How Big Could Podcast Audiences Get?


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

The growth in the number of podcast listeners has been steady since 2014, the year that podcasting really took off. That growth begs the question about what the ceiling is for podcast audience sizes. If this growth continues along the same trend line, how big of a market can advertisers expect, and will the combination of a comparable audience size relative to other digital media and podcasting's "halo effect" for advertisers make podcasts the most powerful digital marketing out there?


"Ever listeners" versus regular podcast listeners

To begin to get an idea of the answer, let's get our terms straight. Looking at the data we have on podcast audiences from The Infinite Dial (which we talked about in depth here), there are three main metrics for the popularity of podcasting:

1. Americans' familiarity with the term "podcast."

2. Americans who say they have ever listened to a podcast.

3. Americans who say they have listened to a podcast in the past month.

We can call these metrics of awareness, occasional listening, and regular listening. In the 2018 Infinite Dial, 180 million American adults were familiar with podcasts (64% of respondents), 124 million had ever listened to a podcast (44% of respondents), and 73 million listened to one within the past month (26% of respondents).

The catch-all metric is of course the first one, those people who have heard of podcasting (even if they haven't listened to one or don't know exactly what it is). This number has increased about 4% every year since 2015. If we conservatively estimate that awareness rises year over year at the same rate, we could expect 100% awareness by 2026. The adult population in that year is expected to be around 260 million, based on Census projections. With familiarity maxed out at 100% of all adults, we'd have 260 million adults at least aware of podcasts.

The metric of Americans who have ever listened has also gone up 3-4% per year since 2013. Again, assuming conservative linear growth, we could say that 76% of people will have ever listened to podcasts by 2026, or 197.6 million American adults. This is pretty conservative because podcasting is more popular with younger Americans than older Americans.

The third number, those monthly listeners, is one of the most valuable metrics we have in the podcast industry. It's also harder to project outwards - the Infinite Dial has shown 2-3% increases year over year, but it has jumped around more than our other metrics. If we assume 3% growth every year, that brings us to 50% in 2026, or 130 million Americans.

So, in this example, we could guess 130 million Americans would be regular podcast listeners by 2026.


The ratio of regular listeners

Nick Quah recently noted in his Hot Pod newsletter that there appears to be a ratio of people who've ever listened to a podcast (the second metric) and regular monthly listeners (the third one). What's most interesting about this ratio is that over the past few years it's hardly changed, even as podcasts have a resurgence in popularity since 2014. The magic number seems to be 1.69 - for every 1.69 people who have ever listened to a podcast, there's 1 monthly listener.

Let's see if this ratio holds given our back-of-the-envelope math. If we've figured 197.6 million people who've "ever listened" in 2026, then a ratio of 1.69:1 gives us 116.9 million monthly listeners. A bit less than our original example, but it still makes sense if you assume lower (~2%) yearly growth during some years between now and 2026.

What if we went a bit crazy with our hypothetical and said that podcasting will eventually hit near-100% awareness and also that 100% of adults in 8 years had listened to a podcast before? That gives us 260 million for both our first and second metrics.

If we maintain this 1.69 listening ratio, then that would give us 153.8 million Americans who are monthly podcast listeners, essentially double the audience size that the Infinite Dial found for 2018.


The industry needs to retain "ever-listeners" better

If you're a regular reader of our blog, Quah's listener ratio might come as a bit of a surprise. For a medium that has such dedicated fans, how is it that so many Americans give up on podcasts after they've tried them?

There are a couple of hypotheses for why, and they usually fall into arguments about content (there aren't the right kinds of shows out there, or these listeners don't feel their needs are being met) and discovery (finding out about podcasts is still an organic, word-of-mouth process).

We don't have a good answer about which reason is the actual cause. But with the advent of technologies like voice-controlled smart speakers and new "Pandora-like" podcast algorithms for discovering similar podcasts, there's a chance the discovery part of this "gap" in regular listening will close in the coming years.

When it comes to content, there are few easy answers. The podcast industry has seen a lot of new money in the last few years - both in terms of advertising dollars and new podcast-first media companies. But podcasters continue to have a much-needed conversation about innovations in the formats and topics that podcasts can cover. We saw in 2017 the advent of the "daily news" podcast, popularized by The New York Times' The Daily and re-created with NPR's Up First and Vox Media's Today, Explained.

Closing this gap and making sure that new podcast listeners become regular podcast listeners is hugely important both for growing podcast audiences and increasing the reach for podcast ad campaigns. These audiences have gotten bigger, to be sure, but the industry is still growing, and new innovations will have a big impact on just how popular podcasting becomes.

Be sure to look at our full Infinite Dial 2018 coverage here, the full Infinite Dial report here, and Nick Quah's Hot Pod article here.


Take advantage of growing podcast audiences by advertising on podcasts as part of your marketing campaigns today. Contact us to learn how easy it is to get started advertising with Backyard Media's podcast partners.

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