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“A watershed moment for podcasting”: Podcasts show explosive growth, drive subscriptions, and ad revenue to cross $1B in 2021

woman with headphones on

“Podcasting shows explosive year-over-year growth,” according to the 2019 Infinite Dial Study by Edison Research and Triton Digital.

Among US users, the number of individuals (12 years and older) who have ever listened to a podcast crossed 50% for the first time. Around 32% listen monthly, compared to 26% last year. 

This is the largest yearly increase since the data started being tracked. The growth rate is projected to continue, bringing with it opportunities for driving revenues, as well as subscriptions for publishers.

This is a watershed moment for podcasting–a true milestone. With over half of Americans 12+ saying that they have ever listened to a podcast, the medium has firmly crossed into the mainstream.

Tom Webster, Senior Vice President at Edison Research

“Tremendous growth in podcast ad spending”

Ad revenue from podcasts is also scaling fast. According to IAB & PwC’s latest Podcast Revenue Report, marketers spent $479M in 2018, and are projected to spend $678M this year.

Over the past four years, ad revenue has scaled at a 65% CAGR. The report estimates revenue for podcasting in the US will cross $1B in 2021.

The tremendous growth in podcast ad spending is further evidence that podcasts continue to deliver strong results for both brand and direct response advertisers. Spending by content category also maps closely to the podcast categories with the largest audiences, and with more and more places to discover podcasts, the medium is on a strong growth path.

Mark McCrery, CEO of Authentic and Podtrac

NPR, one of the leading podcast producers, is set to see its podcast sponsorship revenues surpass those from broadcast next year, for the first time

Podcasting and other digital properties are projected to generate $61.8M out of a total $114.5M (54%) for the publisher. Broadcast and event sponsorships are estimated to bring in $52.7M (46%).

Podcasts have been a “huge return on investment for us and a major growth engine for our business,” says Deborah Cowan, Chief Financial Officer at NPR.

The story is similar at Slate, one of the early entrants in podcasting, where audio could represent “nearly half” of the publisher’s revenues, up from 28% in late 2018, according to Digiday. 

Slate’s 30 podcasts generated 180M listens in 2018, a 78% increase year over year. The publisher did not share revenue figures. The Economist also saw a 50% increase in monthly revenue from podcast ads last year.

“Leverage it for our subscription business”

Podcast listeners respond well to ads, scoring high in terms of engagement with ads, as well as responsiveness. According to a 2018 Acast study, 76% of listeners take action after hearing a podcast ad, which could include visiting a site, making a purchase, or taking out a subscription. 

This makes them a potent tool for driving subscriber growth. Slate, which had discussions with podcast platforms about licensing or producing exclusive shows, eventually did not take that route. 

Instead, it is focusing on using its shows to grow its membership program, Slate Plus. “We’re focusing on how we can leverage it for our subscription business,” says Slate president Charlie Kammerer. 

Two minutes on video is thought of as great; we’re seeing 85% of the audience listen to a 30-minute podcast. Once they find the content they like, they will stick with it and binge. The behavior is more parallel to Netflix and SVOD services.

Steve Ackerman, Managing Director of content agency Somethin’ Else

The Guardian which has several active podcasts, launched a daily news show, “Today in Focus,” late last year. The podcast has become one of its most popular shows, with average daily listens having grown fivefold since launch. Audience figures have also grown 30% month-on-month. 

The publisher has been using the format to drive people to its membership scheme. It runs ads within podcasts, and says that they have been effective, but did not share figures.

“Enormous room for growth”

French news publisher Le Monde is also experimenting with podcasts to grow subscribers. It has launched three new podcast series. 

They are individually devoted to different topics, like investigations, original interviews with prominent personalities in culture, fashion and cuisine, and one featuring love stories. 

The investigative series, “Sept ans de trahisons” (“Seven years of betrayal”), based on articles that drove high numbers of new subscriptions, is live, while the other two are set to be launched in the coming months. 

“Seven years of betrayal” is based on popular articles which may have been read by existing subscribers. The podcast’s added draw includes behind-the-scenes recorded conversations that informed the investigation. The show notched up 30,000 listens for the first three episodes over five days, according to Digiday.

Alexis Delcambre, Deputy Editor for Digital at Le Monde says, “Subscriptions is the core of our strategy, bringing interesting and free content to platforms is also a part of that. 

“Podcasts are a way to connect with new audiences. For audiences who may not come by themselves to Le Monde, this can be a contribution to driving our long-term strategy of digital subscriptions.”

This is a good illustration of the way it connects with our digital strategy around subscribers.

Alexis Delcambre, Deputy Editor for Digital, Le Monde 

Susie Warhurst, Global Head of Content at Acast comments, “You need a clear identity and branding to offer something different in this space, but there’s enormous room for growth.

“People are only just waking up to the possibility of podcasts, and the deeper engagement from a daily rhythm.”