Get the Message: How Often People Listen to Podcasts

Unpacking the big messages from SXSW 2024

Inspired by a week in Austin, Texas, listening to some of the smartest thinkers in media and tech discuss the state of play in their domain at SXSW 2024, we wanted to highlight some of the big messages we heard from the stage and think about what they mean for you. 

In each of the next four episodes, we will look at a single piece of data, or a quote, that caught our attention. We’ll then dive a little deeper, unpack it, and develop insights into how audiences are spending their attention. We hope these insights will help you make decisions about the content you make. 

We make a lot of podcasts for clients, so I spent many hours in podcast-related sessions (which you can listen to below.) Of all the notes taken, there was one message in particular that I wanted to return to.

The Message:

Podcast listeners on average listen to 9 podcasts per week.

This data came from Jason Saldanha, Chief Operating Officer at PRX during his session How to Authentically Unite Podcast Storytelling and Brands. It caught my attention because it seemed a lot, even for me. I’m obsessed with podcasts - and I have to listen to them for work purposes too. So I wanted to check it out. Here’s the full quote.

The Quote:

“61% of the US population over 12 have listened to a podcast. This growth for a medium so young is unusual. On average, they listen to 9 per week. Even if those podcasts were only 10 minutes long, that’s a significant time commitment. That tells us that podcasts are very sticky and that the audience will consume the medium voraciously. The opportunity is to create something that allows them to connect with your content, in a way that is deep, meaningful and prone to calls to action.”

- Jason Saldanha

Let’s break that down and check it against well-respected sources in the podcast industry. 

“61% of the US population over 12 have listened to a podcast.”

This is lower than the figure quoted by the Edison Infinite Dial 2023 report which states that 64% of 12+ US population have ever listened to a podcast. 42% have listened to a podcast in the last month and 31% in the last week.

“On average, they listen to 9 per week.”

As mentioned, this data also really caught my attention. Again, I checked this with Edison’s Infinite Dial. It states “Weekly podcast listeners listened to an average of nine podcast episodes in the last week, up from eight episodes in 2022.” So maybe I’m not the outlier I thought I was. I love podcasts and listen to a lot for work purposes. But so do other people. According to Infinite Dial, business, news, and education are all in the top ten most listened-to genres in 2023. 

“Even if those podcasts were only 10 minutes long, that’s a significant time commitment.”

This quote made me reflect on the range of podcasts I listen to and their lengths. I listen to a couple that are 10-15 minute daily shorts, but most of my podcasts range between 30-60 minutes. I wondered if there was any data out there on the average running length of podcasts. Pacific Content did some research in 2019. They analysed over 18 million podcast episodes and estimated that the average podcast length was 41 minutes and 31 seconds long. 

With that in mind, I wanted to find out how many listeners listen to the end. I rarely leave a podcast I’ve started unfinished. I actually choose my listening based on the time set aside for listening. According to Rajar’s MIDAS 2022 Summer report, 68% of podcast listeners listen to whole episodes and 70% listen to mostly all podcast episodes they download. 

So podcast fans listen on average to 9 episodes per week, which last on average 41 minutes, and most of them are listening to the end. 

The Insight

Podcasts enable buyers to spend a lot of time with brands. They’re more immersive than most other media and hold listeners' attention. They’re one of the last unskippables that people choose to put aside time to be with. This is great news for brands. 

According to John Dawes at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, ‘95% of people or firms’ are not in the market for many goods and services at any one time’. So one-off campaigns might be good for awareness around the time of the campaign, but that’s only going to have a big impact on the 5% who are in the market at the time. What about the other 95%? The repetition of serialised podcast formats enables brands to build and refresh memory structures in the minds of buyers, which in turn increases mental availability, salience, and distinctiveness. As the 95% come into the market, a serialised podcast will have done its job keeping the brand in mind, so that it will be there when the purchase decision is being made. 

The Action

Make a pilot. Don’t rush into making a full series just yet. Make one episode. Even if it’s a shorter version of a full episode, it will help you answer a lot of questions.

Have fun with the format. Unlike video, you don't have to design a format to work for the algorithm. Podcasting is the last medium that is not algorithmically driven. On platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram, the algorithm controls the levers that decide what the audience does or doesn’t see or hear. And whilst these platforms can be useful for discovery, you don’t have control over that. But when it comes to podcasts, as the data above tells us, if people subscribe, they will listen (70% listen to mostly all podcast episodes they download) and they will mostly listen to an entire episode - a true rarity in the current media landscape.

The freedom to experiment with podcasts without the restraints of considering the algorithm will give you more of an opportunity to be distinctive in the audio space than in video spaces. 

Reading list

SXSW records most of their sessions, which is great for those who didn’t get to go. Dive into some of the other talks on the subject. I’ve also included other related stories that you may find useful.

Other related links

The 95:5 Rule (5 min read)

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