Why People Listen to Podcasts Instead of Consuming Other Digital Media


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

Podcasts are big, but they haven't always been that way. The medium has experienced a huge rise in popularity in the past five to ten years. What has driven this rapid adoption of podcasts by tech professionals, Millennials, and now the wider adult population? And what do listeners think podcasts offer them that other digital media don't? Let's take a look at four reasons why listeners choose to consume podcasts instead of other media.


1. Listeners like that podcasts are portable, time-shifted, and serve as secondary activities.

When we look at the data around podcast listening, it becomes apparent that podcasts are a different kind of listening activity. The Interactive Advertising Bureau's 2016 study that looked at podcast listening behavior - a study we looked at in this blog post - asked regular podcast listeners what they appreciated most about podcasts. Over 70% of respondents said that it was "very important" that they be able to listen to audio both wherever and whenever they wanted. 70% of them also said that they wanted their audio to be "on demand", that they could start listening to a program as soon as they click on it.

Podcasts meet all of these criteria. They are a time-shifted medium, because listeners can download their favorite audio programs and listen to them when they want - one hour or five years after they were published. And because podcast listening primarily happens on smartphones now, audiences can listen wherever they are.

Beyond that, people often use podcasts as secondary activities for situations that require less focus. The Infinite Dial 2017 survey, which we mentioned in our blog "What we know about podcast listeners", found that the most commonly reported listening environments were "at home", "in the car", and "walking around". As we said in that post:

[This] 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).
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.


2. Because of the “intimacy of audio”, listeners feel they have a relationship with the podcast host.

We've mentioned it many times - there's something about podcasts that leads listeners to feel they have a personal connection with the podcast host. Many industry professionals believe this comes from the "intimacy effect" of audio. Podcasts feel closer to us than video or radio when we listen to them.

Because podcasts are on-demand audio and the listener gets to choose the type of content they want to hear, audiences are inherently more engaged than they would be with a radio station. And because prevailing podcast formats - panel discussion, two-host talk shows, and narrative storytelling, among others - imitate a one-on-one or small group conversation, listeners feel like the content has been made just for them.

These are some of the reasons podcasts can create a close connection between listeners and hosts. A few months ago we spoke to a couple of Backyard Media's podcast partners about their experiences with their listeners. They told us why they thought their listeners felt this special connection with them and their work. Briahna Grey, co-host of Someone's Wrong on the Internet, summarized why she has such a loyal audience:

"People really enjoy the intimacy of my relationship with [my co-host] Joe," she says."We have fun with each other and it animates what are otherwise dry topics from time to time."
"I also think that podcasts are strangely intimate," Gray continues. "You really do feel like you're in a relationship with the podcaster. Which is why I think my relationship with Joe resonates with people. Listeners feel like they're a part of our 15 year friendship."

The host-listener relationship is the core of podcasting's strength as an advertising channel. The IAB podcast advertising study we mentioned earlier also asked listeners about how they feel when podcast hosts recommend products, as well as more generally about podcast advertising. Here are a few important findings:

  • 70% strongly agreed/agreed that the products and services they learn about on podcasts are generally relevant to their interests
  • 65% strongly agreed/agreed that they are more willing to consider products and services after they learn about them on podcasts.
  • 52% strongly agreed/agreed that they believe the hosts of podcasts they regularly listen to are actual users of the products or services mentioned on their programs.
  • 55% expressed a positive sentiment toward podcast ads consisting of the host(s) mentioning products or services.

But these aren't just sentiments. Listeners take concrete actions when they hear ads on podcasts they like. 45% of listeners said they visited a sponsor's website after hearing their ad, 42% considered a sponsor's product, 28% used a promo discount from a direct response ad, and 17% said they recommended the product they heard about to someone else.


3. Listeners choose podcasts because they get recommendations for them from trusted sources.

Another way in which podcasts as a medium are starkly different from online video, streaming TV, and music is that audiences find out about podcasts largely through organic recommendations. In 2018, listeners still primarily get podcast recommendations through sources they trust, like friends or family, and even hosts of podcasts they already listen to.

An Edison Research/Knight Foundation study of public radio podcast listeners, dubbed "super listeners", found the following to be true of respondents:

"fully 96% said they had recommended a podcast to friend. Word of mouth was the primary means for podcast discovery for these respondents, with just over half saying the primary means by which they learned about new podcasts were recommendations from program hosts or friends and family."

We broke down the rest of the research from that study in our blog post "Who are podcast 'super listeners'?"

New podcast recommendation technologies are coming online that will curate smart playlists of similar podcasts, similar to how Spotify and Pandora have algorithms for music stations. The companies developing these technologies are also looking to integrate them with smart speaker technology (see our blog on smart speakers and podcasts here). These technologies will mean that listeners can find and listen to new podcasts without ever having to look at their smartphone. It remains to be seen whether audiences will gravitate toward this automated technology, since the selection of podcasts up until now has been organized around organic discovery.


4. Listeners believe that podcasts offer content they can’t get anywhere else. And in many ways, they’re right.

The current podcasting ecosystem (centered mostly around Apple's iTunes store but also other services like SoundCloud and Google Play) came into being in the late 2000s. It consists of tens of thousands of podcast shows. Many of them are independent - started by a few people unaffiliated with a radio station or media company, who felt passionate about a particular idea.

These shows are first and foremost podcast content. If listeners like what they hear, they can't go onto YouTube and watch a video version of the same content. Many of Backyard Media's partners fall into this category of podcast-first "indie pods" - Hi-Phi Nation by Barry Lam, Wired to be Weird by Ian McLaughlin and Bo Allen, and The Lonely Palette by Tamar Avishai, to name a few.

Furthermore, many large media companies like NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Slate now create podcast-only content, because they realize that their readers want to consume news and other content in a variety of ways - see again the value of podcasting's time-shifted listening.

Private podcast studios have also cropped up in the past few years, like Gimlet Media and Pineapple Street Media. The driving force behind these companies is the belief that podcasts offer intelligent, creative, and nuanced content that make them unique among digital media.

Indeed, the Edison Research/Knight Foundation study of public radio consumers that we referenced earlier found that these listeners had "a stronger preference for fewer stories/greater depth (41%) than a wide variety of shorter segments (10%)". Podcast listeners don't mind longer, more in-depth content. Indeed, evidence suggests that that these are some of the qualities that podcast listeners like most about podcasts, and are one reason they gravitate toward them. We see this in the fact that podcasts vary in length, with creative concerns dictating episode length instead of any "optimal listening length". We spoke more about this variation in our last post about Apple's Analytics data.

So in short, listeners choose podcasts because they have content that's in-depth, creative, intelligent, and most importantly, unique to the platform.



Tap into podcasting's valuable and unique audiences with podcast advertising. Backyard Media can help you get started today - contact us to learn about advertising with our podcast partners.

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.

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