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Nielsen Says Post-Pandemic Media Habits Reveal Podcasting Has More Heavy Listeners.

The number of podcast listeners continued to grow this year even as some of the more casual users of the medium, which came in during the pandemic lockdowns, drifted away. Nielsen says it is seeing a shift in new listeners with a “tapering off” in the growth of more casual listeners.

Starting in 2020, the number of light podcast users – which are defined as those listening three or fewer times a month – grew by leaps and bounds, says Nielsen, which says the figures were influenced by the pandemic and that carried on into 2021. Nielsen says 41% of the podcast audience aged 18 and older was classified as light listener listeners. But in 2022 the number slid five points to 36% as light podcast consumers likely shifted back to other activities that were sidelined during the pandemic.

Yet even as light user numbers declined, Nielsen reports growth in more active podcast listeners. It says the share of heavy users of the medium – those who listen to ten or more podcasts each month – rose to 40.3% this year. That is up from 35.9% last year.

There was also an increase in medium users’ share, from 22.7% in 2021 to 23.1% this year. Medium users are classified as listening to between four and ten podcasts each month.

Nielsen says the data shows there is a “disparity” between how men and women use podcasts. Light listeners shrank by a quarter in the past year among men but grew three percent among women.

Right now 47.3% of men are classified as heavy users of podcasting, compared to 32.2% of women. At the same time 45.6% of women are classified as light users, compared to 28.9% of men. As the female podcast audience grows, Nielsen says it expects to see increasing numbers of medium and heavy users who are more likely to hear and react favorably to podcast ads.

Teens Are Listening To More Podcasts

Nielsen says it not only tracked gender shifts this year, but also age groups. It says the teen podcast audience (aged 13-17) grew by a modest seven percent in the past year. But when it comes to listening to the same podcasts as the adults in their household, the co-listening happening with men grew substantially more than co-listening with women.

The number of teens listening to the same podcasts as an adult male in the house more than doubled in 2022. At the same time, the number of teens co-listening with an adult female increased by only four percent.

The female podcast audience growth is fueled by lighter listeners who aren’t as engaged overall compared to their male counterparts,” explains Nielsen. It says nearly half of all male podcast users are heavy listeners -- with high levels of engagement -- who are passing on that affinity to the teenagers in their house. Or at the very least, Nielsen says since they’re simply listening more it means more opportunities for co-listening.

Women Driving Some Format Growth

Nielsen Scarborough’s Podcast Buying Power solution reports a variety of genres saw a jump in their female listenership this year. Comedy podcasts saw their female listener number grow 25%, as did Leisure podcasts. There were similar female growth numbers for TV & Film podcasts, whose listener numbers increased 22%, and for Kids & Family podcasts, which saw the number of female listeners climb 21%. At the same time, male listening numbers fell for genres including Kids & Family, Fiction and Music.

Driven by those lighter listeners, Nielsen says female podcast consumers are moving the needle across a wide variety of genres, including Comedy, Leisure, TV & Film, and Kids & Family, which all saw significant growth this year.

Implications For Ad Buyers

Earlier this year Scarborough Consumer Point of View segments were introduced across more than a dozen key categories from restaurants to travel and automotive. It shows the affinity for podcasts within each segment varies widely.

For example, the travel-focused globetrotters cohort is 40% more likely to be podcast consumers than the average American adult. Eco-friendly car buyers are 35% more likely to listen to podcasts. That has implications for ad buyers.

“With all of the advances happening in consumer targeting across the media landscape, podcast advertising is becoming increasingly capable of zeroing in on the right segments to drive the highest return on ad spend,” Nielsen says. “With the huge number of podcasts available to advertisers, a ‘spray and pray’ approach is not as effective as tailoring the message to the right audience based on granular qualitative data.”

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