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