What Do We Know About Podcast Listeners in 2018?

Credit: Gavin Whitner ( musicoomph.com )

Credit: Gavin Whitner (musicoomph.com)


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

Last week saw a big event for some of us in the podcast industry. March 8th, 2018 was the official release of The Infinite Dial 2018. Conducted by Edison Research, it's the longest-running study of digital media consumption and of listener behavior. The Infinite Dial has a considerable portion of podcast-specific data that industry leaders depend on. We spoke about last year's Infinite Dial in our post "What we know about podcast listeners", so let's update that data and see what trends we can draw from it.


1. Podcasts are more widely known, and more people are tuning into them.

The top-line numbers from each year's Infinite Dial survey concern podcast awareness and overall listenership. How many Americans have heard of podcasts? And how many are listening to podcasts, or have ever listened to one?

First, 64% of Americans report having heard of podcasts, a jump from 60% in 2017. Note that this means they have heard it, not that they know what a podcast is or how podcasts work.

The number of people among the American adult population who've ever listened to a podcast is now estimated at 124 million, or 44% of the population. That's up 4% from 2017 and 36% in 2016. In the podcast industry, though, we usually look at monthly listening as a more informative metric: respondents who've reported having listened to a podcast in the past 30 days. That number saw a bump as well, to 26% of respondents or 73 million Americans.

Let's take a second to let that figure sink in. For a medium that only about 1 in 3 Americans were even aware of in 2008, now an estimated 73 million Americans listen to podcasts on a regular basis.

What should podcast sponsors take away from this? The pool of podcast listeners continues to grow at a healthy rate, about 4% every year. In the next year or two, podcast listening should hit 50% of the adult population and monthly (regular) podcast listening should hit 30%. For marketing departments, podcasts need to be a main part of their campaigns to reach these audiences.


2. Podcast audiences are becoming more diverse.

2018's survey saw a few demographic shifts. First off, there was a notable bump among 12-24 year olds. We've seen an increase in podcast programming from studios that is specifically aimed at young kids and teenagers. That has likely caused the increase in this younger age cohort, which hasn't seen much change in the past few years. The 25-54 age range has maintained its lead, with 32% of those surveyed having listened to podcasts in the past month. The 55+ age range, noticeably lower at 13%, continues to have small increases each year.

2018 Monthly Listening By Age.PNG

The past few years of Infinite Dial data has also shown listeners to skew more male. In 2018, there was a jump in the number of women listening to podcasts: 24% of all female respondents listened to a podcast in the past month versus 27% of all men. In 2017, that was 21% of women and men were flat at 27%.

What should podcast sponsors take away from this? As podcasts have moved from a niche medium to a widespread method for entertainment, news and learning, podcast audiences have been more diverse and reflect the larger adult population. Sponsors shouldn't worry that they can't advertise on podcasts because their product doesn't "match" the listening audience. Listening audiences vary from show to show, and we can match your product to the right podcast audience by working with our partners, who know their audiences well.


3. Listeners are consuming more and more podcast content.

Perhaps the most exciting number for us from this year's Infinite Dial was the question about the number of podcasts listened to in the last week. This tells us the depth of listeners' podcast consumption - are they casual listeners, or do they more closely resemble the "super listener" ?

Here's the response to this question from 2017:

2017 NumberofWeeklyPods.PNG

Compare that with the new data from 2018:


What we see here is a massive shift upwards in respondents' likelihood to listen to six or more podcasts per week. 2018's data also shows a big drop in the "moderate listener" population - those who listen to two or three podcasts a week but aren't heavy users. Casual listeners who listen to one regular podcast have stayed steady, but the number of people who listen to 11 or more podcasts per week has increased substantially.

These shifts have brought the average number of podcasts listened per week from five to seven. In our discussion of the 2017 Infinite Dial data, we actually expected this five-per-week average to stay steady. The fact that it's jumped in one year is yet another testament to the trend that as listeners adopt podcasts as part of their media diet, they tend to consume more podcasts over time, not less, and after a while do look more like "super listeners".

What should podcast sponsors take away from this? Podcast listeners on average are becoming more dedicated consumers of the medium. This also means that as they hear more podcasts per month, they hear more ads. Sponsors therefore need to make sure their podcast ads are interesting and memorable - something Backyard Media can help sponsors with, given our knowledge about which ad scripts work and our relationships with our podcast partners.


4. Smart speakers are becoming a real platform for podcasts due to their rapid adoption.

Edison Research actually looks at a number of different types of media consumption in The Infinite Dial. From another part of the study, researchers saw a huge jump in the rate of smart speaker ownership. In 2017, only 7% said they owned a smart speaker. In 2018, that figure had more than doubled to 18%, or 51 million Americans owning a smart speaker.

What does this mean for podcasting and podcast advertising? We discussed this intersection of technologies in our post about smart speakers. With the rise of smart speakers in American households, more listeners will opt to play podcasts on their smart speakers. This will happen in one of two ways:

1. Play a podcast in their usual podcatcher app, via their smartphone's Bluetooth connection, or

2. Play a podcast straight from a podcasting service on the smart speaker.

Anecdotally, option #1 remains the most common method. But some companies are developing podcast radio stations, much like how Pandora and Spotify use algorithms to combine similar music artists. And the smart speaker's voice-activated technology presents a new type of interface between podcasts and listeners.

Up until now, podcast discovery and selection has been organic, via word-of-mouth or searching through the iTunes directory. As these podcast algorithms develop, listeners will have the option to be less involved in the selection of the exact podcasts they listen to. This change will be very important, since at-home listening is still a plurality of all podcast listening in 2018:

2018 Locations Listened to Pods.PNG

What should podcast sponsors take away from this? The basics of podcast advertising - crafted a quality ad and ad campaign - will remain the same for the time being. Rely on good ad scripts and trusts that podcasts hosts know how to deliver ads to their audiences. More broadly, podcast consumption should actually increase as listeners have a more frictionless platform for listening. The adaptation to a less screen-centric, more algorithmic discovery process will affect which sorts of podcasts a particular listener hears, but in aggregate, there shouldn't be any negative effects.

You can download the entire Infinite Dial 2018 study at Edison Research's website here.


In 2018 we've seen that podcast audiences are bigger and more valuable than ever. Start 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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