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How has Covid-19 Affected the Podcasting Industry?

By Imran Azad | @_kingazad | April 11, 2020

Covid-19 & Data

Before discussing the direct impacts of Covid-19 on the podcasting industry, it’s advantageous to understand how the virus is affecting the day to day lives of individuals across the world. As towns, counties, cities, states and countries are implementing mandatory stay at home precautions to #flattenthecurve , we’ve shifted our entire lives online .  As the virus continues to spread and impact society as we know it, we are seeing a very intriguing test on the technological systems we have set in place.

In the US alone, ISP data has shown a 13 percent increase in usage and peaks at 11AM. These traffic patterns are highly abnormal, according to Cloudflare. As work from home is becoming more common, internet traffic is shifting to peaks closer towards mid-day. A global survey conducted in March 2020 revealed that the coronavirus has had a direct impact on in-home media consumption around the world, with 35 percent of total respondents professing to have read more books or listened to more audiobooks at home and 18 percent having listened to more radio due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The same survey shows that more than 40 percent of consumers spent longer on messaging services and social media.

What Does This Mean for Podcasts?

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, a very large section of listenership came from individuals during their commute to work. According to data from Reuters, the proportions were as follow: “The majority of podcast usage is at home (64%), commuting on public transport (24%) or via private transport such as the car or bike (20%). Around a fifth (18%) listen when out and about generally (going for a walk or to the shops), with a similar proportion (16%) listening when taking exercise.” Based on these numbers, anywhere from 16-36% of podcast listeners can no longer include their favorite audio shows as a part of their daily routines.

In a recent newsletter from Megaphone, we’re given the most noticeable trends in current podcast listenership. One of these affects is the shift to constant traffic through the day versus spikes during commute times (depicted in Graph 1 below). The trends seen in listenership are parallel to the trends seen in Cloudflare ISP data mentioned earlier.

Graph 1

Graph 1: Podcast Consumption Patterns
Source: Megaphone


Though people are not commuting, there are more people who can get away with listening to their shows while “working from home” and find more free time while stuck indoors. We have also noticed a dramatic spike in news podcasts as individuals are consistently working to inform themselves during the pandemic. According to Podtrac, download growth year-to-date (through March 22) for top podcast categories is:  74% for News, 34% for Comedy, 21% for Sports, 12% for Society & Culture, and -8% for True Crime (depicted in Graph 2 below). If true crime is enduring such a big impact, we know that other categories must be feeling the effects as well.

Graph 2

Graph 2: Download Growth Year-To-Date


As listenership changes dramatically, we will also see an adjustment in advertisement placement across the board. Podcast’s that are created outside of large studios rely heavily upon sponsor advertising or support from their audience. With unemployment on the rise, individuals are likely to cut back on spending outside of necessities.

We’ve also started to see behavioral changes from companies, brands and agencies. Strategic ad placement is generally based on listenership, audience demographic and promotional needs. On top of stay at home orders, most live events and gatherings are being cancelled for the foreseeable future, particularly in sports, and this forces all podcast advertising for these events to be pulled. A survey by PodSights, indicated that 80% of brands have kept their spending levels the same or increased them. This is a likely indicator that Q2 advertising will be reduced by 20% or more across the board. Advertisers are just as confused as anyone else on how the podcast media form will come out of this on the other end. We won’t have a proper idea of the true impacts on listenership until the end of Q2. Due to this reason, many advertisers have decided to postpone advertising until Q3 and Q4 instead of completely pulling advertisement.

How This May Progress

Before Covid-19, data suggested that general media consumption is and will continue to rise. With families and individuals stuck at home, it is unsure how these trends will hold. Media companies such as Netflix and YouTube have already begun to reduce streaming quality in certain countries to lower bandwidth usage and guarantee that ISP’s do not face bandwidth bottlenecks. The quarantine conditions do not seem to be coming to an end anytime soon, but we will notice other progressions. Megaphone and Statista indicate that current content consumption trends skew very heavily towards news as people are still coming to terms with this new, ideally short-term, norm. It is likely people will begin shifting away from the news in the upcoming weeks. Individuals will continue to crave content to keep themselves preoccupied but it is uncertain when we see the shift from news to entertainment or if the entertainment of choice will be podcasts. Though it may seem bleak, this is a time where the DIY nature of podcasts may prevail. The podcasting form is an entertainment medium that has the most creative freedom, especially in the case of indie producers. Multiple clients and fellows who I work with on a day to day basis have quickly shifted gears to keep their shows going from home!