Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of analysis and speculation about how COVID-19 has changed podcast consumption patterns.
Some of that analysis comes from audio hosting platforms. Some comes from industry rankers. And some comes from individual publishers. These are interesting vantage points, but they come with limitations. Downloads ≠ listens, and if you only track download patterns, you’re not necessarily measuring podcast consumption.
That’s why I was delighted when Darian Muka agreed to share her data-informed point of view with me. Darian is the Content Curator & Producer Liaison at Pocket Casts, one of my favorite podcast apps.
Insight from podcast hosting companies and passthrough analytics services is great, but listening apps have the best view into how consumption has changed.
Dan Misener: What types of questions have you been getting from podcast creators over the past several weeks?
Darian Muka: Producers mainly want to know if people are still listening. The concern is without commutes, listening will change. Producers are worried that without that dedicated time, they will lose their audience. Some have reached out about pushing release dates and shifting priorities to avoid being overshadowed by Coronavirus content. Everyone is concerned about the effect our new normal will have on our audience’s consumption, which is valid. I think what is most interesting is how unending this feels. I’ve had producers concerned with Summer and Fall launches whether that’s because time dedicated to those shows is being spent on Coronavuris content or not, this seems to be something that will affect the industry for the foreseeable future.
We’ve seen a lot of analysis and speculation about how podcast consumption has changed amidst COVID-19. What’s the view from the Pocket Casts vantage point?
We are seeing a shift in the way our users consume content. Anecdotally, I’m usually in headphones constantly listening to podcasts on my commute, in the office, and everywhere in between. But now, I try and take nothing but the essentials out with me when I leave to grocery shop or take a walk, which means no headphones. I’m still listening to the same amount of content, but most of it is at home and a lot of it is aloud since I’m not worried about officemates or commuters (though my partner is still in headphones most of the time for that reason. Sorry, Kyle). I think users are seeing similar changes.
We haven’t seen a statistically significant decline in listening hours, but there is a 25% increase in people using the desktop and web apps. People may be moving away from mobile listening now that we are all a little less mobile, but for our platform, those listeners are not leaving — they’re just moving to the web player we offer.
For the past several weeks, Pocket Casts has featured “Coronavirus Updates” lists that include entire shows and individual episodes. As a content curator, what’s your approach to programming these lists?
For our Coronavirus Updates list in Discover we wanted a list that offered a variety of well-sourced up-to-date coverage throughout the pandemic, so people didn’t have to search for it. We chose networks and publishers that we trust are offering accurate information. Each show on the list is solely dedicated to coronavirus. While we know many shows are covering the virus, some for weeks on end, we wanted to have a list that would only cover COVID-19, so users could find information even when other podcasts had moved on.
We have stopped updating the coronavirus episode list on the blog. Once the initial coverage subsided and the list reached over 300 episodes, we thought it was pretty dense. Over time we saw fewer people were interacting with it, and as I listen to everything that goes into Discover (for these lists I listened to over 100 hours of content) we assessed the time and effort involved with continued upkeep was no longer warranted. If you’re looking for a thorough breakdown of the science and economics, or episodes about isolation and pandemic culture, it’s a great resource.
What can you share about engagement with the coronavirus-specific content featured in the “Coronavirus Updates” lists?
The Coronavirus Updates list in Discover has been up much longer than a normal list would be, but we continue to see people engaging with it. It’s been up for over a month and has seen over 2 million unique impressions. The conversion rate on the list (from a tap on a podcast to a subscribe) is a little over 26%. Though the engagement has slowed a bit, we are still adding new shows and those shows are getting new subscribers from being in Discover.
You work closely with podcast producers and publishers around the world. What advice do you have as they adjust their content approach and editorial calendars during a global pandemic?
For publishers that have the ability to create new content and adapt their current shows, listen to what your audience needs. Shows like Home Cooking and Staying In with Emily & Kumail have done well because they are filling a new void, and they are doing it in a genuine way. I think producers should consider what their content expertise is and how they can mold that to the current climate. For some, that’s offering a comedy podcast to distract us from the world and for others that’s offering a new cooking-with-an-empty-fridge show. The recipe for success is what it always has been: see a need and fill it.
For shows that are just launching and have been pushed back, I would say move ahead. Take this with a grain of salt. As a podcast curator, I have skin in the game, but I’ve heard many people — producers and listeners alike — say they don’t need more coronavirus news. They have what they need and now they want to laugh, to be distracted, and to entertain themselves. In personal conversations and listener segments in podcasts, we’re hearing from essential workers that these shows are the bright spot in a hard day. Don’t hold out on a launch. People are hungry for content and there are a variety of appetites, so bring on the new shows.
Lastly, if you are in the position to help, do it. Front line workers are being heard and feeling seen on so many shows, which is vital. A number of shows born out of isolation are donating ad revenue to charity. Last week, Podapalazooa got over 100 organizations to come together for a podcast festival to raise money for COVID-19 relief. The podcast community is incredibly inspiring. We’re an engaged and motivated bunch, producer and listener alike, and we should use that to the world’s advantage.