Virginia is for Podcast Lovers
The Old Dominion has some serious podcast addicts
When people ask what advice I have for someone starting a new podcast, I always reply with a question of my own: “Who’s your audience?” There are many correct answers, but “everyone” isn’t among them. Producers often have a very clear idea of what they want to say and how they want to say it, but rarely have they considered who specifically might be eager to listen. That’s a problem in a medium where every show begins life with a grand total of zero listeners. Without a clear answer to “who’s your audience,” you’re going to have a pretty lonely RSS feed.
I’m bullish on efforts to find and cultivate new podcasting audiences — after all, we as an industry have yet to interest about three quarters of Americans in our medium — but it helps to know more about where the existing listeners are, and where, so far, they aren’t.
Welcome to Panoply’s new blog about some of the insights we’ve gathered since our start in the podcast medium back in 2005. To help us give you interesting and, we hope, actionable information, we’ll be aided by some of the data from Megaphone, our podcast hosting and ad-insertion platform that serves nine-figure-monthly downloads for some of the biggest players in the field. To begin, we wanted to answer a basic question:
Where in the United States are listeners most into podcasting?
According to our data — which include shows representing a wide assortment of genres, formats, and political points of view but is obviously only a subset of the entire podcast universe — there’s one place in particular that seems to have an insatiable appetite for on-demand audio: Falls Church, VA.
In the period between Feb. 10 to May 11 of this year, the Washington, DC, suburb, population 13,597, accounted for about 100,000 downloads. That works out to 7.4 podcasts per capita*. If the entire U.S. population of 328 million listened at the same rate, that would work out to nearly 10 billion downloads a year, and that’s just for shows hosted on Megaphone.
Sadly, we have a long way to go before we reach that milestone, but the Washington area is still a success story for the medium.
The nation’s capital itself clocks in at 2.35 downloads per capita, and several of its surrounding suburbs also crack the “more downloads than people” threshold.
This makes sense. DC is a big news consumption area, and as you might expect the top podcast genres consumed there are news and business (I’ll have more on genre distribution in a future post). The demographics of the region also mirror what you probably already know or suspect about the current podcast audience: it’s more affluent and educated than the overall population and it’s located in areas that lean Democratic.
Other leading download-per-capita areas include Charlottesville, VA (3.5), Manhattan (2.4), Denver (2.2) San Francisco (2.4), Portland, OR (1.5), St. Louis (1.3), St. Paul (1.2), Boston (1.2), Baltimore (0.7), Chicago (0.6), and the nation’s most populous county, Los Angeles (0.5).
Top 25 U.S. Counties by Downloads Per Capita
- Falls Church City, Virginia — 7.41
- Dixie County, Florida — 6.30
- Fairfax City, Virginia — 5.01
- Charlottesville City, Virginia — 3.51
- Williamsburg City, Virginia — 3.40
- Alexandria City, Virginia — 3.09
- Loudon County, Tennessee — 2.53
- Orange County, Texas — 2.53
- San Francisco County, California — 2.44
- Blanco County, Texas — 2.44
- New York County, New York — 2.42
- Washington, District of Columbia — 2.35
- Denver County, Colorado — 2.23
- Rockdale County, Georgia — 1.88
- Fredericksburg City, Virginia — 1.77
- Montgomery County, Maryland — 1.53
- Arlington County, Virginia — 1.49
- Multnomah County, Oregon — 1.48
- Bronx County, New York — 1.47
- Russell County, Alabama — 1.45
- Manassas City, Virginia — 1.35
- Loudoun County, Virginia — 1.34
- Richmond City, Virginia — 1.34
- Lexington City, Virginia — 1.33
- St. Louis City, Missouri — 1.31
Click here to play around with our interactive map of all the counties in the U.S.
In general, the highest per capita consumption rates overlap with the highest overall download rates, which it won’t surprise you are also clustered around big cities. However, there are a few exceptions to this on the list, including №2, Dixie County, FL (6.3 downloads per capita). While it’s possible the older-than-average residents of this largely rural county 40 miles west of Gainesville are voracious podcast listeners, our data team tells me it’s also possibly an anomaly based on the small population size and the location of cell towers used to determine IP addresses and locations. This seems more likely since every surrounding county has little or no download activity. Still, I’d like to visit sometime to see whether Dixie County has a small corps of serious podcast addicts who are driving such insane numbers.
On the other end of the spectrum, 106 of the 3,142 U.S. counties recorded precisely zero downloads during the 90-day period tested. They’re mostly in the south and plains states.
There are many ways to interpret these data. One is that urban areas are generally where podcasting has so far broken through most successfully, and I’d argue the programming that tends to do the best is definitely aimed at city and suburb dwellers. More complicated is whether the faster growth of podcasting in cities shows those listeners are drawn to shows made largely by fellow urbanites, or vice versa, namely that we’re creating shows to fill the demand already coming from cities. I’d wager both are true, and that it’s something of a virtuous, or vicious, cycle, depending on your point of view.
So, if you want to fish where the fish are already biting — that is, where lots of people are already listening to podcasts — target the cities. But of course, that’s where most other podcasters are fishing too. If you’re looking for untapped areas, more rural places are the ones to focus on. But that also means you’ll need to do some audience education about how to use podcasts — unless of course you have a perfect show aimed at Dixie County, FL.
As for Falls Church, it may be an outlier but it’s not an aberration in its state. Of the top 25 counties in our study, 11 are in Virginia, and not all are clustered in the DC suburbs. Virginia, with its fascinating and evolving demographics, is devouring what we podcasters are producing. I’m eager to learn more about why that is. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a place to hold a focus group, may I suggest you skip Brooklyn and consider the Old Dominion?
- Although this data set is of counties, Virginia is unusual among U.S. states in that it separates out cities from their surrounding counties. So, the reporting area here is “Falls Church City,” making it a more urban sample than many counties that contain both urban and rural areas.