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iHeart’s Conal Byrne Takes On Podcast Myths: ‘No Slowdown In Listening Growth.’

The podcast business may be changing, but its growth trajectory is not. As headlines about the medium in recent months have suggested the good times are over, iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group CEO Conal Byrne has a simple response. “Don’t believe everything you read,” he writes in a Forbes op-ed. Byrne says the numbers show more people are listening to podcasts daily than ever before with the latest Edison Research Share of Ear data showing 18% of Americans aged 13 and older now consume a podcast daily.

And 55% of people 12 to 34 listened to podcasts every month in 2023, up 10 points from a year ago. “It's clear audience growth has not slowed down,” Bryne says. “There is double-digit growth in audiences across every age demographic.”

Tackling several of the “myths” about podcasting, Byrne also takes on the idea that podcast time spent listening is not keeping pace with the growth of podcast overall. He points out that during the past six years, the daily amount of time listeners spend with podcasts has gone from an average of 26 minutes to an average of 57 minutes.

“That means that while the overall audience grew, the average individual listener is also spending more time with podcasts. In this fast-paced world saturated with content, this is huge,” Byrne writes. He also believes that as podcasting becomes more sophisticated, so has the audience's appetite. “Podcast listeners have a longer attention span than they get credit for,” Byrne says. “While quick-bite shows might’ve been the way listeners were originally hooked, the latest data shows daily listening has doubled since 2017.”

One thing that has evolved as the impacts of the pandemic lockdowns have faded is that some of the casual listeners have pulled back on their use of the medium, while others are doing more listening out of home. Byrne says it also means that heavy podcast listeners now make up the biggest portion of podcast listeners – 46% – which is a reversal from a year ago when 47% of podcast consumers were light listeners. “That means medium loyalty is growing at a rapid pace—and the overall industry is riding the wave,” he says.

In the Forbes piece, Byrne also takes on some of the “myths” about the relationship between podcasting and talk radio. He say that while talk radio was a “precursor to podcasting” and credits radio for helping to create the audience for it, Byrne says the ways listeners tune in to the two mediums are different. He points out that a majority 69% of podcast listening happens inside the home compared to 68% of radio listening that is done outside the home. It is why Byrne says the two mediums work well together. When iHeartMedia bought Stuff Media back in 2018, the podcast studio had 5.4 million listeners. Now that it has the marketing ability to promote podcasts on iHeart’s 850 radio stations, its podcast business has nearly 34 million listeners according to Podtrac.

“These mediums have distinct audiences and upsides, and creators and publishers shouldn’t use a one-size-fits-all approach for both,” Byrne writes. “More often than not, a marketing campaign succeeds best when it includes both.” He also notes that any advertising metric that a marketer can get their hands on for streaming audio can also be used for podcasting.

Overall, Byrne says too much attention is put on the so-called “platform wars” that pit apps like iHeartRadio up against rivals like Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Byrne says for all that is changing, podcasting has been a “publisher-centric medium” since its start.

“While podcasts are available on more platforms than ever, publishers retain the ad revenue, data and content of the shows they distribute,” he says. “If a brand wants to buy an ad on a podcast, they must call the creator, or publisher, because they hold economic power. That means it doesn’t matter where a podcast is heard.”

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