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More than one-sixth (17%) of the US population listens to podcasts on a weekly basis, and it seems that weekly podcast listeners are tuning in more often than they used to. Indeed, 43% could be classified as heavy listeners (spending at least 6 hours per week listening), compared to 36% last year, according to a Westwood One study [download page].

The results of the survey – fielded among 600 adult weekly podcast listeners – indicate that while the podcast audience skews towards men and Millennials, other demographics are catching up in listening time.

This year Gen X listeners, ages 35-49, reported spending 7.2 hours per week tuning in to podcasts. Not only did that rival the time spent by Millennial listeners (7.4 hours), but it also represented a 22% increase from last year’s estimated time spent (5.9 hours).

Women also upped their listening time, by 20%, to 5.5 hours per week. That still trails male listeners (7.6 hours), but men didn’t increase their amount of time spent with podcasts much from the previous year.

Looking specifically at heavy podcast listeners (those spending at least 6 hours per week with podcasts), and noting that this represents a fairly small sample size, the results suggest that this audience skews towards men, Millennials, and higher-income adults.

Podcast Content Trends

Comedy is the most popular podcast genre, with 57% of weekly listeners saying they regularly listen to this type of podcast, up from 51% last year. (Nielsen also ranks comedy as being among the most popular genres.)

Business podcasts, while on the lower end of the popularity spectrum, have shown some growth, with 38% now listening regularly, up from 31% last year.

Looking at variances in podcast popularity by age and gender, the report reveals that:

  • Comedy is more popular among younger demographics;
  • Gen Xers are the most drawn to several genres including News/Current Events, Sports, Technology and Business;
  • Millennials are 3 times as likely as Boomers to regularly listen to Storytelling/Drama podcasts; and
  • Men are more regular listeners of almost all podcast types than women, particularly for Sports, Technology and Business, though with the exception of Storytelling/Drama.

Podcast Listeners Not Turned Off by Ads

The US podcast advertising market was estimated to have doubled in size last year, and research has found more than two-thirds exposed to podcast ads agreeing that the ad experience made them aware of new products and services.

The Westwood One research indicates that podcast listeners are comfortable with an increased ad load, and are growing more likely to respond to ads.

This year respondents said they would consider 4 ads per 60-minute podcast to be an appropriate number, up from an average of 3.8 last year. That wasn’t a huge swing, but there were larger ones for shorter podcasts. For example, listeners this year would accept 3.3 ads per half-hour podcast, an 18% increase from last year’s 2.8 ads tolerated. And for 15-minute podcasts, listeners would be happy with 2.9 ads, a 26% increase from the 2.3 ads considered appropriate in last year’s survey.

Furthermore, this year’s survey found more positive attitudes to ads than last year:

  • 53% of listeners agreed that most of the ads they hear on podcasts are engaging, up from 47% last year;
  • 52% agreed that most of the ads they hear are relevant, up from 45%;
  • 53% agreed that they like most of the ads they hear on podcasts, up from 44%; and
  • 49% said they go out of their way to support brands that advertise on their favorite podcasts, up from 40% last year.

It’s worth noting that respondents prefer host-voiced ads over pre-produced ones, in line with other pieces of research on this topic.

Finally, ads drive action, per the respondents. Heavy podcast listeners are especially likely to purchase a product advertised, with 57% reporting having done so, compared to 37% of all weekly listeners. Heavy listeners also report high rates of using promo codes from podcasts when making a purchase (54%, vs. 35% of all weekly listeners), following the product or service on social media (55% vs. 41%), talking about the product or service with friends and acquaintances (58% vs. 50%), and searching online for more information (66% vs. 62%).

See here for data about which CPG categories should advertise on which podcast genres.

The full Westwood One report is available for download here.

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