It’s just one week, but Podtrac’s latest data about listening to the networks it tracks offers a glimmer of hope that the worst of the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic may be in the rearview mirror and consumers are flocking back to the medium. Both download and audience numbers grew last week (April 20-26), the first time since the week of March 2 that both metrics increased, according to Podtrac.
The data shows U.S. week-to-week podcast downloads were up 4% among the publishers monitored. That compares to a 1 percent decline in downloads seen during the prior two weeks. Podtrac also reports that the U.S. week-to-week podcast audience grew 2% last week after being unchanged in the prior week.
A return to growth on a week-to-week basis, if it holds in the weeks to come, would put the industry back on track to where it had been until stay-at-home orders disrupted commuting and media consumption habits of people around the globe. The U.S. podcast industry, however, continues to be on an upward trajectory. The data shows that download growth since the first week of January is up 25% and audience growth is up 6% through the week ending April 26 across all Podtrac-measured podcasts.
Leading the lift in downloads last week was a double-digit jump in downloads for History category podcasts, which Podtrac says increased 28% week-to-week. And while play-by-play remains on hold, the NFL draft helped drive more ears to sports-focused podcasts. The Sports category downloads were up 10% last week. The True Crime category, which had taken a hit in recent weeks, also showed a rebound. Podtrac says podcasts in that genre had a 40% jump in downloads. And even as the news cycle remains similar to previous weeks, listening to that genre is still expanding as downloads to News category shows increased 8% last week. Among the other categories showing growth were Technology (+9%), Comedy (+6%), Fiction (+5%), TV & Film (+4%) and Government (+4%). Among the genres showing declines last week were Society & Culture, Business, Arts, Music and Education.
Even as download and listener growth returned to the industry, the time of day people consume content continues to be impacted. Podtrac says among the publishers it tracks, streams and downloads during peak weekday morning commute times were down an average of 23% last week compared with the week of March 2 – the last week before lockdown orders swept across the U.S. The company also says weekend listening continues to grow. On Saturday, April 25 the peak hour was up 16%, and for Sunday, April 26 the peak hour was up 22%, it said.