One of the most under-reported data points about podcasting is the popularity of news podcasts.
Lost amid all the stories about Joe Rogan and true crime podcasts is the fact that a whole lot of people get their news from podcasts. The question is, why? And, more importantly, in today’s news-saturated media environment, what makes listeners turn to podcasts for current affairs?
We clearly see the demand for news in the surveys Signal Hill Insights conducts for The Canadian Podcast Listener and Triton Digital Podcast Metrics Demos+ in the US. Daily news podcasts like The Daily from the New York Times, BBC’s Global News Podcast and CBC’s Front Burner rank among the leading podcasts and the News genre is consistently a Top 3 performer in both studies.
Why Settle for a Sound Bite When You Can Get the Full Meal Deal?
We wanted to get a better idea of what’s behind all that interest in news. After all, podcasts don’t even operate in real time like radio, TV or the web.
Spurred on by our sponsors and subscribers (many of whom have planted their own stake in news podcasts), we took a closer look at this in The Canadian Podcast Listener study that was in field this past Fall.
We asked daily news podcast listeners to identify those qualities they associate with news on podcasts vs. news on other media. Two attributes jumped out of the data: news on podcasts delivers both in-depth coverage and ‘a personal connection,’ neither of which was widely associated with news on any other media.
We got clear confirmation in a follow-up question probing daily news listeners for their preferred format.
Listeners differ on the ideal daily news approach, but long-form podcasts were chosen by a wide margin over a brief headline format. Some preferred a deep dive into a specific news story; others chose a broad news roundup or an extended chat or monologue. Meanwhile, only slightly more than one-in-ten (11%) opted for a ‘micro bulletin of headline news.’
And there’s a reason for that. Podcast listeners can get quick news hits pretty much anywhere. Real-time media like TV and radio have limited news space as do newspapers, all of which can put a cap on in-depth journalism. Meanwhile, social networks like Twitter with its 240-characters specialize in grab-and-go news.
Some reports have suggested that quick news hits are a natural symptom of our time-starved lives. A few years ago, a story appeared in major publications claiming that a Microsoft-commissioned study found that the human attention span had shrunk from 12 to 8 seconds, less than that of a goldfish. The story, and the finding, have since been debunked.
News podcasts provide proof that there is a demand for in-depth audio journalism. The news podcasts with the biggest audiences typically run 20 minutes to half an hour and sometimes as long as an hour or longer.
But there’s more to it than length. There’s that ‘personal connection’ we see in the research. Hearing a reporter, pundit or the person at the centre of the news offer their testimony delivers nuance and feeling you can’t get from the printed word or a TV sound bite. It also opens the door to podcasting’s superpower of storytelling.
What’s the Lesson for Other Types of Podcasting?
It’s often said that a podcast should be as long as it needs to be, and not a minute longer. It’s hard to argue with that.
The key thing lies in putting the audience first. Know what your podcast needs to do to give the listener the depth, meaning and personal relevance they can’t get anywhere else. And that goes for all podcasts, including The Joe Rogan Experience with its 3+ hour episodes and the 12 episodes in the first season of Serial.
The Canadian Podcast Listener study is co-published by Signal Hill Insights and Jeff Ulster, with support from The Podcast Exchange (TPX). Results are based on online surveys using a market representative sample from Maru Voice Canada. A brief calibration survey, among at least 3,000 Canadian adults, establishes the size and composition of the Canadian podcast audience each year, followed by an in-depth survey among approximately 1,600 monthly podcast listeners.