Who are Podcast "Super Listeners"?

Welcome to The Yard, a blog by Backyard Media that explains the podcast industry and podcast advertising.

We talked in our most recent post about the demographics of podcast listeners. There exists a subgroup of listeners that those in the industry are starting to take note of - "super listeners". A report released this week, by Edison Research in conjunction with the Knight Foundation, identified this noteworthy group after looking into the habits of more than 28,000 podcast listeners. Here are four of the most relevant takeaways from the study that podcast advertisers should know:


1. Super listeners consume double the weekly podcast content of an average listener, and are "mobile-first"

The survey found the following about podcast consumption:

Weekly podcast listeners in the Knight sample consumed just over 10 hours of podcast content per week, compared to a little over five hours per week reported from the Infinite Dial report.

That report found that the average listener listened to five hours per week, as well as an average of five discrete podcasts per week. Super listeners, in comparison, listened to 13 shows in the average week.

Furthermore, super listeners consume their podcasts on their smartphones by an overwhelming margin, 93% (compared to 65% for the average listener). They also listen while they're on the go - only 35% listen primarily at home (52% of average listeners rated home listening as their primary environment). When it came to driving, public transportation, and other forms of travelling, super listeners listened in these environments at higher rates than average listeners.

What does this mean for podcast advertisers? Super listeners consume their podcasts on their smartphones. As a result, any direct response ads should be for sites that are 100% mobile-friendly (both in landing page, other website pages, and checkout).


2. Super listeners rely on subscriptions, not manual downloads

We mentioned in our last post that the most common method for listeners to receive new podcasts was to manually click on and download the episode immediately (with a smaller percentage then choosing to listen at a later time). Only about about a quarter of normal podcast listeners used subscriptions to receive automatic downloads of new episodes.

Super listeners take the opposite approach - they make use of podcast subscriptions to get immediate access to their favorite shows. The Knight Foundation survey refers to this as a preference for "time-shifted consumption":

81% of respondents told us that they ‘subscribe to podcasts and download automatically to listen later’ — significantly higher than the other two modalities of listening.

This preference for acquiring podcasts in a frictionless manner is likely a function of both super listeners' comfort level with podcast technology and their higher overall consumption. The more podcasts a listener consumes on in an average week, the more burdensome it is to download every new episode manually. And we've noted how more than half of all average listeners complete podcasts once they start them. The Knight Foundation's study does not look at this metric for super listeners, but it is in all likelihood the same percentage or even higher.

The survey also finds that super listeners overlap those most likely to respond to a podcast host's call outs - for listener surveys, feedback, and direct response ads. Because of this, the survey's authors define a super listener as "a far more active, engaged listener who has a deeper relationship with the show(s) they responded to."

What does this mean for podcast advertisers? Because super listeners get their podcasts through subscriptions, they're much more likely to hear every episode, listen soon after it comes out, and have a higher completion rate. For an advertiser doing a podcast ad campaign, this means a super listener hears more of their ads, improving brand recall. And super listeners are already more likely to respond to ads, given that they have higher engagement with the podcasts they subscribe to.


3. Super listeners prefer longer, more in-depth content, and they don't shy away from international news

41% - that's the share of respondents who say they preferred longer, but fewer podcast stories over shorter segments. About 50% of respondents expressed no preference for a particular length, so sponsors shouldn't worry about advertising on shows that consist of a number of content segments.

Super listeners also have a somewhat unexpected appetite for international news stories. When asked to rate their level of interest for various types of news on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the most interesting content) they rated national news a 7.5, international news a 7.1, and local news a 5.6.

Podcasts that focus on national security, foreign policy and diplomacy, and politics in other countries are not just niche areas for Washington-based industry professionals. Sponsors should take into account that there exists a sizable audience of professionals out there who listen to these types of podcasts out of pure interest in international affairs. (Backyard Media offers advertising on a variety of highly respected National Security and Foreign Policy podcasts - see our Partners page). Narrative storytelling podcasts, which often consist of only one or two stories across a 40-60 minute episode, are also a draw for super listeners.

What does this mean for podcast advertisers? Super listeners are drawn to longer, deeper stories and podcasts about international affairs. Sponsors shouldn't hesitate to advertise on these seemingly "niche" podcasts, especially given super listeners' higher rates of engagement with the podcasts they care about.


4. Super listeners see podcasts as a trustworthy news source, are getting more of their news from podcasts, and support them financially

Super listeners don't just get their news from podcasts. They consume other forms of media, but increasingly see podcasts as equal to that of national newspapers in terms of being a trustworthy source of news:

...super listeners place a great deal of trust in the content they hear on podcasts. We compared a variety of media channels by their “trustworthiness,” and podcasts were indicated by 33% to be “very trustworthy” and 49% as “somewhat trustworthy.” This level of trust was nearly tied with the first place medium (national newspapers) and ahead of radio and local newspapers. Network TV news, cable TV news and social media were the bottom three in terms of trustworthiness.

These findings makes sense given what we know about the relationship between host and listener - listeners feel they know the host personally, and trust their opinions and recommendations.

This level of trust appears to be leading to an increase in podcasts as the primary source of news and information for super listeners - more than 40% of respondents said their podcast listening was causing them to listen to radio less often.

Finally, while the focus of the Knight Foundation's study was on listeners who consumed a broad range of public radio-produced podcasts, there are indications that this level of engagement is not public radio-specific. Taking a look at donations, we can see about equal levels of support - a full 32% of super listeners report having donated to their public radio station in the past year, but another 28% say they donated directly to a podcast (public or private) or a radio station. And when asked about their support for these outlets, 51% of respondents said they like public media and private podcasts equally. Another 15% of respondents said they couldn't tell the difference between public and private media-produced podcasts.

What does this mean for podcast advertisers? This primacy as a news source coupled with the trust between listener and hosts is a potent mix, and very valuable for sponsors looking to connect their products with this particular audience. Super listeners have shown that they will financially support podcasts they care about. That support also isn't contingent on whether that podcast is a public radio podcast. When super listeners like the podcast's content, they want to support it - by responding to a listener survey, sharing the podcast, donating to a fundraising drive, or responding to an advertisement.


The survey's executive summary ends by saying that the most important job for podcasters and those in the industry is to find out how to "ask for the order" and provide incentives to share podcasts further. The industry has innovated in different ways to capture listeners' willingness to engage - listener surveys and fund drives are now relatively frequent tools in podcasting. Increasing the size of podcast audiences while also making those audiences look more like super listeners is the next big challenge.

You can read the Knight Foundation's full summary of its findings here.

Want to learn more about advertising with Backyard Media's podcast partners, like our national security and narrative storytelling podcasts? Get in touch with us.

Backyard Media is a marketplace for podcast advertising. We connect content creators of all shapes and sizes with awesome sponsors, providing them with the resources they need to do what they do best. Everyone wins.