Nielsen’s Latest Podcast Data

And what it means for you

Last month, TV ratings company Nielsen released its Podcasting Today report for advertisers. While most of Voxtopica’s clients and other public affairs podcasts don’t rely on advertising, the data contained within the report is still applicable.

One of the most important data points is the confirmation that podcasting is a growing medium. Today, there are nearly 2 million podcasts in the marketplace and that number is increasing quickly. This rise in popularity has changed the market: an ever-larger number of celebrities are embracing the medium, mergers and acquisitions are on the rise, more podcast-inspired TV shows are being produced, private subscriptions are gaining market share, and platform-exclusive content (i.e. Spotify deals with Joe Rogan and the Obamas) is testing the limits of audience commitment.

As podcasting grows, podcast audiences are changing. According to Nielsen, almost half (49%) of today’s U.S. podcast listeners are more casual users: people who listen anywhere from one to three times a month. That’s very different from the view the industry has had in the past — that podcast listeners were dedicated consumers who listened to every episode of their favorite show as soon as it was released. 

This is a significant change in the audience landscape that is important to organizations considering podcasting as a communication tool. It means more people are listening to just a few podcasts, increasing the likelihood that you can gain podcast listeners from your existing audience even if those people don’t listen to other podcasts.

Changes in podcast listening behavior

According to Nielsen’s latest data, the percent of US adults listening to podcasts has grown more than 40% in the last three years. That growth is driven almost entirely by people listening to podcasts at home rather than at work or in the car. Home listeners now make up 50% of all listening, a figure that is almost certainly due to the pandemic.

The most telling information in the Nielsen report is the fact that the growth in podcast listening is demographically ubiquitous. The growth appears across all ages, and across all ethnicities. In other words, podcasts aren’t being consumed exclusively by young white people — more, and older, Hispanic, Black, and Asian Americans are listening, too.

Believe it or not, the median age of podcast listeners according to Nielsen is 39 years old.

What are people listening to?

What are all these people listening to? Nielsen reports that the #1 genre in nearly every demographic category is Comedy. In fact, the only demographic that doesn’t have comedy in the #1 spot is “People 55+”. For these listeners, Comedy is still #2.

What’s in the #1 spot for Americans over 55? Unsurprisingly, it’s News一which is also the second most popular podcast genre for nearly every other demographic. News is #2 for everyone over 18, with 38% listening to News programs. It’s #2 people between 18 and 49 and people 25-54. In fact, News is the #2 most popular podcast genre in every category except people over 55 (where it’s #1), people ages 18-34, and Women 25-54. For both of those demographics, News falls to the #4 most popular genre. 

Women really like murder podcasts.

Nielsen’s data confirms something that’s a bit of a running joke in the podcast world — women love murder podcasts. That’s right, for women age 25-54, True Crime is the #2 most popular genre with 41% listening — nearly as many as listen to the #1 genre, Comedy (42%). By comparison, True Crime doesn’t appear at all in the top ten genres for men of the same age group.

From our perspective, the gender differences in podcast genre preferences are extremely interesting. Take a look at these two lists in the image on the right.

The only genres that appear in both lists are Comedy, News, Society & Culture, and Music. Therefore, if your podcast hopes to reach both men and women, you might be better off choosing one of those as your primary category.

Categories matter.

It’s important to understand that these categories are defined by the podcast players (Apple, Spotify, etc.), not by listeners. In other words, If your target audience is women, categorizing your podcast as “Society & Culture” may help Apple, Spotify, or other apps suggest it to the right audience.

I’ve actually seen this in action. I was once asked to help grow the audience for a public policy podcast. The publishers had selected “News” as the show’s primary category because of the popularity of the category. However, by calling their show “News” they were competing with NPR, the New York Times, and all the other actual news producers. 

We changed the primary category to “Government”. Within a few episodes, the podcast had tripled its audience and was consistently in the top ten of shows in that category. The show went from competing with better-known producers in a highly competitive category to being one of the top producers in a more specifically targeted category.

What does this mean for public affairs podcasts?

Podcasts are here to stay. If your organization is committed to delivering high-value content to your members, advocates, communities, or anyone else, a podcast should definitely be part of your content mix.

That said, audiences have many choices when deciding what to listen to at any given moment, so your podcast needs to provide seamless value in every episode. Poor audio quality, boring hosts, and uninteresting content will all lead to low listenership and retention.

Understanding your audience, and providing content that interests them, entertains them, and engages them, is the key to success.

To learn how Voxtopica can help you plan, produce, distribute, and market a great podcast, contact us at 202-656-0024 or schedule a free consultation at

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