News podcasts were already poised to have a strong year with a presidential election, and the coronavirus pandemic has helped accelerate the genre’s growth. Podtrac says among the publishers it tracks, shows in the News genre have seen downloads soar 59% year-to-date. But the bigger impact may be what people are listening to when they’re not downloading the latest headlines.
Comedy podcast downloads have jumped 25% so far this year, with shows about television and film not far behind with a 23% growth rate, according to Podtrac. The Kids & Family genre is up 17%, with gains also reported for Society & Culture (+9%) and Sports (+2%) through the week ending April 12. At the same time, the True Crime genre has seen downloads decline 9% compared with a year ago.
Listening habits may reflect a broader shift as people crave to escape into content that’s uplifting and lighthearted. A survey by the television research firm Magid found 39% of consumers said they’re seeking out funny programs and 31% want something fun to watch while they’re stuck at home. And the Magid study, first reported by Axios, also saw a new phenomenon, with about one in six people telling researchers they are actively avoiding the news in order to reduce their stress levels.
That’s not yet reflected in podcast download numbers, however. Podtrac says among the shows it measures, in addition to big gains for News podcasts, the Government (+33%), Business (+22%) and Science (+21%) categories are also showing year-to-date gains.
There’s also the question of whether the impact is a blip or part of a longer-term shift. While the answer is unlikely to come for weeks or months as the initial stock of the pandemic fades, some early indication from Podtrac data offers a glimpse. It said last week (April 6-12) podcast downloads in the True Crime category increased 4% from the week before while Comedy show downloads declined by the same rate. Fiction podcast downloads fell 10%. Other growth genres last week included Technology (+5%), Science (+4%) and Business (+3%).