Industry insights

2020 Podcast Trends

February 2021

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The coronavirus pandemic upended the world in the first quarter of 2020. In the US, podcast downloads and listening took an immediate hit as routines (and especially commutes) were disrupted.

However, all that listening returned quickly as people developed new routines for the lockdown/shelter-in-place era. As Digiday reported in July, "Over the past two months, podcast downloads have returned to their pre-COVID levels... And advertisers, more focused than ever on justifiable investments, have kept spending up, agency and publisher sources said."

The Internet Advertising Bureau report on podcast advertising stated that despite the pandemic, podcast ad revenues were expected to climb 15% in 2020, and advertisers reported that they planned to increase spend through the 2nd half of the year. By contrast, podcast advertising grew 49% in 2019 according to the previous IAB report.

Despite the revised growth outlook, the pandemic offered an opportunity for new brands and advertisers to try podcasting for the first time; according to data from Magellan, over 160 new brands entered the podcast market for the first time every week in 2020, and the trend accelerated throughout the year. And those advertisers were placing ads on more shows—On average, the number of shows an advertiser appeared on increased from 3.6 in January to 6.2 in November.

The growth in audio consumption wasn't limited to podcasting. Audiobooks also saw growth last year, with a 21% year-over-year increase from 2019. And according to TechCrunch, music streaming revenues grew 12% in the first half of 2020 as well: "With vastly more people stuck inside seeking novel methods of entertainment, paid subscriptions (Spotify, Apple Music, et al.) are up 24% year-over-year."

At Chartable, we've seen incredible growth in every metric we track from both publishers and advertisers—and we expect 2021 to be an even better year as the world returns to normalcy.

Explosive growth: Content

2020 saw a more than 280% increase in the creation of new podcasts -- from just over 300,000 new podcasts started in 2019 to almost 900,000 in 2020. That's almost 2 podcasts started every minute, throughout the entire year! [1]

Many of these new podcasts have just one or two episodes (about 30%) -- they reflect creators "trying out" the medium through free tools like Spotify's Anchor. However, 23% of podcasts started in 2021 have already published more than 10 episodes. That adds up to more than 200,000 new podcasts with real staying power. There's no denying that the sheer volume of new podcasts reflects an ever-increasing interest in the medium from creators.

Another very important trend: new creators aren't just limited to the US. Just under half of the 900,000 new podcasts were in languages other than English.

There were twice as many new English-language podcasts started in 2020 compared to the previous year. But many languages saw much more growth, including Hindi (14x), Chinese, Portuguese, Indonesian and Spanish (about 7x each), and others like Japanese, Turkish and Italian (about 3x each).

All of these new creators are creating all kinds of new content. The top category for new podcasts created last year was Education, followed by Society & Culture, Arts, and Business:

Explosive growth: Listeners

The global explosion in podcast creation has been met by a similar growth in audience.

At Chartable, we're now directly measuring 1.2 billion downloads a month from over 13,000 podcasts, from the tiniest independents to the largest publishers in the world. Because we're based in the US, our data is biased towards US listeners—but we've seen incredible global growth in downloads this year.

Chartable-measured US traffic grew 190% in 2020; many other countries saw much greater increases [2], including Turkey, Italy, Peru, and others. You'll notice a lot of overlap with the top languages for new creation here:

Around the world, more and more listeners are tuning in to podcasts. More and more creators are starting podcasts for the first time. And more and more advertisers are exploring the medium and increasing their spend, which means there's more money that will flow to creators to fund even more great shows.

Data Sources

[1] As we noted in our previous roundups of podcast statistics, all data in this post is based on Chartable's database of global podcasts, episodes, and charts. There are likely many more podcasts created in 2020 that haven't made themselves known to our web crawlers; similarly, because we started Chartable in 2018, there are likely many podcasts created before we started the company that we may have missed. Still, our data set is robust, with around 2M podcasts in total, and nearly 100 million episodes indexed.

[2] In the interest of completeness, I'll note that we saw a 3500% increase in unique devices downloading from Taiwan because a Taiwanese podcast hosting company (soundon.fm) decided to allow their users to integrate with Chartable more easily (thanks folks!). This is so far out of line with the rest of the countries, I had to remove it from the list. One potential takeaway: podcast hosting still seems to be a geographically local market, and there might be large pockets of creators & listeners that are less visible to companies like Chartable because they use country or language-specific platforms.