedule to know when a given show runs…
        …or you go to Netflix, HBOMAX, Disney or IMDB TV, among others, and choose what to watch, when.

        New habits of consumption are all over; it’s going to get very Darwinian very soon in most businesses.

  6. I listen to about 24 podcasts in a given two week period on regular rotation. I don’t listen to them when I have to do mundane tasks that last less than 20 minutes or I’m just lounging about. I usually listen to them on my daily walks/hikes (spring/summer) and more recently, long drives. I find what works for me is not listening to basic interview podcasts, but podcasts on a wide range of topics (i.e. business, history, true crime, nature, etc.) to keep my interest. Ever since discovering them in mid 2018, I can’t get enough of them. Reading has pretty fallen by the wayside (haven’t opened a book since March ’20) for me, but podcasts have basically replaced audio books, both old and new, as my go to medium for exercise.

    And for the commenter who was inquiring about adverts, all established and semi-established podcasts have advertising sprinkled throughout, some light and some heavily. One way that platforms make money off of podcasts is to get you to sign up for their premium service. For a nominal monthly fee (some start at as low as $5 per month), you can listen to the podcast ad-free, get the entire season (if you’re listening to a seasonal podcast) weeks before it drops for the public and bonus content, etc.

  7. Thanks for all the comments/suggestions.

    Perhaps I need another go at podcasts. I really like the kid who mows my lawn, but if he becomes unavailable, that might be a podcast time.

  8. From High School through College I read SF during class to stay awake. They were moving at the pace of the slowest person. No problem understanding the lecture or taking notes while reading fiction.

    When I had to attend conferences for my PE License renewal, I would read science books that would normally put me to sleep. Conference plus science book kept me awake. The same with sitting at the shop while my car is being worked on. Many a science book read while I sat most of the day at the shop. But I can’t read novels while at the shop or conference.

    When I am at home, listening to a longform YouTube lecture or interview, I will work on jigsaw puzzles via BrainBreakers5. Doing the puzzle requires no conscious thought so I have plenty of personal bandwidth to listen. If I don’t do the puzzle I drop right to sleep no matter how interesting the lecture.

    Books on tape are simply incomprehensible. The written word, spoken aloud, have the wrong cadence, and I literally can’t understand it.

    When people would insist on reading me a document out loud, it was simply blah, blah, blah. Legal documents of any kind are gibberish. They always insist that I read along while they read the document out loud. Just total noise and the words do not connect on the page while they speak.

    Classic Radio stories are perfectly clear and keep me focused.

    When I tried to learn a language on tape while driving it was nearly a total disaster. It so distracted me, I basically went into self hypnosis and was not conscious while I drove.

    There was a program years ago that would force you to read one word at a time. They claimed it helped people to read. For me it induced a vicious fight/flight response. Yikes!

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