The Rise of Podcasts in the Era of the Pandemic

Lynn Seah

When you’re stuck alone at home, in your dorm, or maybe in your apartment during quarantine or amid social distancing measures, solitude can become overwhelming. There’s an incessant need we have as humans, social creatures, to connect others, and to be divested of company for extended periods is certainly something that creates a huge void. In recent months, a void has been increasingly filled with increased media consumption, from extended screen time, to Netflix binges, zoom parties, and, more unsuspectingly, podcasts.

Podcasts in the pre-pandemic era were traditionally linked to the activities in-between. Activities that could be made even more productive, a very important trait to the average go-getting, entrepreneurial millennial or Gen-Z consumer, such as commuting to work or working out in the gym. Activities that also experienced a sharp decline as stay-home and distancing measures were put in place. However, interestingly enough, despite a loss of €356 million during the pandemic, Spotify announced that podcasts' consumption had actually doubled. An interesting fact to note is that even though the number of monthly active users consuming podcasts only experienced a little growth “from 19 to 21 percent”, the amount of podcast content consumed by that group “more than doubled.” A survey created by Edison Research also discovered that the average consumption time of podcasts listeners was 6 hours and 45 minutes of podcast content per week in the second quarter of 2020, a half an hour increase from the quarter before. Moreover, the audience for podcasts has nearly reached 100 million Americans every month, suggesting the medium is certainly experiencing a slow and steady rise in popularity.

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But, with the advent of all sorts of home entertainment being made available, from various new streaming platforms like Disney+ and Apple TV to the continuous growth of existing platforms like YouTube and TikTok, what are the driving factors leading the average consumer — with a limited amount of time and multiple options — to pick podcasting over multiple other appealing entertainment channels?

One of the proposed reasons, especially for those with children, is the ability to access screen-free entertainment. As the constant requirement for video calls and digital work creates screen fatigue, podcasts provide a means of entertainment that does not require us to stare at a screen continuously. For those with children, it provides a means of entertaining their kids without having them being immersed continuously in the world of video or gaming. The content is also slightly different, with podcasts for kids often having integrated educational elements or topics of interest that are beneficial to children’s learning.

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Besides children, news and podcasts surrounding politics and educational topics are also in growth amongst the older consumers. According to Edison Research, 74% of podcast users tune into podcasts to learn something new. Among the most popular podcast genres are comedy, news, politics, science, arts, sports, and business. That could be owed to the fact that without newspapers and without the need to read, podcasts provide quick, succinct and bite-sized information that can be listened to when they are having a break from working online. It is also owed to the fact that traditional news outlets sometimes do not broach certain uncomfortable or uncommon topics, which the new generation deems just not, if more important. Social justice podcasts such as “The Uncomfortable Podcast,” hosted by creative activist Dom Roberts, have seen spikes in consumers due to the desire to be informed on issues traditional news outlets shy away from. These podcasts were especially relevant where the Black Lives Matter movement became increasingly prevalent in the last year, causing podcasts surrounding race and social injustice to increase spikes in visits. Considering the pandemic environment, podcasts are also a way to create a sense of entertainment and escapism from mundane routines. There has been a consumption spike in content like escapism, such as the thriller and sci-fi genres. Genres such as comedy, true crime and self-help have also been used by many in order to give them time to detach from their working lives at home when the distance between the office and home no longer exists.

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Another factor that cannot be overlooked is the ease of podcasts in the listening experience. Podcasts are generally the same format — genre-oriented, episodic, relatively timely and focused. These make the different options and topics very clear to the listener, and, added to the mobility of the experience, where many can listen to podcasts doing other activities, it makes them an easy choice. With no need to hold a console or look at a screen, podcasts provide a way for people to experience a form of interaction, satisfy their curiosity and allow for them to remained tuned-in and immersed while they carry on doing daily activities like cooking, cleaning or going about their daily morning routines.

Podcasts offer a world of opportunities to content creators to diversify the mediums and channels they produce content and allow creators to create content in a format whose delivery appeals to a new or wider audience. This is especially the case for creators whose current focus is visual content and those whose focus includes topics worth investigating, discussing, or entertaining through the medium of conversation or audio delivery. Whether popular topics like gaming or makeup or more niche topics like the “Pen Addict” or “Beef and Dairy Network,” In 2020, the largest consumer age group for podcasts was 12–34-year-olds, followed by 35–54-year-olds. Both these groups increased by 10% from the previous year. It’s clear that there’s certainly an audience in demand of podcasts, hungry for quality content that creators can take advantage of to fill in with dynamic, engaging content.

Lynn Seah
Lynn is a rising Senior at Syracuse University majoring in Advertising with a minor in German. She is currently a Lunch and Learn intern at The Advertising Club of New York and a G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative Fellow at 100 Roses from Concrete.
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