Nielsen says its latest data show 2021 has brought an influx of new podcast listeners and consumption is once again in growth mode. “Obviously, there was COVID happening in 2020, and with our newest data we see that the trend has picked back up again,” said Nielsen VP of Cross Platform Insights Tony Hereau. He said Tuesday that while podcast listening had been relatively evenly distributed among heavy, medium, and light users during the past few years, a flood of new consumers has discovered podcasting with light listeners now making up roughly half of podcast consumption.
“During the pandemic, podcasts held up pretty well. But it caused a lot of new people to come into podcasting for the first time,” said Hereau on a webinar. “The hope is that these people will turn into habitual listeners and become those medium and heavy listeners.”
Part of the shift is also attributed to a greater number of Baby Boomer listeners embracing the latest audio format. “It is the Boomers that are making the largest gains from 2018 to 2021, going from 12% to 16%,” explained Hereau. “These are not core listeners, but they are the ones exploring podcasting and maybe getting into it for the first time. But make no mistake, it’s Millennials and Gen X that make up the largest portions of listening for podcasting.”
The data reflects the pandemic’s impact in other ways too. Most notably in where people are listening to their favorite shows. Nielsen says the at-work listening level slid from 15% in 2018 to 11% in 2021. But as things get back to normal and people head back to the office, the dip recorded for in-transit listening last November has reversed. Nielsen now says listening while commuting is again on the rise. It is still below where it was pre-pandemic though, with the current 35% level below the 41% level logged at the end of 2019.
“At-home listening because of lockdown is where we saw the biggest growth,” said Hereau. He said at-home is also often where a lot of light podcast newcomers start out. “It’s those heavy and medium listeners that are taking podcasting with them,” he said.
Nielsen’s May 2021 Podcast Buying Power survey found that Comedy was the most popular genre, with nearly 43% of adults aged 18 and older listening to a show from that category. News – which often holds the top spot – slid back to second (36%), followed by Society & Culture (31%).
The show genres that have experienced the biggest increase in listening since the prior survey in November include Fiction (+21.4%), Science (+21.3%), True Crime (+11.8%), Arts (+10.1%) and Technology (+8.1%).
When it comes to podcast advertising, Nielsen says the latest data shows the trump card remains podcasting’s power to drive brand recall. The media research company tests that by exposing a panel to a podcast with a commercial and testing afterward whether the listener remembers the brand.
“What the data shows is that on average 70% of listeners exposed to an ad on a podcast was able to recall the brand,” said Nielsen VP of Solutions Consulting Arica McKinnon. She noted during the webinar that the company’s earlier research has demonstrated high brand recall creates high levels of consumer interest, purchase intent, and recommendation intent.
Nielsen to date has conducted 425 brand lift studies for more than 400 brands across more than 15 different product categories. It says the biggest impact of podcast advertising remains in the top of purchase funnel metric of awareness, which rises an average of 12% across all advertisers studied. But McKinnon said some specific advertisers had much bigger gains, like a CPG brand that saw its awareness rise 37% and a financial services brand whose awareness rose 30%.
Nielsen says podcasts also boost information-seeking benchmarks by an average of 7%, with both purchase intent and product recommendation performance increasing by 5% for brands that use podcast advertising.
McKinnon said Nielsen research shows listeners are open to branded podcasts with two-thirds (67%) agreeing branded shows are a good fit for podcasting overall. And 64% give the hosts of branded shows a favorable rating, with hosts scoring the best for believability (38%) and being interesting (36%).