Nielsen 220

As the top podcast publishers present their latest shows to advertisers today at Podfront in Los Angeles, new data shows the fast track the industry is currently on. More than two decades since becoming a thing, podcast listening is now expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 20%, according to Nielsen Scarborough data from 2014-2019. If that rate continues, the podcast audience could double by 2023. “It’s still growing at a tremendous clip,” Tony Hereau, VP Cross Platform Insights at Nielsen, said Tuesday. 

Smartphones are driving the upward trajectory. During the past five years, the number of podcast listeners on smartphones has more than quadrupled, from 8.5 million in 2014 to 36.3 million in 2019. While podcasts are accessible on tablets and computers, listening on those devices isn’t showing significant growth. But listening on “other” devices jumped 44% to 2.3 million in 2019 from 1.6 million in 2018, with most of that occurring on smart speakers, suggesting that voice activated devices could become a meaningful growth driver in the future. 



Most listening on smartphones (92%) occurs alone. But on smart speakers 21% of listening is done with someone else. “The smart speaker is representing a new phase of growth for podcasting,” Hereau said during a webinar. “It’s become more of a communal affair, much like AM/FM radio is. Smart speakers can extend the audience of a podcast.”

Debunking the myth that podcasting is taking listening away from broadcast radio, Hereau said the two mediums are “complementary.” In fact, podcast listeners consume more radio than the U.S. average. The average adult spent 9 hours and 30 minutes a week with radio while podcast listeners logged just over 10 hours with radio in the past week, per Nielsen Scarborough. 



The new data shows podcast listeners, defined as people who have listened to at least one in the past 30 days, fall into two camps. Heavy users, who make up 45% of the audience, listen either every day (25% of podcast listeners) or at around 10 times per month (20%). Light listeners (about one third of the audience) tune in one to three times per month. The two camps are “quite different,” Hereau said, with heavy listeners likely to be longtime podcast aficionadas and light listeners just trying out the medium. And while light listeners are most likely to listen at home, heavy listeners take podcasting with them – in transit, at work and other places like the gym. “Podcasting is just kind of woven into their lives because they're using it so much more often,” Hereau explained. 



Brand marketers are moving into the medium, joining the direct response advertisers who have supported it for years. While a lack of measurement has kept some brands on the sidelines, that’s changing as Nielsen and other vendors roll out various measurement services. Nielsen last summer teed up its Podcast Listener Buying Power Service and Hereau used the webinar to explain how the qualitative research tool works. It leverages the 30,000-person Scarborough database to match podcast listeners with their buying habits. The service slices and dices podcast listeners across 18 show genres (from arts and business to technology and true crime), hundreds of retail/plan-to-buy categories and basic demographics, the latter of which has been lacking in the space.

The service uses a “re-contact study” of Scarborough USA respondents. Known podcast listeners in the database take an online survey to gain deeper insights into their listening habits and choices. The new podcast listening info is linked back to their previous answers in the original Scarborough survey to report podcast listening for over 2,000 consumer behaviors, including retail categories, products and services, entertainment/lifestyle and media habits. Reports are delivered twice a year with the next ones due in May and November. 

The re-contact survey uses an aided recall list of more than 90 individual podcast titles, allowing subscribers to profile the audiences of specific genres and shows. Podcasts can be broken out by demographics, household income, household size, education level, home ownership and other variables. Audiences can be indexed against advertiser categories. Automotive clients, for example, can see how listeners to individual shows and genres stack up based on their intent to buy a SUV, versus a pickup truck or a compact car. Or compare how comedy podcast listeners index in making a call to action. 

“This is what third party measurement looks like for podcasting,” Hereau said. “We’ve got a lot of other opportunities to explore sophisticated tools for podcasting but for right now, this is something we thought would benefit the industry. It’s going to grow and adapt with the industry.”