The Podcast Consumer

“Podcasting has had a very consequential year,” said Tom Webster, SVP at Edison Research, as he unveiled “The Podcast Consumer 2019,” an annual report issued by the firm about the state of the medium. “There are 20 million new listeners—a significant portion of the U.S. has made the medium a regular habit and indeed over half say they’ve listened to one,” Webster said. “This really is a mainstream medium.”

The report, released Thursday during an hour-long webinar, offers plenty of reasons for podcasters to be encouraged about where the medium has landed as its growth engine has at long last revved-up.

“Real Progress” In The Big Picture. Last year Edison reported weekly podcast listeners totaled 48 million, which lead Webster to challenge the industry to do more to hit the 100 million mark. He said it’s a number that would “make anyone sit up and take notice, certainly brands and agencies.” Edison says podcasters took a sizable step toward that threshold during the past year, with 62 million Americans now reporting they’d listened to a podcast within the prior week. “That’s a significant jump,” Webster said. “We’ve made some real progress in one year.”

Monthly Listeners Matter More. It’s monthly podcast listeners that Edison says are the true measure of the industry’s growth curve—it views them as more “regular” podcast listeners—and 32% of Americans (12+) or about 90 million people now say they listen to a podcast on a monthly basis. That includes 40% of 12-24 year olds, 39% of 25-54 year olds, and 17% of 55+. The figure shows even with the influx of new listeners, the average number of shows consumed has held steady at seven per week. Webster thinks that’s a reflection of new listeners consuming multiple shows while veteran listeners add more podcasts to their audio diet.

Why Don’t You Listen To Podcasts? Edison says 70% of the U.S. is now familiar with term “podcasting” and 51% have given it a try. “This is a watershed moment in terms of the history of podcasting,” Webster said. The reasons why people have yet to become podcast listeners are varied, but the biggest may also be the most surprising. Three-quarters said podcasts just aren’t for them. “I would submit they just haven’t found the right podcast or been given the reason to do so because with almost 700,000 podcasts there’s probably a podcast for them,” Webster said. Half thinks they can get the content elsewhere, and 41% don’t think there’s an app on their phone to listen. Nearly four-in-ten said podcasts are too long while the same number thinks they need to pay. “We live or die by subscribers in podcasting but for most people when you say subscribe to a podcast they think of it like subscribing to Netflix or a magazine—it’s going to cost money,” Webster said.

Why Google May Matter More Than Apple. The biggest podcast listening platform may still be Apple Podcasts, with Google Podcasts offering a tiny fraction of consumption in comparison. But Edison says Google is likely playing a bigger role when it comes to podcast discovery. Three-quarters of monthly podcast listeners said their top source of finding a show is searching the internet. “That makes Google’s efforts to include podcasting in a more meaningful and integrated way into search results all the more important, because people tell us that’s what they’re doing,” Webster said. The data shows about two-thirds of podcast listeners rely on social media posts and recommendations from friends or family to find new shows.

Podcasts Have Listeners’ Attention. “The number one thing we do when we listen to a podcast is just listen to that podcast,” Webster says. The data shows 70% of monthly listeners sit back and are fully focused on a show when they’re in the podcast zone. “That’s a tremendous stat to show to advertisers and brands that unlike any other form of media, a podcast really captivates an audience,” Webster said. “It’s an attentive and lean-forward audience.” Among those that are doing something other than just listening, 59% said they’re doing housework or chores and 52% said they’re driving, while half said they use podcasts to wind-down before going to sleep. “It’s an audience that’s receptive to brand messaging,” Webster also noted. The data shows 53% of those surveyed said they’re either “much more” or “somewhat more” likely to consider a brand they hear advertised on a podcast.

In-Car Listening Grows. Podcasting may still be mainly an at-home medium with nine out of ten monthly listeners saying they listen to shows while at home. But Edison’s data shows vehicle listening is ticking higher, thanks in part to the fact that 19% of Americans now have dashboard entertainment systems. “It’s getting easier to listen in your car or truck and therefore it’s starting to happen,” Webster said. The data shows 49% listen while taking a walk, 43% while at the gym, and 37% listen to a podcast while on the job.

Low Volume Smart Speaker Listening. Podcast hosting companies report “very low” numbers in terms of smart speaker consumption according to Webster, and the Edison data backs up why. It finds only 10% of podcast consumers say a smart speaker is the device they use most often to listen to a show. That compares to two-thirds who say a smartphone or a quarter that pick their computer or laptop. That’s despite the fact that 94% of monthly podcast listeners are familiar with smart speakers, and 34% already own one. “It’s just not easy and that’s going to take work from the podcast industry by continuing to push skills and skill development and easier ways to consume podcasts,” Webster said. “If you aren’t being consumed on smart speakers you are increasingly being marginalized on a growing and very important device to consume audio.”

How To Get More Listeners? Podcasters marvel at the count: more than 700,000 podcasts have been created to date. Yet the top thing people interviewed by Edison said would get them to listen to more podcasts is—more podcasts. Specially, two-thirds said they want more shows that have topics that are of interest to them. Webster said it’s a problem of discovery, not content. “There’s probably 25 podcasts for everybody, they’re just not sure where they are and how to find them,” he said. He suggested podcasters spend more time on cross-promoting other shows. Among the other top enticements for would-be listeners are bringing more well-known personalities onboard to host shows and sending notifications reminding them to listen.

Music Is The Sleeping Podcast Giant. Podcasting to date has been a spoken word format, and that’s likely limiting its appeal. The No. 1 podcast topic that people told Edison they’re interest in is music-related content. “Today it’s cost prohibitive to feature music in a podcast so we don’t often give it a second thought but I would submit there’s a tremendous opportunity,” Webster said.

Some podcasters have already begun to try getting around a complex and expensive music licensing labyrinth by creating shows about music or with artists. “We’re starting to see more and more of those, but really what these data are crying out for is a simplified, less draconian way to license music for podcasts,” Webster said. “If that happens, that takes the last remaining cap off for potential growth for this medium. Because most people mostly listen to music and if music can be incorporated into podcasts, then that represents a real tipping point to continue its growth into the mainstream.”

Male-Female Split Holds Firm. The growing number of podcast listeners has led to increases among every age group, with 12-24 year olds showing the biggest jump as 40% said they listened to a show in the past month. That’s up 33% from a year ago. “Spotify has a lot to do with that,” Webster explained. What’s not changing is the gender tilt. “The percentage of women continues to grow—but year after year podcasting continues to be slightly male-led,” Webster said. The latest data shows women comprise 46% of monthly podcast consumers, trailing the 51% population total. “That ratio has come a long way in the last 15 years but it still remains ever so slightly male-leaning,” Webster said.

Podcast Listeners Grow Whiter. Content may be more diverse, but along ethnic lines podcast listeners aren’t. “The composition of monthly consumers with this large influx of new monthly podcast consumers has actually gotten a little bit whiter,” Webster said. Two-thirds of monthly podcast listeners were white in this year’s study—a seven point increase compared to a year ago. “Podcasting has always looked a little bit whiter than the overall population,” Webster said, and while he noted one year isn’t a definitive trend, he added, “It’s certainly not moving in the direction of mirroring the U.S. population and that’s something that we all should take note of.” He tied that into content, saying the podcast audience “mirrors” the shows that are being published. Podcast listeners are also more affluent, employed, and have higher education levels. “Ideally, when podcasting is a completely mature medium these differences will disappear,” Webster said.

5 Hours And 39 Minutes. Edison Research also released more podcast data from its quarterly Share of Ear study which found that podcast listeners spend 5 hours and 39 minutes per day listening to audio. Among podcast listeners, the biggest chunk of their time goes to podcasts: 28%. That’s more than what they spend on AM/FM radio (24%) or streaming audio (15%). And while podcasts account for just 3.9% of Americans’ overall audio time each day, Edison says that’s up 112% from the 1.7% share podcasting held in 2014. Webster said that’s the largest percentage growth for audio form of audio they track.

The Future Is Growth. “There are still significant opportunities for growth in podcasting,” Webster said. “But there are a lot of misconceptions. There are still plenty of people who are familiar with the term but don’t think there’s content out there for them. They think it’s too hard to listen to a podcast.” Or think that subscribing to a podcast means they have to pay for it. “Or don’t think they have an app. All of these things can be corrected but they have to be corrected by a concerted effort amongst the industry to reach those people.”

The data for the Podcast Consumer 2019 study is made up of findings from a newly-expanded Infinite Dial study, which Edison Research coproduces with Triton Digital. It also encompasses previously unreleased data from Edison’s Share of Ear research that tracks all forms of audio consumption. Download the slides HERE. And watch a replay of the webinar HERE.