Monthly podcast listenership has doubled in the U.S. during the past five years and a new report from Magna Global, the media buying unit of global ad agency IPG, predicts the medium’s reach will top 50% of the population within the next five years. Today, 90 million Americans consume podcasts at least once a month but analysts at Magna forecast over the next five years that growth rate will continue to climb by double-digits—averaging 11% per year—and by 2023 it says 135 million people, or almost half the U.S. population, will listen to podcasts at least once a month.
“As smart speakers and voice assistants are becoming more ubiquitous it’s becoming easier to listen to podcasts,” said Michelle Bovee, Manager of Market Intelligence at Magna. “And in general, awareness of podcasting is increasing as we have podcasts that are being turned into TV series and major actors are coming into the podcast space. Also, people are buying new cars that are Bluetooth-enabled so their phones just sync automatically with the car and they can listen to their music and podcasts instead of listening to the radio.”
On a weekly basis, Magna predicts the 62 million who listen to podcasts will grow even more quickly—increasing an average 12% during each of the next five years. And by 2023 the agency tells clients it thinks 97 million people or one-third of U.S. adults aged 12 and older will listen to at least one podcast per week.
“When people start listening to podcasts, they start to increase the number of episodes per week they listen-to over time,” said Bovee in an interview. The other big factor for why weekly listening has been accelerating faster is it’s simply a smaller pool of listeners. Even so, the message is clear. “There’s a lot of room from growth,” she said.
In addition to technology advances like smart speakers and improved recommendation tools on streaming apps that are helping podcasting gain traction, Magna’s “The Podcasting Report” also credits new content for helping bring in listeners. It credits more “experimentation” with new formats and genres such as radio stations putting podcasts on air, including iHeartMedia’s new “Sunday Night Podcasts” show. It also says that the entry of major media companies like iHeartMedia and Spotify has allowed production budgets to grow. “There’s so much content out there and it seems like content just keeps continuing to explode as more big studios get involved in the space. And the listenership is catching up as well,” said Bovee.
The report acknowledges that true crime remains among the most popular show genres and has often been credited with helping lead to the format’s rise in the post-Serial era. But it notes the Podtrac ranker includes more shows from other genres like News, Politics and Society & Culture.
“True crime is still one of the most popular categories and probably not going away anytime soon. But I think scripted fiction is growing at a very fast rate,” said Bovee. Magna’s report also says it expects comedy and info/entertainment shows will continue to gain in popularity. “Short form podcasts are also going to be an area of growth, especially with smart speakers,” she said. “If someone just wants something quick that’s 10-15 minutes that’s going to be a big area in the future.”
Magna currently calculates the average podcast listener consumes 5.5 episodes per week and those sessions are adding up fast. It points out NPR and iHeartRadio now have monthly unique audiences of around 20 million and iHeart’s Stuff You Should Know recently surpassed one billion lifetime streams and downloads. Bovee said their data shows it’s largely new time on a listener’s media clock. “What we found for the most part is that people who are heavy podcast listeners tend to be heavier media consumers in general,” she explained. “They’re not really taking time away from listening to music or watching TV. It’s something extra that they’re doing.”
One thing Magna doesn’t see happening is a shift toward subscription podcast services in the short-term. “Listeners who are accustomed to listening to podcasts for free may not embrace the subscription audio model,” it says. The report also point to another complication in that pay services like Luminary cannot offer completely ad-free listening since many of the shows on its platform have “baked-in” live-read ads. The report says 63% of podcast ads are live-reads, of which the vast majority is of the “baked-in” variety.