SuperListenerUpdate

The reach of podcasting continues to grow, especially for hard-to-reach ad avoiders who would rather pay for a Netflix or Spotify subscription than see or hear a commercial. But a new study of podcasting’s “super listeners” – those who listen to five or more hours per week – also has a warning for the industry that if producers over-commercialize the format, they risk losing its biggest fans.

The second annual Super Listeners Study, produced by Edison Research for PodcastOne and Ad Results Media, has plenty for podcasters to take comfort in. Edison Senior VP Tom Webster said podcasting’s best customers report they spend an average 10.5-hours per week listening to shows, up from a 9.8-hour average a year ago. “Even with the amount of content they’re jamming in every week, they have found a way to jam in almost an hour more,” he said. “The quarantine has something to do with that, but I don’t think it is going back whenever quarantine ends.”

The study’s primary focus is on advertising, and it shows the majority of this ad-avoiding crowd – sometimes referred to as the “unreachables” in ad circles – has a surprisingly favorable impression of live-reads and ads that feature a personalized discussion about a product. Live reads may be preferred but Webster said the numbers show they are also willing to listen to pre-recorded ads.

Done right, the ad avoiders become buyers. The data shows 54% of super listeners are more likely to buy a product they hear advertised on a podcast. Ad Results CEO Marshall Williams said it is why clients are coming to podcasting. “It is among the most effective channels that any our clients utilize – digital or otherwise,” he said. And 49%s said they have a positive opinion of a company they hear mentioned on a podcast they regularly listen to, a five-point gain from last year.

Yet the survey also revealed what Webster said may be a proverbial canary in the coal mine about podcast spotloads. Compared to a year ago, 56% said they believe the number of ads in the podcasts they regularly listen to has increased. And 41% said they think the ad breaks are getting longer.

“There’s nothing in this study that says advertising’s effectiveness has gotten worse, what it does show is people are noticing more of it,” said Webster. But that could be a potential deal-breaker for super fans because half said one reason that they spend so much time with podcasting is that it is a low-ad media. For now, the percentage who say they “always” skip ads held steady at 12% year-to-year. And the portion that occasionally skips ads has also remained roughly the same.

“Podcast is showing year over year improvement in every major category as it relates to being a medium that works well for consumers and advertisers,” said PodcastOne founder Norm Pattiz. “But it’s clear we need to be aware that over-commercialization of podcasting could be a very negative factor in the future.”

Podcast super listeners still give the medium high marks relative to their other media choices. While 38% said there are “way too many” ads on podcasts – an increase from 24% a year ago – it is still lower than everything else. Slightly more than half said AM/FM and streaming have too many commercials, with social media seen as the worst when it comes to over-commercialization.

“Among super listeners, there are some that don’t like any advertising, but they are listening. The study doesn’t show super listeners are abandoning the medium – quite the opposite,” said Williams. “Even thought it might seem like a dichotomy, I don’t think it is. What they want to do is protect the integrity of the medium that they are so committed to.”

From an ad buyer’s perspective, Williams said four ads per podcast sounds like the right number to him. “We just got to be careful that we don’t ‘radio-ize’ the podcast space,” he said. “You can’t just run seven minutes of commercials in a podcast.”

The online survey of 1,000 super podcast listeners aged 18 and older offers what the executives say is a “cautionary tale” for an industry growing by leaps and bounds with advertisers knocking on the door even in the midst of an economic slowdown.

“One of the things we have to look at and make sure we don’t do, both as producers and advertisers, is get so competitive in the marketplace and get so CPM-oriented that it forces us to start adding more and more spots,” said Pattiz. “Because that will effectively be the canary in the coal mine that dies.”

Download a copy of the Super Listeners Study HERE.