What We Know about Podcast Listeners
Welcome to The Yard, a blog by Backyard Media that explains the podcast industry and podcast advertising.
We often hear from prospective podcast sponsors that they want to know more about listeners before they buy ads. Luckily, the podcast industry has The Infinite Dial, a yearly survey from Edison Research. The company describes the Infinite Dial as "the longest running survey of digital media consumer behavior in America”. This includes media like online streaming TV, Internet radio, music, and, of course, podcasting.
The 2017 Infinite Dial came out this spring, and it gives both sponsors and podcasters valuable insights into who podcast listeners are, how much they listen, and where and when they listen. So let's break it down: what does the latest Infinite Dial tell us about podcast listeners, and what can we take away from the data?
Who are podcast listeners?
The Infinite Dial surveys 2,000 Americans aged 12 and above for its snapshot of American online media consumption. The survey's podcast section first gauges respondents' familiarity with podcasts. In 2017, this number has climbed to 60% of Americans, from 43% in 2010. Related to that figure is the percentage of respondents who report ever having listened to a podcast - currently 40% of all respondents, up from 33% in 2015. But that's overall podcast awareness - what about regular podcast listeners?
The metric that tells us the most about consistent, meaningful engagement with podcasts as a form of media consumption is monthly podcast listening. Sponsors may see occasional industry references to "weekly podcast listening", but listeners' schedules can fluctuate week over week, reporting of listening in the past thirty days is a more stable and representative sample. With that being said, here's the percentage of respondents who report listening to at least one podcast within the past month:
So, 24% of respondents have listened to a podcast in the last thirty days. This means that despite a 100% increase in the past three years, a full 76% of people still haven't become regular podcast listeners - a huge area of potential audience growth.
But let's focus on the 24% of respondents who are listeners. Who are they? The Infinite Dial breaks down this group by age. We can see that podcast listeners have and continue to skew younger than consumers of other forms of traditional media. However, in 2017, something changed:
The 25-54 age cohort jumped ahead to become the most dominant group (though just barely). Podcasts aren't just a "young person's activity" anymore, as Americans come to see them as a medium equal to radio, TV, or print media. Combined with a slow but steady growth in 55+ listeners, the average age of podcast listeners more closely resembles the age demographics of the American public than it has in previous years. This increased average age also means the average podcast listener has more disposable income.
Another interesting tidbit about podcast listener demographics: monthly podcast listeners continue to skew more male (27% of men vs 21% of women in 2017), and this small but signficiant gap doesn't appear to be closing any time soon.
What sponsors should take away: podcast listeners are becoming older and so have more disposable income, and the pool of potential regular listeners has great growth potential.
How much listening do they do?
Listeners vary in how many podcasts they consume. For sponsors, knowing average consumption habits are key to understanding how podcasts are a superior digital medium for advertising.
The Infinite Dial survey uses two different ranges to understand podcast listening density: podcast listening in the past month and podcast listening in the past week. Whereas the percentage of respondents who've listened to podcasts in the past week is a less valuable metric, the amount of listening in a given week can very useful for sponsors.
Let's look at a couple of different consumption metrics. First, the number of discrete podcasts that listeners consume in a week:
The average listener listens to five podcasts per week. However, that average disguises the fact that a full 59% of respondents listen to only 1 to 3 podcasts. The largest cohort is four to five podcasts, with a fifth of respondents listening to more than that.
An average listener consuming five podcasts per week - say, one episode per weekday commute - consumes approximately 20 podcasts a month. If a sponsor places an ad on one of these podcasts, the listener is much more likely to recall their ad as opposed to hearing it on TV alongside five other commercials (remember that podcasts have lower ad loads than other forms of media). And if we assume that listeners generally have a consistent podcast "diet" - that they regularly listen to the same podcasts week over week - then a podcast ad campaign across multiple episodes will show up many times in a listener's month of 20 podcast episodes. As a result, brand awareness and brand recall for a sponsor are much higher.
We expect this average of 4-5 podcasts consumed per week to remain steady. This means that being a sponsor on a podcast that makes a listener's weekly five podcasts is crucial to raising a listener's brand awareness - the listener will only hear a handful of ads across a week of listening. And we know that the sponsor's ads will be heard because podcast listeners consistently complete the episodes they start:
40% of respondents report that when they listen to podcasts, they complete the episode, with a full 85% saying they listen to most or all of it. For sponsors, this means that the vast majority of ad rolls will be heard when the listener downloads the podcast. There are a variety of reasons why podcast listeners have such high completion rates. For one, audiences are invested in the podcasts they regularly listen to and they value most or all of the content in the show. And a podcast's format is less conducive to skipping around for the "more interesting" parts, like one can do with an online video. Podcasts are more comparable to novels in how the audience consumes them.
Let's look at one more metric about the degree of listeners' podcast consumption - subscriptions.
In podcasting, we make a distinction between individual episode downloading and podcast subscriptions. Audiences can subscribe to a podcast's RSS feed and receive new episodes automatically on their smartphones. We can see from this chart that listeners average six podcast subscriptions, with 67% having fewer than that. This makes sense with the previous chart showing five podcasts per week if we assume that the average podcast operates on a weekly release schedule (this can vary depending on the type of show, however).
Subscriptions can be a useful tool for listeners to receive updates from their favorite shows, but the Infinite Dial tells us that listeners actively initiate the majority of downloads:
The two most common behaviors are actively downloading podcasts, with about a quarter of listeners using subscriptions. Again, when we consider these pieces of listener data with a podcast's average ad load, the low density of ads in a listener's weekly podcast diet leads to higher brand awareness and brand recall.
What sponsors should take away: podcast listeners maintain a small but readily-consumed media diet. They regularly listen to around 4-5 podcasts per week, usually listen to the entirety of those episodes, and actively download new episodes to listen to.
When and where do they listen?
One fact about podcasts that becomes readily apparent to anyone who takes up regular podcast listening is it can be done nearly anywhere. The Infinite Dial asks respondents about the environment in which they listen to podcasts
The following chart lists what percentage of respondents noted that they listen while at a particular location (respondents were able to choose multiple locations):
This chart shows that listeners consume podcasts as an engaging secondary activity, often when their primary activity isn't mentally demanding. We can see this with the high percentage of respondents who mention transportation (a full two-thirds of respondents, between listening in car and on public transportation) and "at home" (e.g. cleaning, cooking, relaxing). These environments represent better opportunities for the listener to engage with a podcast's content (and by extension the ads during the podcast).
Because podcasts don't require active attention, we see high percentages of listenership during rote activities. Interestingly, listening while at work comes in fairly low - only 29%. Despite the high number of hours Americans spending working each week, most of them do not listen to podcasts during that time, as working precludes the type of attention-giving that podcast listening requires.
The survey also asked listeners to choose the location at which they MOST listen to podcasts:
Again, the home and the car dominate. This charts are actually great news for sponsors and podcasters alike. It means that listeners are devoting their attention to podcasts when they listen. They're engaged audiences, they're thinking about the show's content, and in the case of car listening, they are limited in the other activities they could be doing.
What sponsors should take away: podcast listeners listen to podcasts in environments where they can divert their active attention to the podcast's content, meaning that they will actively absorb the podcast's ads.
While the Infinite Dial gives some of the best information we have about podcast listeners, it's not an exhaustive survey for the industry. We will continue to dig more into the habits and demographics of particular types of podcast listeners, so that sponsors can know who's listening to their ads.
Want to learn more about advertising with Backyard Media's podcast partners? Get in touch with us here.
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