How Long Should a Podcast Be?

Podcast listeners may report they average seven podcasts a week as part of their audio diet, but just how much of that show are they consuming? With podcasters still trying to figure out how long a show should be, two new surveys suggest a close link between how long a podcast runs and the growth of the format.

Edison Research’s Podcast Consumer 2019 study shows a record 197 million Americans are now familiar with the term “podcasting” yet only 144 million have actually listened to a show. One of the biggest reasons for the 53 million-person gap rests in the hands of show producers. Its survey data shows four-in-ten people said podcasts aren’t quick listening. A related data point: 51% said they just don’t have the time in their mobile data allotment to listen to podcasts. And when it asked people what makes them listen to podcasts more, more than half (57%) said they would if they had more time to listen.

Even among those who do listen to podcasts, show length can be an issue. Just a slight majority (51%) of monthly podcast listeners typically listen to an entire podcast. And while fewer than one-in-ten drop out before the halfway point in a show, it’s not a guarantee that fans make it to the end point.

Edison SVP Tom Webster noted on a webinar last week that 93% of those surveyed said they listened to some or all of a podcast. “That’s a number that’s grown quite a bit the past couple of years as people are discovering content, as their habits are getting more refined, all of these figures look better than they did a couple of years ago,” he said. Yet Edison’s data also reveals some listeners are taking it into their own hands to shorten the time commitment as one-in-four (26%) admit they increase playback speed.

A big reason why show length is an issue is that while 70% of podcast listeners say they occasionally simply sit and listen to a show while doing nothing else, a lot of people are also multitasking. Edison says 59% of podcast listeners say they do housework or chores while listening to a podcast, 50% are cooking or baking, and 44% are running or exercising. If a podcast runs longer than a listener’s run, there’s a risk they’ll close the app without ever finishing the show.

The upshot is when a monthly podcast listener downloads a show, there’s a good chance they’ll eventually listen to it. Three-quarters of monthly podcast users said they eventually listen to some or all of the podcasts they’ve download. “There aren’t that many podcasts laying fallow on a dusty hard drive somewhere. Most people are listening to most of the podcasts that they’ve downloaded. And they’re listening to most of their podcasts,” Webster said.

Average Listen: 50 Minutes

A separate survey released in recent days, this one conducted by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications in conjunction with Futuri Media, asked podcast consumers how long they typically spend listening to a show. It reports about half of those surveyed say they spent between 30 and 60 minutes with a show.

“We found that on average, users are listening to 50 minutes each time in this study. For those of you that know the average tune in for a broadcast [radio], which is around eight and half minutes, that’s an extraordinary amount of time spent in a session,” Futuri president Daniel Anstandig said while unveiling the results at the NAB Show last week.

Meanwhile Jacobs Media has released its Techsurvey 2019 data. It too sheds light on the push and pull in the amount of time available in American’s media data. Jacobs’ data is based on a survey of people who are in radio station email databases and yet even among those big fans of traditional radio, 31% said they’re spending less “real time” with AM/FM radio because they’re turning into podcasts—including 15% who said they’re dedicating “a lot less” time to radio.

“The more into podcasting people get, the more they move away from broadcast radio,” firm president Fred Jacobs said on a webinar this week. “That’s one of the tough realities of podcasting is that the more people get into on-demand radio, they seem to move away from real-time radio.” Nevertheless that remains a minority position at the moment. Jacobs found that among big radio fans, nearly two-thirds (63%) said podcast listening isn’t having any impact on their radio consumption. And 6% even report they’re spending more real-time with AM/FM radio.

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