I suspect a strong indicator of the podcast industry “taking off ” will be Podcasts Per Week, so this is a slide to watch from the annual study from Edison Research:
Consider the average of FIVE podcasts per week.
This has been the same for a while with only nominal difference in breakout. Although podcasting has grown steadily for over a decade, with brief surges in popularity, this view seems steady. For tracking purposes, let’s call it the baseline.
If significantly more consumers are introduced to the podcast medium over the next 18–24 months as I predict, this will change. What can we expect and what will it mean?
New Flood of Listeners and Viewers
IF there is an influx of NEW audience members into the podcasting space, what should we look for?
New listeners, like the audience as a whole, are not monolithic. There are many “types” of new listeners. Once again, let’s talk in generalities since, after all, we’re gazing into a crystal ball to foretell the future.
Once they become familiar with the medium of podcasting, new listeners will begin to fall into one of the various categories of regular listeners.
OR… some small faction of new listeners decide podcasts are not their cup of tea. It could happen.
While they are still NEW, listeners don’t typically consume MULTIPLE podcasts. They are just learning to “listen”, so the average number they enjoy in a week will be pretty close to ONE.
Listening to a podcast IS different. It is not the same as, say, casual office listening. A very big topic… not for today.
This is how I see the progression of future events in podcasting:
1. Audience Size Growth
Without belaboring the math or the obvious, a tide of new listeners coming into the total podcasting AUDIENCE pool will tend to drive the weekly average DOWN. So, this is an initial indicator. The corresponding number causing the average to decline — segment listening to ONE PODCAST — will increase.
2. Audience Size Plateau
Arguably, the medium of podcasting should be on the same level as radio and television with regard to audience penetration… in the 90% range.
If you get down do it, podcasting is just audio (and video) on-demand… there’s really nothing special about it that would preclude anyone from becoming a member of the audience. In addition, audience preferences and history are clear regarding television and video-on-demand.
As podcasting approaches this market saturation target, we’ll know that the size of the audience is near maximum and the growth rate will become flat.
During this stage, the average number of podcasts listened to per week will reach its lowest point. Based on nothing but my gut, my guess is around 3 podcasts per week. We’ll know it’s bottomed out when it starts to rise again.
3. Audience Engagement Growth
At the same time the AUDIENCE is growing, another transition is happening.
As new podcast audience members become more familiar with the medium, they become regular listeners. As such, the number of podcasts they all listen to weekly will rise.
In the latter stages, the migration from “listening to one podcast” to “listening to many” will likely be fast.
Also, when I think about it, I’m not certain the “ONE” category will even exist. If someone engages with a podcast, I cannot see them stopping there… they WILL consume more. If that’s true, then the graph chart labels will be different: no segment for “ONE”, a segment for 2–5, 6–10, etc. In other words, bigger ranges.
Podcasting is simply a medium.
4. Audience Engagement Plateau
Regular listeners have appetites and routines, yet everything has a limit.
There IS a “top end” to the number of podcasts listened to per week. People only have so much time to spend on such things and, even if time is not an issue, interest may be. Also, a show that counts as one podcast may be 10 minutes long or 90 minutes, so the average duration will become a consideration. If the length is lower, consumers can potentially consume more “units”.
What‘s the max?
(all other things being equal)
Currently, 21% of podcast consumers listen to six or more podcasts per week.
Since the medium has been around for a while, regular listener patterns are relatively well-established. In this area, logic leans toward the future being much like the past.
Therefore, IF behaviors in the medium are established and we’re just multiplying the QUANTITY of the recipe by growing the audience, these percentages are not likely to change.
What‘s the max?
(all other things NOT being equal)
THIS is the direction I believe it will go… things are changing. A lot. Technology has reached a stage of convergence and economy where the medium of podcasting is beginning to benefit. In addition, there is a social trend toward individuals having a “public voice” and podcasting fits perfectly.
I predict the term “podcast” will come to mean something different than it does today. To the few in the general public who are even familiar with podcasting today, it is looked at as an AUDIO MEDIUM.
In fact, while most ARE audio, a small percentage of podcasts are VIDEO. It has been present in the industry all along. Yet there’s nothing inherent in RSS feeds nor podcasting that specifically defines the type of media being distributed to consumers. The RSS Enclosure Tag is agnostic, just a file location reference.
Video technology (and expense) used to be a major constraint in podcasting, but no longer.
I think podcasting of the future encompasses presenting audio, video, images, text, and data visualization (regardless of file type). Soon, even if you look closely, it will be hard to distinguish some radio and television shows from podcasts.
However, a MAJOR difference when comparing podcasting content to other media is the TIME FACTORING. Podcasting has none. A “show” can be however long or short the creators want. There is no requirement to conform to any kind of system-imposed duration. This is far more significant than it appears.
I’ve commented before about Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast and, while he doesn’t produce episodes frequently, they are EPIC when released… normally 5+ HOURS LONG. Many podcasts have routines and commonly target 15, 20, 30, 60, and 90 minutes for the length of their shows.
More podcasts than you might think are even shorter.
This gives a tremendous degree of flexibility to a medium that is already quite robust and growing. Content creators will begin to further explore applications and, most likely, find a big home in the 1–5 minute length as SHORT CONTENT BLOCKS are discovered by consumers wanting to fill in spaces in their oh-so-busy schedules. Note that ease-of-use is a key factor in many such consumer scenarios. If short content blocks feed into a daily playlist, however, it doesn’t matter… it’s just one of many to be listened to in a row.
It won’t be long and all consumers will have MORE WAYS to consume podcasts, too! Smart speakers are already invading the home. I think we’ll be watching podcasts on our TV’s (and listening to them, too) in the near future.
So, ultimately, what will be the average number of podcasts consumed per week? audio and video? any length?
I think it’ll end up near a dozen. Crazy talk, I know.
If you are new to this series of articles, welcome! As part of building the VIZdex Annotated Timeline Presentation Platform, I am examining web media and podcast consumption… and sharing my thoughts. You may want to read the first article which establishes much of the foundation for these views.
Or this later article on Sleep Listening!
Once again, I truly appreciate the time you spend reading and thinking about my writing. If it fills some gap in your knowledge or leads to some small positive action, then it will have done its job.