Trusted kids content in the time of COVID-19

How PRX is tracking podcast consumption with young listeners

Donna Hardwick
Apr 15, 2020 · 5 min read

In mid-March 2020, COVID-19 disrupted the day-to-day lives of millions around the U.S. and the world. Everyone is bearing the toll of this abrupt change, but those of us caring for children under 13 are experiencing something extra special. As a single mom by choice of a ten-year-old girl, I quickly had to establish new routines as my daughter and I started spending all — and I mean all — our time together. Between my new teleworking setup and her learning from home, our environments took on a very different shape and purpose.

During the day, we’re each spending time online, but doing vastly different things: I’m leading PRX’s marketing team and she’s taking over my home laptop for Zoom check-ins with friends and classmates, watching Spanish video tutorials, or listening to podcasts.

I’m not the only one who turned to podcasts to add qualitative activities to my kid’s days. Over the past few weeks, PRX has been assessing listening behavior across our portfolio of shows, and we’re most excited by what we’ve observed so far with the productions that speak to our youngest listening audiences. We took an early lead on organizing the shows for easy browsing and listening with our kids’ podcast recommendations collection. The listening data quickly supported this strategic decision.

To take a closer look at changes in our listening data, we looked at a six-week rolling average across our kids’ shows to account for variation in publishing schedules. We then compared that average with the most recent week of data to calculate percentage change.

Some specific points of interest:

  • Gen-Z Media launched a new series, a chronicle-turned-mystery of a twelve-year-old Six Minutes fan currently quarantined with her family in New Jersey, providing ongoing daily entertainment for kids and families similarly spending time at home together. We saw a 70% increase in Six Minutes downloads, coinciding with the launch of the Remy’s Life, Interrupted series.
  • The first season of WGBH’s Molly of Denali concluded in July 2019, yet still saw a nearly 60% increase in downloads over the last few weeks.
  • Even shows without recent new episodes saw an increase in unique listeners. Young Ben Franklin last released episodes in 2018, yet saw a 92% increase in unique listeners.

Nearly every kids’ show saw an increase in both downloads and unique listeners. Overall, we saw an over 50% increase in unique listeners to the PRX kids portfolio in the same span, indicating that kids’ shows are not only holding steady in a time of uncertain podcast futures, but they are also growing in overall listenership. Now, we recognize that it’s hard to establish a baseline for listening as both the landscape of podcasting and the world around us continues to change amidst COVID-19 developments. We are, however, very encouraged by what we’ve seen so far as an indicator of demand for kids’ podcasts. We see this unprecedented moment as an opportunity to develop new habits, especially around listening and screen-minimal activities. Early data is suggesting this: we’ve seen an initial 55% increase in consumption of our kids’ shows, both with new episodes and deep into the back catalog, since the beginning of February. We’re hopeful that this kind of listening is here to stay, both as we practice social distancing during COVID-19 and once we return to more varied lives of media consumption, learning, and entertainment in the future.

This massive increase in listening is a huge credit to our talented producers, whose shows bring entertaining and educational topics to life through their storytelling, sound design, and thoughtful ear toward content that engages young listeners.

While each podcast encourages activity beyond listening in different ways, here’s how a few PRX kids shows are doing it:

  • The Music Box from Louisville Public Media and Project Catapult encourages listeners to get up and move while learning music theory basics.
  • Historical fiction like Timestorm from Cocotazo Media and the Google Podcasts creator program, and tween horror like The Creeping Hour from WGBH, are fully-immersive narratives, allowing a listener’s mind to focus on an engaging story without a screen.
  • Gen-Z Media’s The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian and Tumble inspire accompanying activities like drawing, doodling, writing, or building.

Given my occupation, my daughter is no stranger to podcast listening, however, she’s now built this into her regular routine during the day when she’d normally be at school. Her go-to’s are But Why? and Molly of Denali. She tends to like to keep her hands busy while she’s in listening mode, doodling along with the story or building out Lego scenes. Her listening is happening entirely on desktop — actually, laptop, no mobile devices for her yet, I don’t need that added stressor — and around the house during room cleaning (if I’m lucky,) cooking, or slime making.

Whether listening is currently a solitary or group activity for your family right now, I encourage you to connect around it regardless. Ask your kid to talk about something they’ve listened to this week — if you need a recommendation on episodes (or discussion prompts) for listeners ages 9 and up, our new TRAX newsletter provides them weekly. Use any one of the podcasts mentioned in this article as a reason to reconnect with anyone in your life who is caring for kids at the moment. This is the kind of support you can provide even from a distance — a voice, a story, a break — that brings us all closer together.

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