Niché No More: The Podcast Comes of Age

06/20/2016 01:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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By Helen Rose, Head of Insight, the7stars & Kate Rutter, Head of Commercial Insight at Global and Dax

With constant screen-swiping and nano-second attention spans, it's amazing to discover that there’s still a medium that engages nearly 4 million people undistracted for up to an hour: podcasts. Could this offer advertisers that holy grail, a motivated and engrossed audience?

American podcast Serial - still one of the most frequently downloaded and streamed podcasts more than a year after launch - symbolises the popularity of the genre. Although many podcasts still hail from the US, there's a growing number in the UK, boosted by the large quantity produced by the likes of the BBC, the Financial Times, Sky and the Economist.

A recent Guardian guide to “the 50 podcasts we can’t do without” featured podcasts from UK talent including Josie Long, Adam Buxton and comedian Bob Mortimer. Yet despite plentiful domestic talent, UK podcasts have been met with patchy adoption by the commercial sector so far.

This is a completely different situation from the US where Apple is facing growing pressure from podcasters keen to monetise their content to offer greater access to ad-related data and develop new ways to improve discoverability by listeners.

Here in the UK the growing cultural buzz around podcasts means now is a good time to explore how they could be monetised. Dax, known for their championing of digital audio, and media agency the7stars, have collaborated on the UK’s first piece of independent research designed to explore consumers’ attitudes to podcasts and what commercial possibilities podcasts offer to marketers.

Strong weekly share and a young and engaged urban audience are just two opportunities podcasts offer brand owners, according to our study. In the UK, 3.6m Britons have listened to a podcast within the last four weeks and 11m podcasts are now listened to each month.

According to industry data source MIDAS, podcasts reach 7% of all audio listeners every week. And when combined with listen again/catch-up radio services, many of which include shows packaged by their makers as podcasts, the market opportunity is as big as on demand music services which currently command a weekly reach of 14% of all UK audio listeners.

But the statistic we think should really grab marketers’ attention is that two-thirds of listeners say they listen to most or all of an episode (48% actually listen to the whole thing), proving that podcasts provide an engaging environment that really captures the attention of their listeners. What’s more, podcast listening is active, it’s about making the most of your time rather than just passing time.

Asked what appeals to them about the experience, 74% agree that podcasts are relaxing and the same proportion said it expands their knowledge. Most are listened to while doing household jobs (56%), walking (45%) or commuting (29%). In other words this is a medium that allows consumers to listen while they’re doing other things, but doesn’t stop them from focussing on the content, this is “audio when you want it.” There is also an interesting generational split in how podcasting is listened to; among younger listeners aged 18 to 44 it’s predominantly via smartphones, while older listeners are more likely to access them via desktop or laptop.

We also found a slight male skew – 58: 42 male: female, with a predominance of listeners among adults living in urban areas, especially London. The age of listeners makes them attractive to advertisers:  three quarters are aged 18 to 44.

Comedy is a favourite podcast genre with 43% listening regularly, followed by factual entertainment (38%) and news and documentaries each regularly listened to by 36% of UK podcast listeners. However, we were fascinated to discover that podcasts cover a wide range of subjects including history, fashion,  language learning and gardening.

Given how involved podcast listeners are, a key question for us was how enthusiastically they would respond to greater commercialisation of their favourite podcasts.  Our research indicates that a more concerted effort to monetise podcasts wouldn't necessarily alienate them. Although 70% of people have never paid for a podcast, most (61%) would be happy to hear ads if the podcast was free. 56% said they wouldn't mind advertising so long as it was relevant to what they were listening to. And only 34% of UK respondents said they’d be willing to pay to have a podcast ad-free. At a time when ad avoidance, whether online or on TV, is a major concern for the media industry and marketers alike, this is a refreshing revelation.

Podcasting is maturing.  And what’s more, our study identified significant room for further listener growth, revealing that an estimated 10m people in the UK don’t currently listen to podcasts but are open to the opportunity to do so. It’s time for brand owners to wake up to podcasting’s position as audio’s next, big – as yet, largely untapped - commercial opportunity.

Advertising round podcasts – 4 top tips

  • Find the balance for engagement - ensure your content delivers on being both informative  and entertaining
  • Tailored can go mainstream - don’t be afraid to target your content to bespoke audiences
  • Consider how and where podcasts are being consumed – it’s most often home based whilst doing another activity
  • Feed their appetite – active podcasters consume more

Research methodology

The7stars’/Dax’s Podcast Analysis  comprised a study of 2000 respondents selected to be nationally representative of the UK population. The study was run by panel company SSI in April 2016.  The objectives of the project were to assess the size of the UK podcast market and its future growth potential and to profile the UK podcast audience & behaviour as well as to identify potential commercial opportunities

About the Author

the7stars is the UK’s largest independent media agency

We have built the UK’s leading independent media agency by refusing to compromise when it comes to our approach to trading; talent recruitment and development; commitment to transparency; results driven approach and focus on innovation. Our clients include Iceland, Dogs Trust, Hostelworld, Suzuki and Gumtree.com.