The flight toward normalcy comes equipped with headphones, it seems, as podcast listening just had its best week since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns gave birth to a massive work-from-home shift and disrupted media patterns. Podtrac reports the U.S. weekly podcast audience increased three percent for the week of May 11-17, compared with the prior week among the publishers it tracks, while podcast downloads were up four percent. It is not only the fifth consecutive week of positive metrics for the industry, but the strongest weekly growth rate since the beginning of March.
In what could be an even more critical return-to-normal sign for the industry, Podtrac says downloads during peak weekday commute times are now trending up since those dayparts hit their lockdown low point during the week of April 13-19. While some podcast publishers like iHeartMedia and NPR have said they’ve continued to see growth even during the past few months, for those that have seen declines the data suggests that could prove to be a short-lived blip in what’s otherwise been a growth year for the industry. Download growth since the first week of January is up 30% and audience growth is up 12% through the week ending May 17 across all Podtrac-measured podcasts.
“To date, average downloads per month for the Top 5 and Top 10 publishers have been higher each month in 2020 than any month in 2019,” the company said in its latest update.
What listeners are consuming is also slowly starting to more closely resemble pre-lockdown weeks. While News and Business categories are still seeing growth, bigger gains came in escapism categories. True Crime and Music podcast genres both posted a 12% jump in downloads last week. Comedy posted an 8% gain as Arts podcast downloads were up 6% and Society & Culture podcasts were collectively up 5%. The Health & Fitness and Education categories were both up 4%. News also continued to grow (+3%) as did Business (+1%), and even the slow reawakening of the world of sports may be helping as Sports genre podcasts had a one percent week-over-week increase in downloads last week. Show categories that experienced a week-to-week drop-off in downloads included History (-5%), Fiction (-2%), Leisure (-1%), TV & Film (-1%) and Religion & Spirituality (-1%).
During the most recent weekend, Podtrac says on Saturday, May 16, the peak hour for downloads was up 18% compared with the first week of March, when life started to change for many. And on Sunday, May 17, the peak hour for downloads saw a 27% jump. That helped make up for what it says was a 16% drop in downloads during morning commuting hours.