How COVID-19 is changing the podcast landscape now — and what the data tells us about the future

By Leandro Saucedo, Chief Business & Strategy Officer

The coronavirus outbreak is undoubtedly changing consumer behaviour, and that’s having a knock-on effect for all media channels. Cinema and out-of-home campaigns, for example, make less sense when people are being told to stay inside.

For Acast, we’re working hard to understand and analyze these changes ourselves, to help our podcasters and advertisers adapt to listeners’ new routines and preferences.

Our content catalogue is one of the biggest in the world, with more than 2 billion listens spread globally — across everything from Apple and Google to Spotify, Alexa and the hundreds of podcatchers out there, and including those hosted on our own platform .

And all the listens we analyze are certified against the IAB’s Podcast Measurement Guidelines 2.0*, so our data scientists have been able to see some fascinating — and very accurate — trends.

In times of turmoil you sometimes see paradigm shifts, and our data points suggest what we’re experiencing now will force through the move from analogue to digital once and for all.

Podcasting is a discipline flexible and creative enough to tackle major changes like coronavirus head-on. And one thing is absolutely clear: the industry is not just surviving, it’s flourishing.

Listeners are hungry for content

We continue to experience stronger-than-usual growth in listens across the Acast network, with an all-time high for us globally, and we’re seeing a redistribution of listens throughout the week.

As a result, the past two weekends have been record-breakers for the Acast network globally — with weekend listens up +8.4% overall. Consumption has moved from spikes in the morning — usually on people’s journeys to work — and evening — as people choose podcasts to help them wind down — to sustained periods of listening throughout the day.

The consumption curve is flattening

As people spend more time at home, the way they listen to podcasts is changing, too. Listens through Alexa devices increased +26% in March, compared to February, and those through Chromecast devices are up +35% — suggesting more people are connecting their shows to home devices, with podcasts playing a prominent role during isolation and quarantine.

Listeners are changing how they consume podcasts

We’re also seeing that the genre of podcasts people are choosing to listen to varies depending on the pandemic’s status in their country. Take Europe, where the majority of countries are operating isolation and social distancing measures. Last week’s listening growth was led by great numbers for the Comedy (+21.5%) and Science and Medicine (+14.5%) categories — people clearly still want a good laugh in challenging times, and are seeking out a more scientifically robust take on the current situation.

These categories are gaining popularity in Europe during the week

And, as these numbers are increasing, listeners are expanding their horizons in terms of what they’re listening to — in many cases discovering new shows and content they might not have done otherwise. Many people are coming to podcasting for the very first time, too.

Our Finance category saw a +5.3% increase globally over the weekend, which could suggest people are investing their time in learning how to keep companies afloat, or expanding their knowledge in anticipation of a bounce-back once the pandemic is over.

Similarly, there was a +6.9% increase for Tech podcasts at the weekend, while during the week Art shows were up +2.5% — indicating people are looking for escapism or new projects for leisure time, and are finding fresh appreciation for things that are currently off limits.

These categories contributed to record weekend listening figures across the Acast network globally

Podcasters are adapting

The challenges presented by government sanctions — such as professional recording studios being inaccessible — are not stopping podcasters from creating more of the content their listeners love. Far from it.

We’re seeing our network of creators respond in lots of different creative ways, whether that’s changing their format — Out For Lunch With Jay Rayner has become ‘In For Lunch’, for example — or setting up live listen-along sessions on various social media platforms, like My Dad Wrote A Porno has done.

The episode of My Dad Wrote A Porno that was listened to in that live session saw an incredible 642% increase in listens versus the same time a week before. And in the US, Forever35 has created a daily show called Here For You, a new format specifically focused on self-care in times of quarantine.

Trials on our Acast Open platform — which helps anyone and everyone set up a podcast for free — are booming, increasing by nearly half (+49%) in March versus February. And nearly three quarters as many podcasters becoming fully fledged paying customers (+71% versus January).

Acast Open is booming

Creators come first for us, so we’ve been helping them navigate new recording and production processes, and sharing tips on how to keep up the quality or engage listeners in new ways — and the majority are continuing to put out episodes pretty much as normal, which is of huge importance for the whole industry. We’ll be shining a light on the shows that are adapting most successfully, too, to help all our podcasters learn from best practice.

Podcasting is also being used as an effective way to share important messages at this time. Since January 22, more than 2,300 new podcast episodes referencing “corona” or “covid” in the title have been hosted on our network — and they’ve been downloaded more than 39.5 million times. The Friday just gone saw the most listens to these episodes so far, peaking at more than 1.3m listens in a single day.

Major publishers have launched new shows specifically about the virus, and we’re working with our podcast talent to encourage listeners to stay safe — using our ad inventory for well-known voices to share public service messages alongside podcast recommendations for people staying home.

We also expect to be increasingly working with governments and official bodies around the world, as they turn to digital mediums over traditional analogue broadcasts in times of crisis — we’re committed to helping them distribute accurate and reliable information.

Advertisers are seeing new opportunities

Advertising is always going to be affected by a global event like this, and that’s being felt by every type of media there is. But we’re in a far stronger position than many other channels — not least because the outbreak is having no impact on people’s ability to listen to podcasts.

Indeed, we’re seeing positive movement and increased investment from advertisers across many of our categories. In comparison with January 2020, advertising spend for Educational products — promoting language learning apps, for example — increased +159% in March.

Spending on ads for VoD services (including TV and Film) was up +36%, while ad revenue for the Gambling (+158%), Banking and Finance (+150%), and Home Improvement (+108%) categories also showed notable increases.

And there are other areas experiencing increases in line with changes in consumer behaviour — such as Groceries (+45%), as demand grows for people to have shopping delivered to their door, and Online Dating (+25%), with brands helping people to find ways of meeting new people without leaving the house.

Ad spending for categories like Travel (-92%) and Business Software (-77%) was perhaps predictably down, with many people around the world cancelling holiday plans and not being able to visit their office for work.

How advertising spend is changing

In the UK, data from YouGov suggests podcast listeners are 27% more likely to spend more of their disposable income over the next month — a time of working from home and isolation from friends and family for the majority of the population.

For advertisers, then, the solution is clearly to continue working with podcasts as normal — and to think about the new doors that are being opened. How do a brand’s products and services fit with listeners’ new routines — and how can campaigns be shaped to offer an element of escapism from everything that’s going on?

We’re speaking to dating apps about campaigns for new virtual dating services, companies looking to create content about indoor gardening, and even banks who are looking to put out podcasts that will give their customers up-to-date information about how the current climate might impact them.

The situation is changing almost daily, but that’s led to some of our most creative and ambitious conversations with advertisers yet. The agile nature of podcasting means access to top-tier talent, quick turnaround times and high-end productions values are still easily achievable.

We’re confident podcasting can not only handle anything that’s thrown at it, but continue to flourish in times of adversity. Acast is committed to providing a voice for the whole industry, and we’re certainly not resting on our laurels.

The story our expansive data is telling me is that the paradigm shift in digital is perhaps not happening in front of our eyes, but rather in our ears — and podcasting, with Acast at the forefront, is ready for it.

Happy listening.

*All Acast’s listening data is fully certified against the IAB’s Podcast Measurement Guidelines 2.0. It covers all platforms and podcatchers, including Acast’s own hosted shows, meaning we can report a full and accurate picture globally. Results are statistically significant.

Acast

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