The amount of time U.S. adults will spend on average with podcasts is 34 minutes, according to the latest estimate from eMarketer. That is a dip of two minutes compared to last year’s estimate before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted American’s commuting and media consumption habits. While it’s the first time eMarketer has reported a decrease since it began tracking podcast listeners five years ago, analysts think the lost two minutes will amount to a blip in the long-term growth story for on-demand audio. It projects the typical adult will add another minute to their podcast listening day.
Podcasts will also consume a growing share of online audio time, according to eMarketer. It estimates podcasts will make up a 17% share of total time spent with digital audio in the U.S. this year, and its analysts project podcasting’s share to climb to 19% by 2022.
Even as the coronavirus stay-at-home orders are changing how many people are consuming media and when — podcast listening has seen a spike in evenings and weekends — the fact that the total amount of time ticked slightly lower may also be driven by a move to shorten episodes.
An analysis by Pacific Content in December showed the average length of a podcast in 2019 was nearly two minutes shorter than in 2018. It found the overall median length of an episode is now 36 minutes and 34 seconds. The results were based on metadata from more than 18.8 million podcast episodes published between June 2005 and November 2019.
The public has also shown a shorter-is-better appetite. For the past several months the top three podcasts on Podtrac’s ranker were a trio of news podcasts that each clock in below the average — with NPR’s hourly five-minute podcast NPR News Now the second most-downloaded podcast in May among all the shows it tracked.
In an update released last month, eMarketer said it now expects the total reach of podcasting in the U.S. to reach 105.6 million listeners this year. That was a boost from the 78.9 million listener estimate it released earlier. The forecast was finalized prior to the coronavirus pandemic as quarantine measures altered podcast listening habits. But eMarketer said that despite the disruption it expects the U.S. podcast audience will grow 14.8% this year. “We expect listening habits will return to normal in the second half of the year,” said Forecasting Analyst Peter Vahle, “so that by the end of 2020, we’ll see the strong growth in podcast listeners we were anticipating.”
The firm also said the number of people listening to podcasts has grown at a faster pace than earlier expected. It had forecast there would be 76.4 million podcast listeners in 2019, but it now says its tally missed the mark by more than 15 million. eMarketer estimated there were 92 million monthly podcast listeners in the U.S. last year. Analysts expect reach gains to continue through 2022, although at slowly declining growth rates.