Every podcast may be different, but the same question faces producers regardless of what their show is about – what is the right episode length? As podcasting has gone mainstream, more casual listeners has led to a greater number of shorter-length episodes. Acast says among its top 100 podcasts the average length of an episode as of Nov. 1 was 38 minutes and 10 seconds. But not all genres are created the same.
John Harris, Content Partner Manager at Acast, says among the 13 comedy podcasts on their top 100, the average length was 55 minutes and 33 seconds. News and political podcasts clocked in at 28 minutes and 1 second.
“While these stats are interesting food for thought and confirm certain assumptions — that comedy podcasts are frequently longform conversations, and that news and politics are not — there’s not a huge amount to glean from this information, Harris said in a blog post. “And it’s definitely not something to reform your podcast around.”
Harris put the question to several Acast podcast producers and found a variety of answers that boiled down to two words – it depends.
“Nobody is forcing you to keep your show within specific durations, so there’s no point in cutting out good stories. You know your content best — if something feels too long, it almost certainly is,” said Harris. He suggests listeners could also help. “If you already have an audience, the best people to ask will often be your listeners. If you don’t have one yet, send your podcast to an honest friend (not the one who says everything’s great) and ask them if they got bored — and, if so, when and why?” Harris also says just because one episode is short, it doesn’t mean that another needs to be. “Don’t be afraid to revisit decisions you may have made about your podcast’s episode length — ultimately, the content should win out,” he said.
Harris tells podcasters the best metric to follow is probably the show’s listen-through rate (LTR) data that shows producers where most listeners drop off.
Of course there are some series that use episode length as a feature of the show – he pointed to the podcast The Smart 7 that gives a daily news update in seven minutes as one example. “I’ve listened to 15-minute episodes that have bored me to death, and have also inhaled three-hour marathons and been sad they’ve ended. Stop worrying about hitting that 45-minute sweet spot,” The Smart 7 host Jamie East told Harris.
Alex Newall, CEO of the fiction podcast network Rusty Quill, said they design episodes around the length of time they think their listeners will be doing other things. Episodes that run 20 minutes are geared for people on short walks or doing chores. Episodes around 40 minutes are targeting commuters. And those that run 60 minutes are for people who are “hardcore fans” who want to sit back with as much content as they can consume.
Harris said after talking to several producers, his takeaway was that the answer to the question of how long an episode should be is relatively simple. “As long as it is good,” he said.