More People are Listening to Podcasts, but How They Listen is Changing

Westwood One just released what they call the “Spring Download,” which is a rather comprehensive look at where podcasting is today. In many ways, the study reflects trends we see in other reports, but there are several interesting things worth focusing on, so I went through it with Westwood’s Chief Insight Officer Pierre Bouvard:                                                         

SG: One of the most interesting findings of this study is that new people jumping into podcasting are jumping right in to the deep end of the pool, if you will.

PB: The original study was created by Jeff Vidler, a respected researcher from Canada and president of Audience Insights Inc. 

Westwood One Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard

Westwood One Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard

What Jeff found in Canada a year ago was that the longer you have been listening to podcasts, the more shows you listen to and the more time you spend with podcasting. We loved Jeff's approach, so we asked him to replicate the study in the US.  We recruited 1,400 people, and the results were different here. The “newbies” and the other groups were consuming about at the same level, about the same number of podcasts. This was surprising because it means that new people are coming in and they're not tiptoeing. They are jumping in the pool and spending as much time as some of the people that have been doing it for four years.

“new people are coming in and they're not tiptoeing”

SG: We know podcast listening has been centered around the Apple eco-system with a native app on Apple iPhones, but you see that changing.

PB: That was kind of a surprise. If you have been listen to podcasts for four or more years, you know, you grew up on Apple and continue to use Apple as your primary distribution channel. That's where you get your podcasts. But the new folks, the consumers that started listening within the last six months, are as likely to use streaming platforms like Spotify, Soundcloud, and Google as they are Apple. Once upon a time there was only one store for podcasts and now people are discovering podcasts in many different places. Many of the newer people are the younger listeners, kind of the Spotify demographic, while Podcast Pioneers might be the NPR crowd who came in through public radio and Apple.

SG: Let’s dig in on Apple versus Android.  

PB: That's kind of interesting. We segmented people that had an Apple phone and the people that were on an Android. Not surprisingly, the Apple people overwhelmingly are listening to podcasts on their smartphone. The Android people, yes, they're listening on their smartphone, but a lot more Android people are listening on their laptop. 

SG: And any hypothesis on why that is?

 PB: No doubt if you are an Android phone owner, it's not readily apparent that you can get podcasts on that phone. They're probably pulling up their Mac and listening through iTunes.  Because Google is now transcribing podcasts and putting it into search, I think you're going to see a spike in Android users or non-Apple users as the case may be, discovering podcasts via searching for info or topic, say on 401ks. 

There are more android handsets in America than Apple so from a sheer distribution standpoint, I think you could say Google can't, when it comes to podcasts, fall off the floor. They have nowhere to go, but up…if they get an app on the phone that's clearly labeled Google podcast and the search stuff starts showing, yes, I think it'll be very interesting over the next couple of years to see if Google steps up to the plate with podcasting and make it easy for people to find podcasts and to access them.

“One-third of the people do 80% of the listening”

SG: Define what you call a “Power Podcaster.”

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PB: Once upon a time we were just focused on monthly people, folks that have the regular habit. Within that we measured weekly time spent. If they listened to five or more hours a week, we consider those the power listeners, which is about a third of the monthly listeners. If you look at all the time spent in a week with podcasting, this group represents 81% of podcast time spent. So one-third of the people do 80% of the listening. The top third do a ton of listening.

SG: Let’s hit on cross promotion. The study is produced by Westwood One, which is owned by Cumulus Media. You've got a lot of radio stations. Talk about the connection between radio and podcasts.

PB: It’s starting to be a connection. First quarter, 2019 is when American commercial radio woke up to its promotional platform for podcasts.

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One of the things that we did as part of this study is we wondered if American commercial radio was promoting podcasts. I mean, are there actual promos on radio touting podcasts? We went to Media Monitors, who monitors thousands of radio stations, and what we found was in 2018, barely any podcasts were being promoted on radio.

In any given quarter there might have been six or eight. Very little promotion. Then suddenly in first quarter, we found 106 different podcasts being promoted or advertised on radio. It's like the giant woke up and said, “Wow, we have huge reach. we should promote podcasts!” What we found was in first quarter of this year, 65% of Americans had actually heard a radio ad for a podcast an average of six times. Radio is starting to flex its promotional muscle. Podcast listeners are paying attention. What's especially interesting is the most notice came from the very newest listeners who have just started listening within the last six months.  

SG: Did you learn anything about time-shifted audio from radio stations?  This area greatly interests me.

PB: Absolutely. One-third of power podcast listeners said, yes, I want to hear an AM/FM radio show I like, but I want to hear it on my own schedule. 

So that's starting to be noticed among newcomers. As an example on our network, we have Mark Levin, and he definitely has people using podcasts as a way to catch a show. 

SG: Where does social media fit in the equation in this study?

PB: Twitter is far more important in the podcast world. Instagram, and YouTube follow. But what's amazing is that among the power people, two-thirds of them say they follow the host of their favorite podcasts. That's enormous. Think about your favorite TV show. I don't think 5% of people follow the host. From an advertising perspective, I think this brings up a huge opportunity. If you're buying ads in the podcast, you should also buy ads in the host's social feeds because there are so many of those listeners in both places.

SG: Let's go back to the time spent, which was pretty huge, but there's a correlation or a corollary to that - how many podcasts people actually are listening to. Can you walk us through that?

PB: The average podcast listener is listening around seven hours a week, but the power listeners are at almost 12 hours. And the number of podcasts? Those power people say they're listening to is about nine.

Nielsen does a similar analysis with TV --- it's a 200 channel world, but the average American watches 17 TV channels.

SG: I'm seeing more streaming of podcasts and less downloading in this study.

PB: You see Soundcloud, Spotify, Google, these are streaming platforms. I don’t think customers really know the difference.  A lot of people just say, I want to listen to this podcast right now. They go on, grab it, and listen right away.  

“Never have we seen a new media where the ads are really embraced by the host”

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SG: What about podcast ads? What did you see there?

PB: For this study, we looked at ad skipping. We saw that regular digital, banner ads, and online video ads had the highest rates of ad skipping. The least ad skipping took place with podcasts. And while it's not surprising given the limited commercial inventory and given the fact that most ads are host read and integrated in the show, it was just further affirmation of why podcast premium CPMs are warranted. Because never have we seen a new media where the ads are really embraced by the host. You get that feeling that, wow, this is what's making this show possible. The host is into this and so I should check it out. In fact when we asked people, “Have you ever checked something out, gone to the website, bought a product?” a large number have.

Thank you Pierre. Some valuable findings.

You can download the study here

This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.

Over 5,000 people will gather in Newark, New Jersey to focus on the vast opportunities with Voice and smart speakers. I will be there on ap angel about ads and commercialization of smart speaker content.. Come join us.

Over 5,000 people will gather in Newark, New Jersey to focus on the vast opportunities with Voice and smart speakers. I will be there on ap angel about ads and commercialization of smart speaker content.. Come join us.

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