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Pandemic May Be Carving Out More Time, Not Less, For Podcast Listening.

Whether it is the range of new content options or just Netflix burnout, there is growing evidence that the coronavirus lockdowns may be steering more people to audio, even though their usual commute may have been disrupted. The MARU/Matchbox survey conducted in July for Westwood One’s annual Podcast Download report shows since the coronavirus pandemic hit, 41% of weekly podcast listeners report they are spending more time listening to on-demand audio content. That's four times more than the seven percent that said they are listening less. 

Not surprisingly heavy podcast listeners – those who listen to six or more hours per week – were more likely to say they are listening to more shows. Among the medium’s biggest fans, 46% said they are spending more time with podcasts. 

There is also an indication that some Americans may be using their additional free time at home to tap into the medium for the first time. The survey shows a majority (55%) of podcast newcomers – those that have only been listening to podcasts for six months or less – are spending even more time listening.

The report said podcast newcomers are a third more likely to say they are spending more time with podcasts since COVID-19 arrived. Compared to so-called podcast pioneers – those who have been listening to podcasts for four or more years –newcomers were also 57% more likely to say they are spending more time listening.“It is possible the coronavirus pandemic accelerated strong listening habits among newly arrived podcast listeners, which typically takes years to develop,” the report said.

Early podcast adopters may have skewed male. But the survey found that among weekly podcast listeners, more women are becoming heavy consumers of on-demand audio. “Women continue to close the gap in podcasting. For the third consecutive year, podcast listenership is up among women,” the report said. “This growth in time spent is almost twice that of total weekly podcast listeners.”

Since 2017 the greatest growth rate for average weekly time spent is among female listeners who grew their podcast listening time by 27% during the past three years on average, compared to a 14% increase among men.

“New podcast listeners skew heavily female,” the report said. “Women represent 67% of weekly podcast listeners who started listening in the past 7-12 months and 66% of podcast newcomers.”

The MARU/Matchbox data shows little change among the number of shows downloaded on average during the past three years. In 2017 women podcast listeners downloaded an average of 3.0 podcasts per week. Today that number is 3.2 shows. Male podcast consumers, on the other hand, downloaded an average of 4.8 shows per week in 2017, and today they download 4.5. The dip was the result of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers more selectively downloading shows.

But weekly podcast listeners were listening to more of what they downloaded. The report said women listened to an average of 4.8 podcasts per week, a 23% increase from 3.9 episodes consumed in 2017. And men listened to 6.3 podcasts per week on average, a small bump from 6.2 episodes consumed in 2017. 

The data does show however that weekly listeners are taking longer to listen to what they downloaded than in the past, which could be a reflection of disruptions that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to daily life. Attention spans are getting shorter too, with 61% saying they usually listen to an entire show – a ten-point drop from a year ago.

The biggest reason weekly podcast listeners are using the medium is to be entertained. The survey found 63% cited that reason. Another 56% said they wanted to hear interesting stories while 50% said they just wanted to learn something new.

In terms of content, 52% of weekly listeners said they consume News podcasts. Comedy ranked second at 46%, followed by Entertainment/Pop Culture (43%), Drama (41%), Technology (35%) and Sports (32%).

The MARU/Matchbox survey was conducted in July 2020 among a nationally representative sample of weekly podcast listeners. Download Westwood One’s fourth annual Podcast Download Fall 2020 Report HERE.

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