Can the Market Sustain the Number of Podcasts Being Launched?

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Cheyne Gateley/Variety Intelligence Platform

Every year, it becomes more laughable that podcasts used to be considered a niche media format. Ninety million U.S. consumers (27% of the population older than 12) listened to podcasts monthly in 2019, a figure up from 73 million in the year prior. 

This growth isn’t likely to stop anytime soon.

Variety Intelligence Platform (VIP) predicts this figure to grow to 131 million (or 38% of the population) by 2024 in its newest 36-page special report, “Podcasts Go Boom,” which provides an expansive view of the podcast market and offers forward-looking analysis on the growth prospects for the industry. 

“Podcasts Go Boom” explains that near-term growth of the podcast biz is likely to be largely driven by platforms like Spotify and Pandora, hardware like smart speakers, and the growing demand for intellectual property (IP) among media companies and TV networks. 

And as the podcast listener base grows, there will be no shortage in shows for them to pick from: In 2019, there were already over 700,000 available individual podcast programs, and almost 300,000 new podcasts launched in that year alone, according to data from Chartable. 

That’s a lot of new podcast shows, especially when considering how much new content other industries have churned out in recent years. For example, there were 532 scripted U.S. TV series across linear TV and streaming platforms in 2019, a figure up about 7% year-over-year. 

Scripted TV is generally much more expensive to produce than a scripted or unscripted podcast, so it’s expected there would be more podcasts out there, but the comparison still helps make clear how big of a mad dash creators have made for podcast riches in recent times.

With this in mind, the question arises: Is there really enough room for waves of media companies to succeed with new podcasts in the 2020s with the market already being this crowded?

While there are certainly instances of podcasts flaming out in recent times, businesses shouldn’t be discouraged from entering the space because of sheer competition alone.

That’s because the 700,000 podcasts figure cited earlier is essentially inflated — it includes podcasts that no longer regularly produce new episodes as well as low quality podcasts that many consumers likely wouldn’t want to listen to anyways. 

For example, over 32,000 podcasts “died” in 2019 (the podcast’s RSS feed was deleted or its latest episode was published in that year), according to podcast search engine Listen Notes. This figure was over 33,000 in 2018 and more than 35,000 in 2017.

So 700,000 likely overestimates the true selection of podcast shows that consumers would browse through, and this implies there’s more room to succeed in the podcast space than it initially may seem. 

To be fair, when taking out inactive and low-quality podcasts, the number of active podcasts is still great (an exact number would be very difficult to ascertain), but it does seem much less daunting. 

Because of this, and the runway for podcast listener growth that VIP forecasts through 2024, it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t any space for batches of new media-driven podcast ventures to succeed in the 2020s. This line of reasoning seems more sound especially when keeping in mind that more podcasts will continually become inactive. 

To read more on the path that’s being paved for companies looking to enter the podcast market, click here for VIP’s “Podcasts Go Boom” special report.