Sizing up the Podcast Audience
Robust growth in the industry, likely led by larger entrants doubling down
By David Martin, Lead Data Analyst
With the turning of the seasons comes another report from Infinite Dial, an eagerly awaited annual check-up on the size and shape of the podcast audience — along with other topics in digital media — by Edison Research (a video of their always-entertaining presentation is here, slides here). The report has been tracking consumer behavior around podcasts since 2006, so it provides a good opportunity to see the growth of the podcasting industry as a whole, all the way back to its infancy.
Overall, the story is of a maturing industry that continues to grow, but the report also points to evidence for where some of the growth is coming from.
By all measures, the medium is growing steadily: The number of people who were familiar with podcasting; who have ever listened and who listen monthly have all grown at a fairly steady rate year-over-year since 2015 and the trend has continued to this year.
Between 2009 and 2015, fewer than half of Americans were aware of podcasting and growth in awareness remained stagnant. An acceleration started in 2016, which we can see clearly in the chart below. Awareness of podcasting has grown at a pace of 4–6 percentage points per year since 2015.
For the first time, more than half of Americans (age 12 and above) report having ever listened to a podcast. That number grew from 44% in 2018 to 51% (or an estimated 144 million people) in the most recent study.
Almost 1 in 3 Americans (32%, or an estimated 90 million) listen on a monthly basis.
This is all great news! The funnel is being filled at all levels. But even more interesting are some glimmers of insight into what forces might be driving at least some of this growth.
The Infinite Dial presenters noted particularly high growth in the past year in the proportion of younger listeners who report monthly podcast listening. Among those age 12–24, 40% now say they listened to a podcast last month, up from 30% the previous year.
They also called attention to suggestive evidence of the source: drilling down further, they found that among Spotify listeners 12–24, the growth was roughly twice as large: where only last year 32% of this group were monthly podcast listeners, now more than half (53%) reported listening to a podcast in the last month. The tantalizing conclusion: the ascendant streaming audio service, which has recently made major moves into the podcast space, is successfully driving its users toward podcasts.
The diligent reader of our blog will have seen a recent blog post in which we presented different evidence that, while not definitive, suggests a similar trend. Our analyst Luke Riley showed that Spotify seems to be expanding the audience for Megaphone shows in areas of the U.S. where podcast listening has traditionally lagged.
So, while Spotify is helping expand the podcast audience according to both our research and the Infinite Dial survey, there’s still a lot of audience left to capture (start with the 49% of U.S. adults who still haven’t even tried one!). Spotify has shown that steering listeners toward spoken word audio can be very effective. Google has publicly stated its goal to double podcast listenership over the next few years, Pandora is upping its podcast game, and Apple, long the dominant podcast platform, seems unlikely to give up that title without a fight. With the tech industry’s heaviest hitters newly focused on podcasting, it’s a safe bet that next year’s Infinite Dial survey will look even brighter for the industry.
Check out the infographic below for a recap of the study.