The Significant New Podcasting Stat Hiding In Plain Sight

In last week’s debut of the Infinite Dial 2019 report from Edison Research and Triton Digital, we published some eye-popping numbers on the growth of podcasting. The growth in both monthly and weekly podcast consumers is the largest percentage point increase we’ve seen in the 15 years we have covered the medium in the Infinite Dial series.

The increase in weekly listeners is certainly notable, from 17% of Americans ages 12+ in 2018 to 22% in 2019, which translates to an estimated 14 million new humans making podcasts a weekly habit.

But there is one number that didn’t change. It stayed perfectly flat, in fact: the number of podcasts per week that these new regular listeners consume. Last year, weekly podcast listeners told us they consumed an average of seven podcasts per week. This year? Exactly the same. Seven. You might not think there is much of a story here — but in fact, it’s one of the more consequential numbers in the entire study.

“Flat” might seem like a non-story, but if podcasting were a mature medium, we actually would have expected the average number of podcasts per week to go down. Why? Think about the people who have been listening to podcasting for well over 10 years — they are pretty hardcore! They’ve listened to a LOT of shows, and podcasts have been an important part of their media diet for over a decade. It’s not uncommon to run into people at a podcast conference who listen to 10, 20, or even more podcasts per week.

When new people convert to more regular consumers of the medium, however, they don’t come in immediately listening to 10 or 20 shows a week. It was probably just one show that converted them to weekly listening at first, and then they may have added another show or two. But expecting a new podcast listener to replace a significant amount of their weekly media consumption with podcasts right away is a behavior change that defies credulity. Thus, with a sudden influx of new, regular listeners, I would not have been surprised to see the weekly average go down.

It didn’t. The fact that it didn’t is due to a few reasons, but it isn’t rocket surgery — whether you are a podcast O.G. or a newbie, there is a lot of great content out there, and it’s getting easier to find and consume.

So, the next time you see a study with a number that is “flat,” remember that nothing is static — there are always hidden dynamics in every statistic.

Note: Nick Quah made the same point today in his excellent Hot Pod newsletter and column for Nieman.