While most media focus on the young since they have the potential to be users for years to come, Edison Research is making the case that tens of millions of podcast listeners could be added in the near-term if the industry puts more focus on Baby Boomers. If Boomer listening levels are brought up to those registered by younger demos, Edison President Larry Rosin says it would push podcasting’s monthly listener numbers from 120 million Americans aged 12 to an estimated 152 million. “If we can convert the Baby Boomers to the level of podcast listening that we're seeing among 12 to 54 year olds, there's essentially 30 million new podcast listeners,” Rosin said during a presentation last week.
Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 -- have long grown accustomed to being the center of the media universe. But with about 5,000 people from this generation dying each day, Gen Zs and Millennials are where media companies are paying most of their attention. (Gen X is as ignored as ever). Still, it is projected that the massive Baby Boomer generation will not disappear until 2086. “According to the US Census Bureau, there are 99 million Americans aged 55 and older, that represents 30% of the total U.S. population. So we're talking about a huge group,” Rosin said.
Edison’s research shows seven in ten Americans aged 55 and older are aware of what a podcast is. That trails the 9% recognition level of younger demos, although for many older listeners their understanding is that podcasts seem limited to the notion that it is time-shifted radio content.
Yet familiarity with podcast is only part of the equation: only 42% of those 55 and older have ever listened to a podcast, compared to 76% among those 12 to 54. “The next step is to get more people to try a podcast,” Rosin said.
One reason Boomers have “great potential” is the sort of content they listen to. Edison’s Share of Ear data shows that 29% of audio time among those age 55+ goes to spoken word content. This consists of listening to news (12%), talk shows (11%), sports (4%) and audiobooks (2%).
Those habits are already being reflected in what older podcast listeners are downloading. The most popular genres among Boomers include news, political content – both on the left and right – history, and religion and spirituality. Many of the top podcasts are hosted by Boomers, too.
“Amazingly, there are two shows in the top 10 that are hosted by dead people,” Rosin said. That includes Rush Limbaugh Timeless Wisdom and The Best of Car Talk. But Rosin said familiarity is also a factor with several of the podcasts hosted by names from radio and cable TV. “This supports the point that 55+ is dabbling or experimenting in the space, but it is a sort of a radio-ish kind of medium and they haven’t discovered the totality of the world,” he said. Rosin thinks more education is needed.
Although the data reveals that podcast listening overall has grown dramatically over the last five years, listening among Baby Boomers has not grown and is at a far lower level than younger demographics. Yet according to the report from Edison and NPR, Boomers have the tools to listen with four in five owning a smartphone and more than 60% owning a smart TV. Rosin said the challenge is to get them to use these devices for podcast listening.
Changing habits may be a bigger challenge. While Americans aged 55+ spend 3 hours and 39 minutes per day listening to audio, a majority 56% of that time goes to broadcast radio, compared to just four percent for podcasts. But Boomers are now spending 10% of their audio time with streaming content. And 53% of Boomers said they had listened to online radio in the past month. While below the 87% of those aged 12 to 54 who said the same, Rosin sees opportunities for podcasters. Not to mention, nearly two-thirds (63%) of Boomers’ audio time is spent at home, the location where podcasts still do the best.
“Podcasters need to understand that the education process is still early for those 55-plus. They need to educate what a podcast is, and how to listen,” Rosin said. “We have to recognize that that education process just never ends.”
Download a copy of Edison Research and NPR’s “Hit Pay, Boomer” study HERE.