Commentary

How The Pandemic Is Changing Podcast Listening Habits

Like many people, I considered myself a pretty avid podcast listener. I’d listen mainly while commuting, in the train or in the car, and at the gym. It was built into my schedule, and I’d listen to a couple of hours of podcasts a day.

Then, the pandemic hit. Suddenly, all of our routines were thrown out the window, including listening habits.

Once we went into lockdown, podcast downloads immediately took a hit, declining by about 10%, according to Podtrac. With commutes reduced from 30 minutes on the freeway to 30 seconds to the kitchen table, the pandemic threatened to throw off podcasts’ meteoric rise.

Podcast listening makes a comeback

Now, it seems podcasts are back. The top 10 U.S. podcast publishers saw download growth of about 6.5% in June and 3.6% in July, landing at 793.2 million downloads, a 17% increase from April, with downloads up 20.6% year-to-date as of this summer. To what can we attribute the resurgence of podcast listening?

The answer: People have adjusted to the new normal, and we’re finding new times to listen. Personally, I’m taking long bike rides or runs these days, and that’s when I listen to podcasts now. Engaging with podcasts is a form of active listening; it’s a way for us to connect, and that’s something we certainly need during this difficult time.

Certain genres are doing better than others during lockdown. For instance, children’s and family programming have seen a spike as families quarantine together, as have news and educational podcasts, health/wellness and social justice-oriented content, which shouldn’t be a surprise, given the climate in which we’re currently living. Things are more polarized than ever before, and people want to be more informed during this chaotic news cycle.

Meanwhile, genres such as technology, history and true crime saw decreases during the initial days of the pandemic, according to Podtrac. Perhaps listener appetite for the lurid or the esoteric was lessened, given the state of the world early in the pandemic. But true crime has for the most part rebounded, according to a more recent report from Podtrac. It’s a sign of how people shift back into their old habits as we get used to the new normal.

Advertisers should take advantage of the evolving world of podcasting

Estimates are that the podcast industry will see an overall revenue uptick of roughly 15% by year’s end. That growth may be lower than it would’ve been, had the pandemic not happened, but that’s still double-digit growth in a difficult year, something you won’t see with many other media.

For brands that haven’t yet made the leap into podcasting, it takes time to develop the right messaging. Brand advertisers are seeing strong results when it comes to brand lift and intent to purchase. And of course direct-to-consumer products and services do well because listeners can move right from listening to purchasing using the phone or tablet on which they’re listening.

Our data shows that your ads will do best when your host engages with your brand and speaks to the audience in a believable way. Once hosts sample the product or service themselves, they can be that much more authentic in their reads. And while it is a harder campaign to scale in-house, host-read ads have proven to be 3.5 times more effective than dynamically inserted ads, according to a Nielsen study.

Recently, it was announced that a COVID-19 vaccine could be on its way soon. That could once again shift our listening habits as our lives start to look more like they did previously, but more people will still be remote. More of us will be listening (and shopping) from our phones. And we’ll be listening to more podcasts as we seek new content while Hollywood struggles to regain its footing. Pandemic or not, podcasts are connecting brands and consumers with compelling results, and the time is right to get involved.

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