Listening in a pandemic: the latest data

Great new data on podcast listeners during the pandemic

COVID-19 has changed how we work and that change has had major impacts on the way podcast listeners consume content and the content they consume. Podcasts are more frequently becoming a go-to medium for work-from-home professionals.

According to Nielsen’s August Total Audience Report, before the pandemic peak media consumption was outside of work hours, with podcasts and talk radio performing well during commutes. Since working from home became the norm for many, things have changed.

Working from home provides consumers two elements vital to increasing consumption: time and choice. Whether its streaming video content, listening to podcasts or browsing social media, a majority of consumers have reported partaking in these behaviors during work hours. That means more windows of opportunity for content creators and advertisers alike to reach audiences outside of the traditional primetime, as well as potential new, creative ways to engage with consumers.

53% listening to spoken word (talk radio, podcasts) while working from home
From Nielsen: 53% listen at least once a week while working from home.

The WestwoodOne Podcast Network also released new data in September. Their Fall Report focuses on popular content, platforms, and the impact of the pandemic on listenership.

Some of their key findings are particularly relevant to public affairs podcasting, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s start with their data on how podcast listeners’ behavior is changing.

According to the report, “Podcast listening is pandemic proof.” Over 90 percent of weekly podcast listeners say they spend the same or more time listening since the pandemic began. Of the listeners who say they spend more time with podcasts now, 55 percent are what WestwoodOne calls “Podcast Newcomers,” people who only started listening to podcasts in the months leading up to or in the early days of the pandemic.

In addition, the data show more people are listening to more podcasts. This year, 39 percent of podcast listeners say they listen to six or more hours a week, a 22 percent rise since 2017. For comparison, the percent who say they listen to three-to-five hours dropped from 38 percent in 2017 to 31 percent this year, and those who listen to under three hours held steady at 30 percent.

Another key finding is that among the six-hours-or-more listeners, to whom WestwoodOne assigns the hard rock moniker “Heavy Listeners,” 35 percent say they just started listening to podcasts within the seven to twelve months prior to January 2020. In other words, more than a third of Heavy Listeners are relatively new to the medium.

Podcast listeners and public affairs

While this is all positive data about the growth in podcast listenership generally, there are some data points that we think are important to public affairs podcasters. The demographic with the largest growth in listenership were women, among whom the average weekly time spent listening to podcasts increased 27 percent since 2017.

Listening among women grew 27%, Milennials 22%, and Genx-ers 18% since 2017.
Women and millennials were the fastest-growing demographics in the WestwoodOne survey.

Millennials also had a strong showing, with listenership growing 22 percent over three years, and GenX listeners grew a respectable 18 percent. Interestingly, Boomers, which WestwoodOne infuriatingly defines as age 50 to 64, actually fell by nine percent. They offered no explanation for this and, frankly, we can’t think of one. (I am not a Boomer, no matter what they say.)

Apart from demographic information, what listeners want from podcasts has some lessons for the public affairs industry. Not surprisingly, the top reason people say they listen to podcasts is to be entertained (63%). The second most common answer is to hear interesting stories (56%), and the third is to learn something new (50%). Staying up-to-date on news and current events comes in at 37 percent.

What does this mean for you? If you can make a podcast that includes interesting stories that teach your listeners something new, you can reach a sizable audience even without being “entertaining”. Just remember to create value.

In the coming weeks, Voxtopica will be learning more about how working from home impacts the kind of content people consume, and how valuable work-related audio content can be to them. We’ll be sure to share those results