8 Things We Learned from Our Audio Research in 2020

As we look towards 2021 with a big sigh of relief, it feels like a good time to look back at 2020.

As traumatic as 2020 has been, it was also a year of change for audio. Stay-at-home orders disrupted our lives and shook up the habits around the soundtrack that accompanies our lives. Commute listening and office listening were most dramatically affected.

Looking ahead to 2021, we expect a lot of those old listening habits will be back. At the same time, the pandemic will likely have accelerated many of the changes already underway.

Here’s what caught our attention in our audio research from the past year:

1. Podcast listening showed itself to be pandemic proof.

While the increase in podcast listening paused during the early lockdown, listening quickly returned to its impressive growth. The Canadian Podcast Listener 2020, in field in early October, showed time spent listening up among regular podcast listeners, even as fewer new listeners came into podcasts during the pandemic.

2. Listening to AM/FM Radio is growing on smart speakers.

Even before COVID, we saw year-over-year increases in listening to AM/FM on smart speakers in our Radio on the Move study. This ramped up as smart speaker owners spent more time at home.

3. Podcast listening is now more evenly balanced between men and women.

In our first Canadian Podcast Listener study in 2017, women represented just 43% of monthly podcast listeners. We’re now approaching a nearly 50/50 balance with women accounting for 48% of listeners.

This is reflected in a wide range of new female-skewed hit podcasts in our 2020 study, from Call Her Daddy and Office Ladies to The Michelle Obama Podcast.

4. Spotify continued its dramatic ascent to a power position in podcasting.

What can nearly a billion dollars in podcasting investments buy you? Among other things, it can attract users to your platform. In just over two years, Spotify has gone from 0 to 21% as the platform monthly podcast listeners in Canada use most often to access their podcasts. This places it just behind Apple Podcasts at 24%.

5. Joe Rogan is (was?) the 800-pound gorilla among podcasters.

The Joe Rogan Experience has been far and away the #1 podcast for three years running on our Canadian Podcast Listener study. In a Spring update of the study, just after Rogan signed his reported $100 million megadeal with Spotify, 21% of past-year podcast listeners said they had listened to his podcast (or watched it on YouTube) in the past month.

Yet 41% of Rogan listeners said they would watch/listen less or stop listening/watching altogether should JRE became available only on Spotify.

The Joe Rogan Experience officially became exclusive to Spotify on December 1. What kind of impact will that have on the reach of JRE? Will it help to boost use of Spotify? We’ll add that to the list of things we’ll be looking to learn in 2021.

6. Broadcast radio ads and podcast ads are the least avoided ad types of the major media.

We picked up on this in a few places this year, starting with this year’s Radio on the Move study. When asked how often they actively avoid various ad types, Canadians were least likely to say they avoid AM/FM Radio. And we saw it again among podcast listeners, who rated podcasts just ahead of broadcast radio as the least avoided ad types in our latest Canadian Podcast Listener study. The most avoided ads in both cases? Online banner ads and online popups, with online video close behind.

On a related note, we also saw how radio holds audience through ad breaks with the release this Spring of an independent study from Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. The study looked at metered listening among 800 PPM panelists in Vancouver and found only a 3% difference in audience levels during ad breaks vs. regular programming.

7. Podcast ads deliver brand lift; host-read ads deliver even bigger lift.

Podcast publishers and advertisers have always felt that ads read by popular hosts are super effective. And attribution studies have proven that hosts can drive listeners to advertisers’ websites. But can hosts also help build brands? We tested that this summer by partnering with Midroll and Stitcher on a controlled exposure Brand Lift Study. Using a sample of listeners to a new hit podcast, we compared host-read and announcer-read ads for four different brands.

The results were conclusive. While both the announcer-read and host-read ads generated significant lift on several brand measures, the host-read ads delivered brand lift across nearly 2x as many measures.

8. AM/FM radio continues to dominate share of audio listening available to advertisers.

Broadcast radio is still the big reach and frequency monster for audio, outpacing other ad-supported audio options by a huge margin.

That came through loud and clear in our Radio on the Move study earlier this year. AM/FM radio accounted for 81% of all time spent listening to the audio that’s available to Canadian advertisers. Ad-supported music streaming services and podcasting split the rest.

What new listening habits will we see when we say goodbye to 2020 and start to move beyond the pandemic? We’ll be back in field with Radio on the Move and The Canadian Podcast Listener and keep you posted. Bring on 2021!


Radio on the Move is conducted in conjunction with Radio Connects. The most recent study was conducted in late December 2019 / early January 2020 among a representative sample of 4,000 Canadian adults from Maru Voice Canada.

The Canadian Podcast Listener 2020 surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,618 monthly podcast listeners, aged 18+ in late September and early October, 2020 using the Maru Voice Canada online survey panel. The study is published by Signal Hill Insights in partnership with Jeff Ulster of Ulster Media, with support from The Podcast Exchange (TPX). More details and a free summary report are available at canadianpodcastlistener.ca.