News podcasts outperforming expectations for publishers

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A new report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows that news podcasts are punching well above their weight. Covid-19 appears to have accelerated demand for audio briefings from trustworthy sources, and publishers are reaping the benefits.

The takeaways:
  • The report – Daily News Podcasts: Building New Habits in the Shadow of Coronavirus – shows that only around 7% of the estimated 1.3 million podcast shows in the Apple directory are classified as news. But news podcasts account for 30% of top episode consumption in countries like the US.
  • Daily news shows in particular are a strong performer. These make up less than 1% of total production but account for up to 10% of the top 250 episodes in the US, 9% in France and Australia, and 5% in the UK.
  • Daily deep dives of 15-25 minutes are the most successful and popular podcast format. But there are three other types that are growing in popularity; extended chats, concise news round-ups, and micro-bulletins aimed at smart speakers and streaming apps.

US dominance: As with many other areas of podcasting, US publisher podcasts are leading the way both in terms of listener numbers and revenue. However, Europe is rapidly catching up. European public broadcasters and commercial publishers have been significantly ramping up their efforts in news podcasting over the past year.

  • French and Danish public broadcasters have made new investments in news podcasts
  • Australia’s News Corp and the UK’s Times and Daily Mail have also launched news podcasts in the last 12 months
  • Apple is the first major platform to produce a podcast of its own. ‘Apple News Today’ is a daily news podcast of 7-8 minute long episodes, and is exclusive to Apple Podcasts.

The Daily from the New York Times is the most popular example of a daily news podcast. It reportedly now averages 4 million downloads a day – twice the number it had two years ago.

  • “The Daily is now becoming a very major news platform in ways we had never expected. It has become as big, if you do the math, as primetime Fox News,” said presenter Michael Barbaro at a podcast event in September 2020.
  • Today in Focus from The Guardian in the UK is allegedly listened to by more people than buy the newspaper each day.
Why podcasts?

The report points out that news podcasts are a crucial way to attract younger audiences to news brands. 

  • News organisations with subscription businesses credit daily news podcasts as playing a key part in increasing loyalty and reducing churn.
  • Under-35s in the UK are four times more likely to consume a podcast when compared with over-55s.
  • The on-demand nature of podcasting and ease of listening on mobile means that younger people are more likely to listen while out for a walk, at the gym, or doing chores. 
  • Data from Reuters’ Digital News Report 2020 shows that news podcasts also perform better with highly educated and more urban groups; a valuable target market for advertisers.

The Covid effect: According to the data, listening to podcasts has firmly bounced back after an initial dip in March and April. Daily news podcasts in particular have performed better than most other genres.

  • Advertising on news podcasts has held up through the crisis. Many publishers are reporting revenue matching or even exceeding pre-Covid levels.
  • Some news publishers launched ‘pop-up’ coronavirus podcasts during global lockdowns, with the report saying that many of these have become breakout hits.

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