Where are the podcast listeners going?

Todd made some comments in podcast #321 about audience rates stagnating for some major podcasts like TWiT. In yesterdays post he also discussed podcast advertising ROI being very good, which you would think would be driving more podcasters putting in effort to drive quality which would drive listener numbers. These two things don’t seem to add up. While I have no stats, in my observations within my social groups (both geek and non-geek) I am seeing many more people who understand and listen to podcasts. If the audiences of major podcasts are stagnant in a growing and vibrant market, where are the listeners going?

When I first started listening to podcasts over 2 years ago, I used iTunes as my method to find them as most people did and still do. At that stage the most downloaded casts were mostly tech related and all were specifically produced podcasts. Shows like TWiT, GNC, Diggnation and the like were at the top and gained a lot of audience by being so (including me). Looking at the top 100 podcasts by download by Australian iTunes users shows a different story today. The number of podcasts in this list that are specifically produced podcasts is 29. The rest are made up of radio programs released in a podcast form after broadcast (29); Television programs released the same way, or commentary/synopsis podcasts by the producers of a TV show (40); One motion picture podcast and one print magazine. In the top 25 only 2 are web originated content.

This is obviously a chage in the dynamics of the space, with old media becoming a significant part of podcasting. I can already hear someone composing an email about experienced and techy podcast listeners not using iTunes as much. But iTunes at this time is where the new listeners are going to come from, and while the technical podcasts will have more listeners if non-iTunes stats are counted there are web originated podcasts out there for non technical listeners. iTunes could also be wrong but it would need to be an extreme margin of error to change the message. I also wondered whether it was a local phenomenon. To check I looked at the top 100 of the other English speaking iTunes locations (US, Canada, UK). On a cursory glance they tell the same story with a large ratio of old media. I could not categorise each podcast as easily as I could with the Australian version, but will update with the exact results when I have.

The second interesting thing was the large presence of public broadcasters in the mix with public broadcasters like PBS, BBC, CBC or ABC(Aus not US) having large amounts of podcasts in the top 100’s. For Australia the public broadcasters made up 41 of the top 100 (mosly ABC and BBC) 20 radio and 19 tv (audio casts of tv programs) and 2 web. The difference between these casts and the commercial equivelants is that these were typically complete shows rebroadcast in this form, rather than commentary or highlights. Public broadcasters are obviously finding podcasting a great way to reach the audience they serve. For them each extra person they reach improves their use of the public money they receive.

For the commercial podcasters, there was also a difference between how they derived revenue from the podcast.
-For the television shows (21) 18 podcasts were promotional for the telivision show itself, either offering commentary, synopsis or highlights. 2 had advertisements as well as promoting the show. (1 unknown).
-For the commercial web originated content (27) 22 used the podcast as promotion to either get listeners to the site where they could gain advertising revenue (14), or to get a subscription to extra services or content (8). The other 5 had direct sponsorship. 2 were casts directly produced by a company to promote their product, both revolving around skate boarding. The other 3 had sponsorship from broad based web services like ask.com and audible.
-For the radio programs (9), all were highlights of popular local radio show and all had major sponsors on board. 5 were sponsored by banks, 2 by telco’s and one by a brand of alcohol, all A-list advertisers with very large budgets.

There are some hypotheses that can be derived from this. The first is that passive consumption can drive active consumption. Audiences discover programs because they are pushed to them; Once discovered they then seek out greater interaction with that show. The second is that advertisers are more comfortable dealing with companies they know. Third, old media recognise that they need to embrace new forms and are using their existing audience reach as an advatage. Finally, the sucess seen by the public broadcasters show that podcasts are a very effective way to inform an audience, due in part to the active nature of the consumption and the ability to listen when and where it suits you.

Commercial radio obvously has its act together. It is repurposing its content, that is only ever broadcast once anyway, and using it to turn passive listeners into active ones. It also knows how to sell its value, and is putting out content from people with recognisable names (they do not podcast any music). There is also a localised aspect to the casts, with the major portion of the audience coming from the country of production. Advertising players like banks and telco’s have specific geographies they serve, so this mix is attractive to them.

So some interesting information and some hypotheses. My questions to the podcasting community are, how do we test/prove them? and how can this information be used to make podcasting stronger?

2 thoughts on “Where are the podcast listeners going?

  1. Personally I’m not seeing most of my friends (I’m 40) listening to podcasts and when I talked to my 19 and 27 year old nephews they says almost none of their friends listen to any podcasts so I’m not sure the market is really growing anymore.

    I like podcasts but find that I want to listen to a wide variety of items (NPR/PBS/BBC, Tech Related, Sport etc) and find that most podcasts (including Geek News Central) are becoming longer than I’m willing to listen to. I think Mike of the Mike Tech show has it right keeping his podcast approximately 40 minutes with limited user voice mail.

    I think podcast need to become more focused and less rambling if you really want to continue growing because I listen to podcast to hear the presenters opinions and interesting news, not rambling questions or opinions from unknown users. I started skipping user messages on GNC then just unsubscribed because I decided it was not worth the effort and the show has just become too long.

  2. I used to listen to Todd and other podcasts all the time, but I have kind of moved away to follow Video Podcasts instead, I dont subscribe to them but I am watching them on the websites they belong to.

    Also the busier I get the shorter shows I want, a 5- minutes video cast usually satisfies me more these days.

    I also think that the moment Podcasters started adverting, they lost a lot of listeners, personally I am tired of hearing about GoDaddy, it is a crummy host and I would never use them even if I saved 90% on the monthly bill, so I have made it a personal goal to not listen to any casts offering GoDaddy, which is not easy find.

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