COVID-19 2020 Impact Assessment: Podcast Listening

Cheyne Gateley/Variety Intellige

Audiences in the U.S. veered away from podcasts during the initial COVID-19 outbreak in March but have largely returned in the months since. 

That’s what’s suggested by Chartable, which provided Variety Intelligence Platform with data showing downloads of podcasts plateaued in mid-March before quickly climbing again.  

The number of measured podcast downloads for the week of October 26 was 189% higher than the number of downloads during the week of January 6. That 189% figure is higher than the (vs. week of Jan. 6) download growth of about 120% observed in late July and 36% in late March.

The data reflects the global download activity of 13,000 podcasts, though the U.S. accounts for the majority of those downloads. 

Chartable CEO Dave Zohrob also told VIP that platform listening metrics from Apple and Spotify took a sharp dip in mid-March but recovered in June and have been growing since. 

That matches up with what other companies are saying. Spotify has said consumption of its service dipped in late February but in late October said consumption had surpassed pre-COVID levels. In Q3, 22% of Spotify monthly users engaged with podcasts, up from 21% in Q2 and 19% in Q1. 

The listenership of Gimlet, a popular podcast publisher Spotify acquired for over $200 million in 2019, is now back to pre-pandemic levels after experiencing an initial dip, according to Recode. 

Similar dip-than-bounce-back storylines have been observed by other podcast companies, like Acast and Podtrac. 

Podtrac was one of the first to sound the alarm on several weeks of declines in podcast download growth in March. But the company in June stopped reporting its weekly coronavirus download updates after downloads stabilized (Podtrac did in August resume giving weekly updates on podcast downloads “due to popular demand,” though). 

The recovery of podcast listening is important for the brands and publishers looking to capitalize on the audio format that’s become especially in vogue over the last couple of years. Celebs including Gwyneth Paltrow and Trevor Noah have launched podcasts since 2018. Presidents have even joined in on the action.  

So it’s no wonder ad spend on podcasts has steadily risen since 2018 and is still expected to in 2020 despite the pandemic.  

That really shouldn’t be all too surprising, especially as data suggests some consumers are now regularly having longer podcasts sessions amid the pandemic. 

In an October survey by Trailer Park in partnership with Variety Intelligence Platform, 52% of respondents said they were now listening to podcasts “much more” or “a little more” since the pandemic started. 

Read the full special report