Reuters Digital News Report 2019

Podcast listening is rapidly growing, even as more people are streaming music and listening to AM/FM radio still clocks in at 92% of the U.S. population. It’s all enough for the Reuters Institute to conclude in its 2019 global report on the state of media that a “pivot to audio” has picked up its pace during the past year. Nowhere is that more true than with podcasting, with the global survey finding that 36% of those surveyed said they’d listened to a podcast in the previous month. “Podcasts have been around for many years but these episodic digital audio files appear to be reaching critical mass as a consequence of better content and easier distribution,” Reuters said in its annual report.

The data shows the mobile phone is the most-used device for podcast listening worldwide. The growth of smartphone use has been driving the popularity of podcasts, according to the survey, particularly among younger demos. While slightly more than a third of the overall survey sample said they’d consumed a podcast in the past month, among those under 35 that figure rises to half.

“The most striking aspect of podcast consumption is the appeal to younger people,” said the report. “In Sweden and the United States, two countries that have embraced podcasts, we find that over half of under 35s have used a podcast monthly compared with less than a fifth of over 55s.” In contrast, it said older listeners are twice as likely to consume traditional radio news as the young, many of whom do not even own a radio. “This is the plugged-in smartphone generation and it’s no surprise that the majority of usage is through these connected devices, many of which come pre-installed with podcast apps and now come equipped with high fidelity wireless headphones,” it said.

The Reuters Institute said across all 38 countries it surveyed, including the U.S., the primary reason people said they listen to podcasts was to keep updated about topics of personal interest (46%) and to learn something new (39%). Other motivating factors included to fill empty time (25%) and as a change from music (22%). But it also said those reasons do not play out equally among every age demo. Older listeners are more interested in keeping updated whereas the young are looking for podcasts that entertain them or fill empty time, it said.

The data shows that even as many people want to learn something, a lot of podcast listening goes to shows that aren’t particularly educational. The most popular genre in the Reuters Institute survey results are news and politics (15%) and lifestyle content (15%), followed by true crime (12%) and sports (9%). The report however notes that many podcasts “defy classification” since news is often discussed through comedy and celebrity.

In terms of listening location, the Reuters survey found that younger podcast listeners are most likely to listen to shows on the go while older consumers often turn to podcasts when they’re doing household chores or when they’re in bed and having a tough time falling asleep. The data shows that overall, 58% of podcasts are consumed while someone is in their own house. “In the home, the flexibility and control offered by podcasts is supplementing and in some cases replacing traditional radio, but podcasting is also taking audio to new locations where there is no easy access to radio,” the report said.

The data also shows commuting is also popular among podcast listeners with 24% consuming shows while they are commuting via public transportation with another 20% while in a private car or on a bike. “The average length of podcasts – typically between 20 and 40 minutes – is partly influenced by the time taken on the average commute,” the report said. Nearly one in five people listen while they’re out and about doing errands and 16% listen while exercising. Another 16% listen while they’re at work.

While podcast listening continues to grow, so do advertising levels. And it leads the Reuters Institute to speculate that the “age of innocence” could be over as more money starts to trickle into podcasts. “This new money has brought more professional content and higher production values, but some fear that the purity and authenticity of the podcast experience could be lost in the process,” it notes.

Nevertheless, the demographic tailwind doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. “The core appeal of podcasts is the ease of use, and the ability to listen while doing something else. But for younger users, podcasts also provide more authentic voices and the control and choice they’ve become used to,” the report said.

Download the full report HERE.