Last month’s Podcast Movement showcased an industry riding a torrid growth wave with brand marketers, Hollywood studios, DIY podcasters and yes, broadcast radio companies all clamoring to capitalize on the red hot medium. Yet the audience for streaming audio remains larger, even as podcast consumption grows at a faster rate.

“Between the two, podcast consumption has grown at a much higher rate than streaming audio,” Jon Miller, VP of Audience Insights at Nielsen, tells Inside Radio. From 2015-2019, the number of monthly podcast listeners has more than doubled, increasing 123%, according to Nielsen Scarborough data, while streaming audio has grown 54% over that five-year stretch. Looking at the past three years (2017-2019) the podcast audience has grown 53% while streaming audio increased 15%. These streaming audio numbers include listening to broadcast station streams, internet radio stations and streaming music services.

Despite the faster growth rate, the total audience for podcasting is significantly smaller overall than for streaming audio. There are currently 135 million monthly streaming audio consumers compared to 43 million monthly podcast consumers, Nielsen Scarborough data shows. These numbers are substantially smaller than those reported by Edison Research, which shows an estimated 189 million monthly online audio listeners and 90 million monthly podcast listeners. Among the reasons for the wide disparity between the two services: Scarborough reports 18+ listeners while Edison tracks 12+. And the survey mechanisms used by the companies are different. But both research providers show podcasting growing at a much faster rate than streaming audio.

Younger Demographic Profile

Looking at the qualitative characteristics of their audiences shows both platforms share some commonalities – and some differences. “Streaming audio consumers and podcast consumers are both younger than the national population as a whole,” Miller points out. “More than half of both audiences are between the ages of 21-44, while the national average is only 41%. The Nielsen Scarborough data shows podcast consumers are the younger of the two camps with 62% of the audience aged 21-44 with a median age of 39. Monthly streaming audio listeners are slightly older: 56% are aged 21-44 with a median age of 41. While digital audio listeners are mostly under the age of 45, the broadcast radio audience is more evenly distributed across demos. “Because radio has such a broad reach, it looks like the general population because almost everyone listens,” Miller observes. “The two groups look almost identical.” As podcasting becomes even more popular and the audience continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how its demographics evolve over time and whether they more closely mirror the U.S. population as a whole.

Podcast consumers are more likely to be male – 56% of monthly users are male, compared to 49% for streaming audio, broadcast radio and the U.S. population. That parallels the gender breakdown for monthly podcast listeners shown by Edison Research: 54% male to 46% female. And both podcasters are streamers “are more affluent than the national average, commute more and use less TV overall,” Miller offers. For example, monthly streaming audio listeners have completed an average 13.9 years of education while podcast listeners have finished 14.4, both ahead of the national average of 13.5 years. And while the national average household income is $78,700, streaming households earn 11% more ($87,200) and podcasters take home 23% more ($96,800).

As big audio consumers, it’s no surprise that digital audio users have longer commute times. The average commute time is 20.2 minutes one way per day for podcast listeners, 18.1 minutes for streaming audio listeners and 15.5 minutes for AM/FM radio listeners – all higher than the 14.8 minute average for the total population. “One influences the other. Spending so much time commuting, you want and use more audio,” Miller surmises.

And because those groups use more audio, they spend less time with television. The broadcast radio audience watches slightly less TV than the national average but streaming and podcast consumers spend significantly less time in front of the flat screen. The national average is 28 hours per week. But the number drops to 23 hours for monthly streamers and 20 hours for podcasters.

That’s because digital audio users are spending more time online. Podcast listeners log about 4 more hours a week with the internet (13.8 hours) than the total population (9.6 hours). Streamers spend almost two hours more than the average (11.9 hours).

“They are big audio consumers and also spend more time online,” Miller explains. “They both own smart speakers at a higher rate than the rest of America, with podcast consumers being the most likely to own a smart speaker – nearly 30% of them currently own one, double the national average according to Scarborough.” Audio streamers (23%) are also more likely to own a smart speaker than the national average (16%).

Still, the smartphone remains the dominant digital audio device – by a mile. Nine in ten monthly podcast listeners stream some form of audio on a smartphone, nearly double the amount who stream on a computer (47%) and more than four times higher than those streaming on tablet. Smartphones remain the top device for streaming audio consumers as well (84%). “Over time, as smart speaker adoption becomes even larger, that will shift and change,” Miller says. “Yet for now, the smartphone is still the hub of digital listening.” – Paul Heine