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There Were Podcast Winners And Losers, But Reuters Institute Says Pandemic’s Net Impact Was ‘Neutral

The pandemic’s impact on podcast listening seems to be a wash, at least on a global scale. That is according to the Reuters Institute’s annual Digital News Report. Its survey of 92,000 online news consumers in 46 countries around the world finds that of those polled in the U.S., 37% said they had listened to a podcast in the past month. That was the same as in Sweden and Norway, with only Ireland (41%) and Spain (38%) slightly higher. In Canada the average was 33% with a split among English-speakers (35%) and French-speakers (26%).

“Podcasts have become a key part of many lockdown routines with more consumption at home – though there has also been disruption to the daily commute, traditionally a key time for listening. The net impact on consumption seems to have been neutral, with 31% accessing a podcast in the last month – the same as last year – across 20 countries where we feel confident the term is sufficiently well understood and where samples are not skewed by high levels of education,” the report says.

Reuters Institute says Spotify has overtaken Apple as the top podcast app in some countries, while YouTube is ahead in others. It says the growth of video podcasting, accentuated by the use of tools like Zoom during the pandemic, is opening an even wider range of options for distribution. It also concedes it is also leading to more problems for researchers to define just what qualifies as a “podcast” in its survey. In the U.S. for example, more people said they listened to podcasts on YouTube (26%) than on Apple (22%) or Spotify (17%).

The report also illustrates the challenges of discovery is not bound by borders. With more than two million podcasts available, Reuters says demand for podcasts is not growing at the same rate as new releases.

“Discovery and awareness remain the biggest problems,” the report says. “Our data show that more people discover shows through recommendations from friends, family, or colleagues rather than promotion such as in-app recommendation or advertisements.”

The number of people in Europe who are not aware of what constitutes a podcast is nearly twice as high as in the U.S., while in tech-savvy Japan 40% said they do not listen because they don’t know what a podcast is. The survey, which was conducted by YouGov, found that others are not yet listening because shows are too long, they cannot find ones they like, or they just don’t have enough interest or time to explore the medium. But they may be the exceptions.

“Overall, podcasts remain a fast moving and dynamic part of digital consumption,” says the report. “They are of particular interest to publishers because they attract younger and more affluent users that are highly sought by advertisers – and are potentially the next generation of subscribers.”

The Reuters Institute says that smart speakers could help further expand audio’s audience and open up consumers to short-form podcasts and other audio features. For now, the data shows that while 15% of the U.S. now has a smart speaker, just 5% use it for news.

It is the tenth year for the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report, and it says overall the pandemic “continues to cast a dark cloud” over the health of the news business. But there is some good news too. The data shows more people have sought out accurate and reliable information during the health crisis. Consumers have rapidly adopted new digital behaviors during lockdowns, which has opened up new digital opportunities for mediums like podcasting.

“Worryingly, our data also show a historic decline in interest in the news overall,” the report says. The data shows Gen Zs – those under age 25 – are less likely to visit a news website, or be committed to impartial news, and more likely to say they use social media as their main source of news. “In this respect, our findings that both political partisans and young people feel unfairly represented will be especially troubling for media companies looking to build engagement both across political divides and with the next generation,” it says.

Download the full report HERE.

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