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For Maturing Podcast Industry, Focus Moves From Adding Listeners To Engaging With Them.

The focus on podcasting is shifting from talk of a medium that has gone mainstream to one that is maturing, and a Nielsen report released today (Sept. 16) says it has implications for the industry going forward. Today, roughly half of U.S. podcast listeners are lighter, more casual users. “That’s a notable contrast from how the industry viewed the typical podcast listener five or ten years ago,” it says.

The rise of the casual listener puts an increased focus on marketing a podcast. It also works to the advantage of celebrities from the worlds of television, film, and sports whose name recognition could help attract listeners to their growing crop of shows as they graze across a field of more than two million podcasts from which to pick.

With revised lifestyles and schedules over the past year due to the COVID pandemic, Nielsen says the percentage of heavy podcast listeners declined slightly. But as things have reopened, the numbers are moving in the opposite direction. Since the start of this year, it has seen heavy listeners rise from 25% to about three-in-ten (29%) of podcast listeners that are now considered heavy listeners, consuming 10 or more episodes each month. And about one-in-five (22%) listen to between four and nine episodes. That leaves a plurality 49% as light listeners, consuming between one and three episodes each month.

“Importantly, the pandemic has not had a negative impact on overall podcast engagement,” the Podcasting Today report says. It concedes listener growth did “flatten” during the second half of last year, but it has ramped up notably in 2021, largely due to an increase in at-home listening. Nielsen also thinks a segment of the population that was very engaged with podcast content before the pandemic arrived is ready to continue increasing its engagement if the conditions or content are right.

“During the pandemic, the increase of podcast listening indicates volumes about the staying power and the continued rising popularity of the medium,” said Bruce Supovitz, Senior VP/National Audio Services at Nielsen Audio.

For podcasting, growing more mature has meant broadening appeal. Nielsen says during the past few years the podcast landscape has attracted broader audiences well beyond those who have been listening for many years. “This trend is also playing out across diverse audiences including Hispanic, Black and Asian consumers,” its report says.

It is not just race or ethnicity that is at play. Podcasts are also appealing to a wider age spectrum. The data shows that while adults between 18 and 39 still make up a majority of podcast listeners – they represented 53% of users in May – Nielsen says one in five podcast listeners are now over the age of 55. And one in four is between the ages of 40 and 54.

Listeners are not the only thing that is changing; so is the podcast industry itself. Nielsen tells marketers that consolidation has helped solve many of the problems they may have faced in the past, especially with having enough scale and reach to make buying the medium worthwhile. And new measurement options, like Nielsen’s own Podcast Buying Power service, have been able to offer podcasters selling points such as the fact that nearly 74% of podcast listeners have some form of financial investment.

“The growth of podcasting has brought a massive opportunity for advertisers to reach highly engaged, niche audiences,” says Nielsen VP Arica McKinnon. “While the industry has made strides to capture metrics like downloads, brands have been challenged to understand the impact of ads. Today, those challenges are fading.”

Nielsen’s Podcast Ad Effectiveness (PAE) solutions have found that host-read ads drive a brand recall rate of 71%, which subsequently creates high levels of consumer interest, purchase intent and recommendation intent. It also found longer ads – those over one minute – drive even higher lifts among consumers. They also drive brand recall as nearly three-quarters of listeners were able to recall the brand after hearing a longer ad.

But the report warns brands should not approach podcasts with the same advertising strategies that they use in traditional, mass-reach media. With a more personal relationship between podcast host and listener, Nielsen advises marketers to tap into data to determine which listeners are the most receptive to learning about their products and services.

Download Nielsen’s latest Podcasting Today report HERE.

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