Podcasts have such tremendous potential yet its download model fails to provide the platform’s potential - audience growth, ad revenue and value.”
— Dave Van Dyke

While there has been much conversation about podcasting by its creators and its consumers alike, podcasting or on-demand audio is at a crossroads.

According to a number of well-respected research companies, only about 10% of persons over the age of twelve have listened to a podcast in the last week. This number grows when considering younger consumers between the ages of 18 and 34.

Why hasn't consumption of an audio form with literally thousands of wonderful pieces of entertaining content grown more quickly?

There are a number of considered reasons but the main speed bump for massive podcast consumption is ease-of-use, the perceived difficulty by consumers of finding and downloading podcast audio on an easy-to-use application. iPhone owners have found Apple's Podcast application to be easier than most available but are still not in love with it. There are even videos on YouTube explaining how to download podcasts.

For most Americans who care enough about podcasts...it's too cumbersome of a process.

Research has shown than many in the podcast audience abandon podcasts that are too long.

As most eloquently voiced by the fine folks as XAPP Media, "The download model fails to fully exploit the format’s full potential and is constraining audience growth and monetization."

In recent a recent study Bridge Ratings has found a rising tide of opinion by average audio consumers that asks the question: Why aren't podcasts streamed like music? Knowing how to listen to a stream of music or video on-line has become pervasive; most of us know how to do it. It's become second nature, so why not podcasting?

First thing: change the nomenclature. The word "podcasting" was derived as a mix of Apple's iPod and "broadcast".

64% of those we asked were able to define "podcasting". Many had heard the term, but a good percentage really don't know what it is. That number is low considering its longevity of the technology in the marketplace . A much greater number of younger consumers, as you might suspect, know exactly what podcasting is. But to broaden podcasting's appeal many potential users need clarification.

Audio on demand scored much better as a term that defines what podcasting offers.

Bridge Ratings went into the field to determine the current state of podcast consumption and wanted to know what the prospect of expansion of use by more consumers would be if it were simpler to consume.

Here's what we found:

In 2016 30% of all persons in the study had ever listened to a podcast. For young adults 18-34 years of age almost half (45%) had ever listened to a podcast . Impressive. Yet weekly and monthly consumption for all persons remains low compared to other digital entertainment offerings. While the numbers are improving over 2015, it is our belief it could be much better.

How to read: For persons 12+ 10% listened to a podcast in the past 7 days. 30% ever listened to a podcast.

Before fielding this study....we believed that moving the podcasting model to an on-demand audio platform should improve usability, but we didn’t expect evidence of such huge potential consumption growth to be so vivid.
— Dave Van Dyke, President Bridge Ratings

 

The chart represents the current state of podcasting/audio on demand consumption comparing the overall audience (12+) to 18-34 year olds. It's clear the platform skews young in terms of awareness and usage and growth has been strong for both groups. 45% of 18-34 year olds now ever have listened to a podcast (up from 35% in 2015.

How would these numbers be impacted by placing podcasting on a streaming platform making it easier to consume? We put that question to our panelists.

Consuming audio-on-demand by streaming practically doubles consumption across the board. Among all persons 12+ actual podcast consumption in the past week in 2015 was 12% but explodes to 32% if presented on streaming platforms. The growth is even more dramatic among young consumers which grew from 20% who listened to a podcast in the last 30 days to more than half (52%)!

How to read: In 2015, 12% of 18-34 year olds in our panel indicated they listened to at least one podcast in the past 7 days. If podcasts were available through streaming 33% would listen at least once a week.

 

With the ease-of-use obstacle eliminated through on-demand streaming, podcasting becomes on-demand audio with a significant growth in the number of potential consumers engaged in today's podcast download environment. In some cases use doubles with the streaming option. For persons 12+, the number expands to almost a third who would listen to a podcast at least once a month. Half of the young adults in our panel said they'd be more likely to stream a podcast at least once a month.

In addition to bulking up consumer use, streaming podcasts provide multiple benefits:

1. With downloads, data consumption is a challenge for consumers. In today's world of ubiquitous WIFI and 4G/LTE, high-speed bandwidth would make it easier to stream audio on-demand instead of waiting for a time when a large file can be downloaded.

2. The download model hinders audience engagement. There's no immediacy of a live stream and that impacts the ability to drive immediate audience engagement for both podcast creators and advertisers.

3. Data. The download model is holding the industry back in terms of brand advertiser adoption; it creates constraints on ad inventory and measurement. The measurability of streaming provides insight into audience behavior which is entirely lost in a download model and, like music streaming platforms, a streaming model for on-demand audio gives advertisers and agencies what they are waiting for: audience measurement.

Before fielding this study, we here at Bridge Ratings believed that moving podcasting to an on-demand audio platform should improve usability, but we didn't expect evidence of such huge potential consumer growth to be so vivid. 

2016 could be a significant year for podcasters. More consumption and measurability point to a whole new ballgame for both podcast creators and revenue generation. On-demand audio is at a crossroads. Which road the industry takes will affect its business for years to come.

 

Methodology: The fully tabulated sample of 4200 persons ages 12 and over was produced through a series of outbound random contacts via random-digit-dialing (RDD) to landlines (50%) and cell phones (50%). A portion of both of these groups had a preference for an on-line web-based questionnaire. Geographical footprint was represented by all fifty U.S. states. Dates of podcasting consumption study were November 1 through December 15, 2015 and January5 through January 21, 2016.

For the Podcast Abandonment rate portion of the study, 2950 podcast consumers were asked to approximate their listening length to podcasts they were able to recall from the past week. Reasons for abandonment included: "boring content", "boring hosts", "poor quality", and "lifestyle interference".