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OFCOM: Lockdown Podcast Listening

How did our listening habits change during lockdown?

That was one of the questions the broadcasting regulator OFCOM set out to answer during its latest research, Media Nations 2020...

Its study mainly focused on TV and online viewing patterns, but a small section also peered into how consumers were engaging with live radio, as well as audiobook and podcast series.

The full report and 101 pages are available right here, but for those of you wanting to understand what the headlines were for the podcasting industry, keep reading on. I'll sum up for you.

Overall, the Media Nations 2020 report set out to answer the following statement: 'How have people stayed informed and entertained during lockdown?'

As you'd expect live TV news figures have been through the roof during the coronavirus global crisis. And subscription models like Netflix and Disney+ have seen a huge boost.

In fact, when it comes to watching the telly and online streaming - 40% of most people's days over lockdown were spent slobbing out watching boxsets or catching up on the day's news!

But despite a surge in video streaming, there's also been a surprising undercurrent of people dialling out of - and then back into audio content too.

A key learning from the report was recognising how many people listen to radio and podcasts as part of their daily routine.

When lockdown kicked in at the end of the March for the UK, many people stopped using their cars for the daily commute, didn't go to the gym and/or lost their usual weekly routine altogether.

This had, understandably, a huge effect on the audio world. But then, by June - people came back.

"Although an estimated 14% of online adults stopped listening to the radio in the first few weeks of lockdown – with reduced in-car listening and the closure of workplaces the biggest influencers of this – its share of overall audio listening time remained stable, at 70%."

The headline in the report read '48% changed their listening habits'.

But that's not the full picture - these stats really apply to the younger folk, those 34 and under.

"For young people, the amount of audio time accounted for by radio decreased with lockdown, from 27% beforehand to 18% during, with more time given to music-video channels/sites, audiobooks and podcasts."

I think many broadcasters know radio listening has been on a slow gradual decline for many years now, it's more a case that lockdown sped that decline up a bit.

The report contains a bunch of very pretty coloured graphs which show pre-lockdown and start of lockdown listening times per medium (ie radio, streamed music, audiobooks, podcasts) but we're talking incredibly tiny percentages for us to refer to on podcast listening. So I'll skip these for now.

What's more important is how common the word 'podcast' is becoming as part of everyday language.

A few years ago, you'd probably have to explain what a P-O-D-C-A-S-T even was to your mum, but now:

"A third of online adults listened to music streaming services, podcasts or audiobooks in lockdown."

Lovely top line, but let's understand more. Firstly...

"Younger adults aged 16-34 were more likely to have listened to these services (55%) compared to those aged 55+ (20%)."

Again, age plays a big part here.

The rise in younger people turning to on-demand content has drastically increased more than in older audiences.

Also, let's look at a pretty graph to see how the breakdown flows between music, podcasts and audiobooks:

OFCOM Media Nations 2020, published 5th Aug

So for all adults, more than one in ten will listen to a podcast every week in the UK.

But that figure climbs to one in five for those aged under 34.

It's interesting to note that before lockdown, podcast listening overall had started to plateau - something many wondered whether we had reached 'peak podcast'.

But that wasn't the case across all age groups - as slowly but surely there has been an increase for those over 45 years old, as they start to discover their way around the medium.

The report showcased Spotify's recent investment into the world of podcasts. Over a year, their number of weekly podcast listeners are up from 24 to 37% - now in line with Apple Podcast and BBC Sounds stats.

Here I will insert a lovely graph showing where people are listening to their podcasts, demonstrating changes year-on-year across the popular listening platforms...

OFCOM Media Nations 2020, published 5th Aug

So what have people been listening to? The research offered some insight into the most-listened to podcast genres too..

"The most popular podcast genre among weekly listeners is entertainment, listened to by 80% of listeners, followed by discussion and talk shows (78%) and comedy (77%)."

But are people listening to podcasts MORE or LESS than they were during lockdown? Isn't what most producers want to know?

The answer is a bit complicated, 'yes but no but'.

"The indications from Ofcom’s research commissioned in lockdown are that there were net gains in podcast listening during this period – 7% of adults aged 16+ claimed that they listened to podcasts less since lockdown, while 11% claimed they had been listening to podcasts more."

There's a section in the report about seeing a growth in the number of advertisers taking an interest in podcast sponsorship:

"75% of UK advertisers and media agencies who responded, said that they intended to increase their investment in podcast advertising over the next 12 months."

And when we get to specific monetary values, compared with UK radio's £653m per year...:

"UK podcasting revenue remains small in relative terms compared to that of radio, with PwC data indicating advertising revenues of £26m from UK podcasts in 2019, a real-terms increase of 66% year on year."

But that is a trend we podcast production companies already knew - and are expecting to continue.

What's more interesting is the growth in the number of podcast series now available. [Because it seems that if you haven't got your own podcast or at least been a guest on one by now, who are you?!]

This idea of whether we have reached 'peak podcast' is worth referring back to here.

Throughout lockdown, the trend I noticed was a ton of people who'd wanted to start a podcast series for awhile...suddenly making it happen.

Music producers, theatre makers, comedians, heck even TV presenters like Louis Theroux all found their usual medium out of bounds during the covid-19 crisis so instead turned to another craft to keep their hat in the ring.

[FYI worth checking out some banging content via the BBC Arts Culture in Quarantine project - some of the audio series I've consulted on too.]

This surge in new series came with mixed response - many got their series out, but they didn't have a lot of traction because they failed to understand the principle behind properly marketing and crafting a series to garner the success they were expecting.

Also, the fact that as already pointed out earlier on in this blog - podcast listening was initially down in April, so any new series released then may not have had the listener figures they could have had pre-lockdown.

If you're one of these organisations - then consider doing a marketing relaunch in September. People back off holiday, back to work, maybe even back to school - most importantly, people are likely to be back to some kind of (normal?!) routine.

So let's read further into the stats - how many podcasts are there now?

"Despite the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of podcasts has continued to grow, with April and May 2020 in particular showing large increases in the number added to Apple Podcasts, with over 1 million new podcasts being listed in April 2020 and 1.1 million in May 2020, compared to 870,000 in January 2020."

Holy smokes. So since January - nearly a quarter of a million new podcasts have signed up...

My instincts were right - during lockdown we DID see a surge of new podcasters enter the market.

Money and exclusivity are key in the development of the podcast industry - as Spotify, Apple Music and others continue to sign presenters and series up for single-platform use, some even behind a paywall for listeners.

I think THIS is where we'll see the biggest changes over the next 12 months.

Podcasts will no longer be free and accessible by anyone, anywhere.

Which in my opinion - is a shame.

(But perhaps that's because unlike the Americans, I'm a Brit used to the BBC public service broadcasting model.)

To conclude: It looks like podcasts are here to stay, and as a consumer, there's now more choice than ever before on what we can listen to.

But that means for podcast producers, we're having to work harder than ever before to:

a) launch a new series and

b) make it stand out from the noise to get the traction a great series deserves.

If you made it this far, and want to read the report in full yourself then here is the link to save you scrolling back up.

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