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What Makes A Hit Podcast? A Comparison Of The Chart Leaders Offers Some Clues.


Whether it’s the bakery or the produce department, there is a lot to be said about freshness. The same holds true for podcasts apparently, as an analysis of what some of the top-ranking shows have in common reveals. Rephonic crunched the data and it found that newer shows generally do better. That is especially true for Spotify.


Based on its review of both Apple Podcast and Spotify rankers, Rephonic says that shows that make the top 20 on Spotify were most commonly launched in the past year. One in five of the podcasts that made the Spotify top 20 were a year or less old.


Newness has a slightly wider definition for Apple Podcast listeners. Rephonic says on Apple Podcasts the top shows were most commonly launched between two and three years ago. Three in five of the top Apple Podcast shows debuted between 2019 and 2022 according to the analysis.


Yet Rephonic says a newly launched show may not necessarily do better on Spotify. That is because there are a lot more categories on Apple Podcasts for which a show can climb to the top of the list, while Spotify has far fewer – 18 compared to more than 100 for Apple Podcasts – making it a lot tougher to score a number one on Spotify.


Rephonic also examined the publishing frequency of top 20 podcasts and found that most shows publish new episodes weekly. Top-ranking shows in Spotify tend to publish slightly more frequently than those on Apple Podcasts,” it says in a blog post.


Other factors are likely in play, but both companies have largely kept their formulas secret for how they build their charts. Apple has said that listens, follows and completion rate are pieces of the equation, but what else drives their ranking algorithms is unknown.


Even as podcast listening has less of a gender gap than in previous years, men still have a slight advantage in the makeup of the audience. That reflects on which shows tend to make it to the top of the podcast rankers.


Based on its review of Apple Podcasts and Spotify rankers, Rephonic says there are fewer top 20 shows with heavily-female audiences. While that is true for both apps, the analysis shows Apple Podcasts tends to be more male-dominated than Spotify. On both services, roughly one in ten of the top hits have an audience that is evenly split by gender.


That gender composition colors what the top-ranking show genres are. Rephonic says Society & Culture, Comedy, True Crime, News, and History were the highest-ranking categories on Apple Podcasts. And on Spotify, the top five are Comedy, Society & Culture, True Crime, Self-Improvement, and Mental Health.


“While there are no golden bullets for making the podcast charts (apart from maybe becoming a Spotify exclusive), one thing we’re pretty confident about is that it’s much easier to rank in Apple Podcasts as there are significantly more categories,” says Rephonic. “There are a lot of ways to increase your chances of ranking on these platforms, including choosing the right category, producing quality content, and having a strong launch and marketing strategy.”

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