View from the NY Times: The Power of Podcast Trends

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According to Edison, podcast listening has more than doubled since 2014, providing a massive opportunity for creativity, new talent and advertisers. But what does the future hold? By uncovering the podcasting trends of today, we can build for the audiences of tomorrow.

Trend #1: News Genre Sees Consistent Growth

With so much news to understand, daily news shows provide a helpful way to consume the day’s biggest headlines in a quick, convenient format that’s more humanized and freer from interruptions.

Based on a report by IAB, the podcast market is expected to be worth more than $1B by next year with news and politics leading revenue by genre. According to Podtrac data, the news category has the highest download growth, up +103 percent from September 2019. The most popular show leading this category is “The Daily,” The Times’s daily news podcast hosted by Michael Barbaro. Unlike other news shows, “The Daily” employs a narrative storytelling approach to contextualize the news cycle.

And it’s working, “The Daily” has become a major news platform, with nearly four million daily listeners — an audience as big as primetime Fox News.

“These are the stories of our time. And I think that the power of ‘The Daily’ is that it looks at the news and says, there’s a way to tell this story that no one has told before. The news has never felt more essential… you’ve got to understand what’s happening right now in the world… and to not be a part of that story, to not advertise in it, means you’re literally just missing out on what clearly, empirically, based on the evidence, tens of millions of people are tuning in to understand.”
— Michael Barbaro

And other publishers are seeing the value of daily news podcasts.

Over the summer, NPR added a local element to its daily news podcast “Consider This,” which features the day’s major news stories in just 15 minutes. In participating regions, listeners will also hear a localized news segment, allowing audiences to make sense of what’s going on in their own communities. On August 31, tech-titan Apple also decided to compete in the space, launching its own daily news briefing titled “Apple News Today.”

Trend #2: The Rise of the Mini-Series

Who can forget Season 1 of “Serial”? Certainly not Sarah Koenig, the “Serial” producer whose 2017 smash-hit investigative series received 33 million downloads—of episode one alone—and single-handedly started the podcast craze.

Mystery mini-series “S-Town,” created by the producers of “Serial” and “This American Life,” became a blockbuster after being downloaded more than 10 million times within the first four days of its release.

In short, mini-series give listeners what they want: entertaining content you can consume

Westwood One reported that 63 percent of weekly podcast listeners say “to be entertained” is one of the main reasons they listen to podcasts. And when they start, they can’t stop.

In the last two years, the number of hours binged has more than tripled, and the number of binging users has doubled, according to The Stitcher Podcast Report.

Mini-series, defined as a story told over five or more episodes, enhances the medium by creating a sense of scarcity, urgency and ultimately, a binge-worthy quality that leaves the listener wanting more.

In 2019 almost 15 percent of the top 1,000 shows were mini-series, with true crime reigning king in total listening. And in 2020, shows with 2 —12 episodes had grown to 52,000 from just four in 2010 — a 13,000 percent increase.

The Times recognized the appetite for the series format with award-winning mini-series of “Caliphate,” “The 1619 Project,” “The Jungle Prince” and “Rabbit Hole.” Through the acquisition of Serial Productions, we can expect a strong showing of mini-series in the future.

And we’re not the only ones — at the IAB Podcast UpFront 2020 brands like NPR, Wondery
and many more announced new mini-series are on the way.

Trend #3: Narrated Articles

“It’s hard reading the transcript of a conversation with a person, regardless of how powerful that conversation was. It’s not the same thing as hearing the tremor in their voice as they answer the question.”

— Lisa Tobin, Executive Producer, Audio, The New York Times

As articulated by our own Lisa Tobin, narrated articles are an intriguing, powerful form of storytelling.

This captivating format is convenient for listeners and attracts new audiences by offering them an easy, entertaining way to absorb content. As a result, people stay with the story longer, thoroughly consuming journalism.

By offering narrated article options, publishers are not only expanding their reach but also boosting reader retention.

The New York Times Company was an early adopter of this trend and optimized its narrative journalism through the acquisition of Audm, the subscription-based audio app that provides long-form journalism read aloud by audiobook narrators. As a result, audio versions of our biggest stories became readily available on the Audm app, as well as on the story’s article page.

Reuters quickly followed suit with the launch of Reuters Audio and Reuters Ready Audio, and magazines like the Harvard Business Review, The Economist, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic are now offering an increasing number of narrated articles.

As an antidote to the pandemic, The Times began releasing narrated articles under our most popular podcast titles. Every Sunday we release a special episode of “The Daily” called the “Sunday Read,” powered by a read-aloud article. We see this as an innovative way to introduce long-form articles to new audiences in fresh formats, while also offering an accessible sponsorship opportunity for our partners.

Although we can’t be sure what 2023 will hold for our politics, climate and economy, we know one thing — podcasts are here to stay. By leveraging the power of podcasts, publishers are able to reach listeners in a curious mindset, eager to learn and receptive to ads. Aligning with podcast trends enable publishers, and their partners, to more effectively engage consumers and target audiences at scale.

— Sebastian Tomich, global head of advertising, The New York Times

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