OPINION1 August 2016

Podcasts in their prime

Media Opinion UK

Research by the7stars and Dax shows that podcasts are a valuable medium for holding listeners’ attention, and one that brands should be ready to engage with.

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Podcasts hit the headlines in 2014 when true crime series Serial became the fastest podcast to reach five million downloads. But while Serial may have helped raise awareness of podcasts, and even helped a heavily flawed case be granted a retrial, there are many more factors at play in the rise of the podcast’s popularity.

Podcasts were originally developed as quality audio content, often for niche audiences, and became popular with the rise of portable digital audio players. Yet the growing involvement of established names and media brands over the past decade has taken podcasts from the specialist to the mainstream.

The7stars recently conducted research with Dax into the growing medium and found that 3.6 million people have listened to podcasts in the past month alone. Three-quarters of these listeners are aged 18- to 45-years-old and more than half are 18- 34-years-old. Of these listeners, there is a slight male skew – 58:42 male: female – and most live in urban areas, with a high propensity in London.

It was interesting to learn that listening to podcasts is considered to be time well spent, with 73% of respondents feeling that it’s a way of making the most of your time. Ninety-five per cent of podcast listening takes place at home, 56% of which is done while carrying out household chores.

But why do people choose to listen to podcasts? Seventy-eight per cent of respondents say it’s a good alternative to music, while 74% actively listen to podcasts to expand their knowledge. This shows that podcasts, or ‘audio when you want it’ as dubbed by those surveyed, is an active rather than passive experience, making it even more of a potential commercial opportunity. However, brands are yet to take advantage of the opportunities on offer.

Our research suggests that monetising podcasts doesn’t alienate listeners. Seventy per cent of current listeners have never paid for a podcast, but 61% are happy for them to include ads if that means they are free, compared with just 34% who would be willing to pay for an ad-free podcast.

These attitudes to podcasts are being exploited in the US where PodWave, a ‘quasi-programmatic’ marketplace for podcast advertisers, recently launched. The platform enables advertisers to deliver targeted audio ads tailored to listeners’ locations, listening devices, demographic categories and other profile elements, including the subject matter of the podcast. This adoption of podcast monetisation in the US signals a change in the marketplace that should be adopted by the UK, and not before time.

Podcasting is maturing and is one of the last remaining formats that is able to hold a person’s full attention for up to 60 minutes at a time – making it an invaluable format for brands and advertisers. Plus the audience is growing – there are currently 10 million people that don’t listen to podcasts but are open to the possibility – making the medium a hugely attractive proposition.

Podcasting analysis key findings:

  • 3.6m Brits have listened to a podcast within the last month
  • Podcasts account for 7% of all audio listening’s weekly reach
  • 44% of listeners listen to all or most of the podcasts they've downloaded
  • 74% find podcasting relaxing and say it expands their knowledge
  • Comedy is the favourite podcasting genre ( 43%) followed by factual entertainment ( 38%)
  • 61% don’t mind adverts if the podcast is free

Helen Rose is head of insight at independent media agency the7stars, and Kate Rutter is head of commercial insight at Global and Dax


The7stars’/Dax’s Podcast Analysis comprised a study of 2,000 respondents selected to be nationally representative of the UK population. The study was run by panel company SSI in April 2016.