There’s not yet a consensus of data on what impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on podcast listening, but there’s little doubt the industry continues to grow when compared to a year ago. Podtrac reports among the networks it tracks, the average monthly unique audience for the ten biggest publishers increased by a third (33%) in March compared to a year ago. That was despite a small 4% monthly decline in March, compared to February, as quarantines took root and commuting patterns were disrupted. Even so, Podtrac earlier reported a 9% jump between January and February, meaning the number of monthly unique listeners remains above where things stood as 2020 began. And while the total number of people who consumed podcasts may’ve dipped last month, Podrac also reports that among the 20 publishers it tracks, 16 of them saw download numbers either flat or up in March when compared to February’s numbers.
NPR remained at the top of the ranker with nearly 26.5 million unique monthly listeners in the U.S. during March. That was a drop of just 0.4% compared to February for its portfolio of podcasts. And iHeartMedia remained the largest commercial publisher with 23.7 million unique monthly listeners in the U.S. during February with a 3% month-to-month increase.
The remainder of the top five stayed the same from the prior month. Podtrac says the New York Times was No. 3 in March as its unique audience reach increased 5% to top 11 million. Wondery’s reach dropped 7% month-to-month but it remained at No. 4, followed by PRX, which saw its unique listener reach fall by 8%.
As the pandemic shut down the world of sports, podcasters targeting sports fans took a hit in March. Barstool Sports remained in sixth place but its unique audience reach dropped 15% last month. ESPN also stayed at its previous position – No. 8 – but it too felt the pinch of no play-by-play to talk about. ESPN’s total unique audience declined 17% compared to February.
Rounding out the top ten was a new entrant: WarnerMedia. It has amassed a portfolio of 81 podcasts during the past year and, according to Podtrac, had more than 5.3 million listeners last month.
One of the biggest changes wasn’t in the number of listeners to a specific publisher, but in the list itself. For the first time Podtrac released a ranker of the top 20 publishers. It previously had only ranked the top 15. That allowed several podcast publishers to appear on the public ranker for the first time, including Fox News Radio at No. 18 and Slate at No. 20, along with returning participants American Public Media at No. 17 and Boston public radio outlet WBUR at No. 20.
Beyond the U.S., the impact of the coronavirus wasn’t as pronounced in March as podcast listening grew at a faster rate. Podtrac says global unique streams and downloads increased for the top 10 publishers by 12% compared to February. And they increased by 28% compared to last March.