The Podcast Boom in the UK


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

This is the second in a three-part series about the state of podcasting in other anglophone countries, as compared to industry trends in the United States. Read the first piece about Canadian podcast trends here. 

The United Kingdom has a long tradition of radio broadcasts, first for news in the 1920s and then the expansion into creative television and radio programming. When it comes to podcasts, though, how does Britain's podcast industry compare to that in the United States? As part of a our series on podcasting in other countries, today we're looking at the UK's podcast scene: who the big players are, how many people are listening, and what podcast sponsors should know about the differences between the British and American podcast industries.


The Great British Podcast Landscape: the BBC Dominates

The first thing anyone looking at the podcast market in the UK will notice is that the dominant force is the British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC lists hundreds of shows on its podcast roster, and it recently reported it had achieved 240 million podcast downloads across all of its shows in 2017. It also has been a podcast trailblazer, with its popular history podcast In Our Time actively posting episodes since 2004.

Many of the other large podcast outlets are similarly news outlets. The Guardian, the Economist, and the Daily Telegraph all produce podcasts about politics, culture, comedy, and sports.

Other than that, there are a handful of independent networks, production studios, shows and podcast technology companies. Relay FM, for example, is a network of tech news and app developer podcasts half-owned and operated in the UK. Nick Quah of Hot Pod has noted that the UK industry appears to still be in its infancy, and that the BBC's acquisition rules means many of the independent studios and creators work with the broadcaster to produce content. Interestingly, there's still a lot of overlap in big podcasts sponsors with the US podcast market. By and large, many UK companies have not expanded to sponsorship on UK podcasts, and US companies have so far filled in the void.

When it comes to gauging what the British are listening to and exactly how much, the data becomes a bit harder to find. There is no standard Infinite Dial like in the US and Canada. The British government's Office of Communications (Ofcom), which regulates its communications industry, has conducted market surveys of radio listening for years and has expanded its survey to include questions about podcast consumption.

One interesting data point from Ofcom's surveys is that the BBC, in addition to having the lion's share of podcast content and listenership in the UK, also serves as the main entry point for people who start listening to podcasts.

Ofcom Page 13 BBC Platform.PNG

In Figure 3.11 (see above), Ofcom found that of all listeners surveyed, 36% had listened to podcasts from the BBC's site or mobile app in the past. What's remarkable is that iTunes, usually the single biggest platform for podcasts in the US, is only at #3.

Ofcom also found that of the particular podcasts that respondents had listened to, 31% of listeners had heard TED Talks podcasts and BBC Radio 4 podcasts (the organization's news, drama and comedy outlet). 17% had heard other BBC outlet podcasts, 15% had heard shows from news organizations like the Guardian, and 14% had heard independent podcasts.

What does this mean for sponsors? Podcast sponsors should be aware of the independent podcast networks and organizations that are available for advertising, especially independent podcasts that serve smaller but dedicated audiences and that need advertising. And if sponsors have products or services that are easily sold over the internet, like software or online services, they should consider expanding to UK podcasts.


UK podcast audiences are growing and becoming more dedicated to the medium

We can roughly compare Ofcom's findings to the Infinite Dial surveys in the US and Canada in order to understand how fast podcasting is growing in the UK.

Remember our three main metrics of podcasting, which we talked about in more detail in our discussion of how large US podcast audiences could get. These are metrics of awareness of podcasts, having ever listened to a podcast, and regular listening of podcasts. Ofcom did not ask about awareness of podcasts, but it found that 24% of respondents had ever listened to a podcast, up from 19% in 2013. (We would expect awareness to be between 2 times and 3 times this umber, so around 50-60%.) There continues to be a tendency for younger adults to listen to podcasts - 61% of those who've ever listened to a podcast were under age 45.

For regular listening, Ofcom asked about weekly listening habits - a less stable metric than our preferred monthly listening, but 8% of all respondents said they listened to podcasts weekly. Given the UK has a population of about 66.5 million people, we can roughly estimate it has about 5 million regular podcast listeners.

One of the most interesting points from this data is that while UK listenership is not yet as intense as in the US (which in 2018 saw more podcasts consumed on average), UK podcast consumption continues to rise each year. In fact, 42% of respondents said they were listening to podcasts more often this year compared to the previous year - the highest response of its kind among all types of digital media that Ofcom asked about (see the purple bars below):

Ofcom Page 6 Listening Increase.PNG

On that point about consumption intensity: UK audiences listen to, on average, 3-5 podcasts in the last month. 30% listened to that many, while 28% listened to five or more. This is noticeably lower than the US stats on podcast consumption (which also track on a weekly basis). Combined with the above statistic, we would expect the average consumption number to increase to near-US levels within the next few years.

For sponsors, this lower consumption is actually good news. Podcast advertisements that air on UK listeners' preferred podcasts will have less competition: with fewer podcasts listened to per month, the number of ads heard decreases. Listeners are therefore more likely to recall messaging from the ads they have heard. Many US-based podcast sponsors have understood this and are crossing over to UK podcasts.


British listeners consume podcasts and radio for different reasons

But what podcasts are listeners actually listening to? Ofcom found that there was a noticeable difference in the most popular podcast categories when compared to the most popular radio programming. Whereas local news, national news, and current affairs were most popular for radio listeners, those listeners instead chose less news-oriented content categories for their podcasts: comedy and entertainment; music, arts and culture; and "other factual and educational", meaning podcasts with learning components unrelated to news. 

Ofcom Page 11 Popular Categories.PNG

One last point we want to highlight, which shows again how engaging and valuable podcasts are as a medium: when listeners were asked why they listen to other audio like music or speech radio, many said it was for background listening, to relax, or to keep up with the news. For podcasts, 51% of UK listeners said they tune in because they find them interesting, and 26% said it was because they wanted to learn something new. This tracks very closely with why listeners choose podcasts over other digital media. People listen to podcasts as an active listening activity. For potential podcast sponsors, associating one's product with the value these podcasts bring to listeners can lead to excellent brand recall and brand lift.


What should sponsors take away from all of this data? Podcasting in Britain is a growing market, just like in the US, but in terms of current size and rate of growth, the country's market is still smaller than what we see in the States and in Canada. Sponsors who can easily sell products online would do well to consider advertising on UK-specific podcasts, as the ad load a listener is hearing is overall lower. We expect UK podcast consumption to continue to rise given the data there mirrors what we saw in the US 4-5 years ago, but the UK market still needs to develop more industry players and home-grown podcast advertisers.

Our next post in this series covers how the podcast market has developed in Australia. Check out that post here.


Podcasting is growing everywhere. Take advantage of this trend by including podcasts in your digital 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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