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Pew Analysis Finds Half Of The Top Podcasts Now Offer Some Form Of Video.

While podcasts cover a broad range of topics, true crime is by far the most common topic of top-ranked podcasts. That is according to a new deep dive into podcast from Pew Research Center, which not only examines what people are listening to, but also how podcasters are carving out a share of the audio market. The analysis, based on the 451 top shows, finds podcasts generally reflect the interests of U.S. listeners.

Podcasts originated as an audio-only form of media, but Pew says video is on the rise as half of top-ranked podcasts (51%) release some kind of video that accompanies their episodes, almost always on YouTube. The report says the videos use a variety of formats. Regardless of the format, Pew says YouTube is by far the most popular video-sharing platform for podcasts as nearly all (97%) make their video available there. A smaller share offers other options, including 6% that post video to Rumble.

“When we look at the types of videos top-ranked podcasts are producing, there is a fair amount of experimentation,” says Galen Stocking, Senior Computational Social Scientist at Pew Research Center. “About three-in-ten of all top-ranked podcasts produce videos of the podcast being recorded (29%) while two-in-ten show a relatively static image or a simple dynamic image. One other interesting element of video is that it opens up other avenues for audience engagement or discovery: 97% of those podcasts that produce video upload them to YouTube, where the videos can have comments and be recommended to new audiences. And YouTube is incredibly popular – 82% of U.S. adults use the site, and a quarter use it for news.”

In addition to being available as video, Pew says many podcasts use other methods to connect with their audiences. Roughly three-quarters of top-ranked podcasts have a website (73%) and 8% of top podcasts have some kind of online discussion forum where their audiences can connect with each other, or even with the creators directly.

Among the 49% of U.S. adults who said in a 2022 Pew survey that they listened to a podcast in the last year, entertainment, politics, history and true crime were all among the most common topics listeners turned to.

Pew’s latest analysis shows a quarter of top podcasts (24%) are primarily about true crime, followed by shows about politics and government (10%); entertainment, pop culture and the arts (9%); and self-help and relationships (8%).

Pew says about 15% of top shows are focused on news and current events. They are mostly about politics (49%) or sports (29%). The report says the most common format among news-focused podcasts is commentary (49%), while smaller shares – 22% each – are centered around deep reporting or interviews. Just 6% are news summaries. But Pew also notes that commentary is especially dominant among sports podcasts (82%).

“Podcasts are one piece of the news and information landscape, the same way TV, newspapers and social media are. We definitely have seen a rise in digital news consumption, including podcasts – which are now listened to by 49% of U.S. adults – but also other digital spaces like social media sites and news websites,” Stocking says. “Two-thirds of podcast listeners hear about news on the podcasts they listen to, so there is a clear role for news in this space.”

Yet Stocking says there are plenty of demographic differences when it comes to the different platforms U.S. adults use whether that is getting news from television, a print publication or social media. As with other digital spaces, he says podcast listeners tend to be younger – two-thirds are adults aged 18-29 compared with 28% aged 65+.

Reflecting how the industry has changed, Pew finds half (51%) of top-ranked podcasts are affiliated with organizations like Wondery and iHeartRadio. Meanwhile, 31% of podcasts are independent and 18% are affiliated with a news organization. But Stocking says more than two-thirds (69%) are tied to a larger organization.

Where a podcast originates can matter. Not surprisingly, Stocking says news organizations are more likely to focus on news than other organizations as 46% of news-focused podcasts have a news organization affiliation, compared with 13% of other organizations. On the listener side, he says news shows up regularly – two-thirds of U.S. podcast listeners say that news comes up on the podcasts they listen to, though fewer cite current events as a major reason they listen to podcasts (29%).

Pew’s analysis finds nearly half of top podcasts (47%) seek out audience support. It says 31% invites their audience to buy a paid subscription while 30% sell merchandise, such as T-shirts and coffee mugs. Another 5% asks listeners directly for donations. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 13% of podcast listeners in the U.S. have paid for a subscription to a podcast, and 12% have bought a podcast’s merchandise.

Pew’s analysis of the biggest shows also holds a mirror to how podcasters are creating their shows. It finds a majority 58% of podcasts have a single host, although most also feature guests, while 37% feature multiple hosts.

“Podcasts about true crime and politics and government are especially likely to have a single host, while most sports podcasts have more than one host, reflecting their roots in sports talk radio,” the report says.

Pew says a majority 54% of podcasts have episodes that run 20 to 50 minutes, while 37% average about an hour or more per episode. On the two ends of the spectrum – just 6% of podcast average under 20 minutes while 18% average more than 70 minutes. The analysis suggests format matters as the top podcasts about sports (36%) or entertainment and the arts (29%) averaged at least 70 minutes in length during the six months studied, larger shares than for other topic categories studied.

Pew says podcasts that release videos are also longer than others, on average. Roughly a quarter (28%) of podcasts with videos released alongside an episode averaged 70 minutes or more between April and September of 2022, compared with just 8% of podcasts without video.

Of the 451 top-ranked podcasts included in Pew’s analysis, 61% released episodes at least once a week and about a quarter released multiple episodes each week. It says the top podcasts that focus on sports are the most likely to release more than one episode per week.

Download a copy of the Pew Research Center’s “A Profile of the Top-Ranked Podcasts in the U.S.” report HERE.

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