14 January 2016

Podcasts I: Everyone Loves a Good Podcast

Posted by admin @ 15:17 pm    categories: Uncategorized

A short while ago, I posted a survey I had created about podcasts. A number of friends filled it out (I have 78 responses who filled out some amount). I then opened it up (with some few additions) to a wider audience, and collected another hundred responses from this sample. To be clear, a podcast (which wiktionary defines as “an audio program … delivered over the internet in a compressed digital format and designed for playback on computers or portable digital audio players”) is a pretty new concept—the term comes from combining “broadcast” and “iPod”, and we can date it to a 2004 article in The Guardian1. That all said, many of the podcasts people listen to regularly are also radio programs, many broadcast in that way as well. Most of what I’m focused on here are shows that are listened to as podcasts, but certainly the lines between the two are blurry.

There is a lot of data2 from the surveys we’re discussing here. I have some thoughts of things I’d like to do with it beyond what you’ll see below. However, I’ve gone over everything in a preliminary way at this point, and I can start sharing some of the results.

A lot of these results aren’t going to be very surprising to people who are involved in podcasting, or have been following it as a medium for some time. Not surprising: over half of the respondents to both surveys reported being subscribed to Serial, the podcast that made waves last year and has just begun its second season; almost as many also subscribed to This American Life, the PRX show long-produced by WBEZ Chicago from which Serial sprung. (A close third in both samples was Radiolab, from PRX’s WNYC.)

Subjectively, what most struck me was just how many podcasts there are, and how many different ones people listen to. In the first survey, among friends, I provided 196 options for people to select; 133 of those (68%) were selected, and people wrote in another 150. That is to say: among 78 respondents, there were 283 podcasts listened to. In the second survey, I included most of that 150 on top of the original 196; people reported listening to 220 of the podcasts I listed, and wrote in an additional 329. So among that sample of 101 individuals, they subscribed to 549 podcasts. That’s pretty crazy. In total, there were approximately 468 unique write-ins across both surveys. (I say approximately because it’s totally possible I’ve missed some duplicate that was titled differently by two entrants.)

A few notes about methodology: The data described herein was collected during November and December of 2015. The respondents from both surveys came from facebook, reddit, or twitter; this is not going to be a sample representative of anything except people who are members of those communities. After consenting to participate, and being told that they were completing this for fun (i.e., there was no recompense beyond the results of these analyses and the relative interest of filling out the survey), all further questions were entirely optional. As such, many respondents left items blank (especially in the demographics section). At least one participant (the only participant entirely excluded) seems to have gone through every page without answering a single question. Because I figured more data was better than no data, I included data from indivudals who consented but did not complete the survey. As such, we have 78 respondents from among the “friends” survey (62 of whom finished the survey), and 101 respondents from the “external” survey (81 of whom finished it). Almost every question that had multiple possible options used checkboxes; as such, responses should not add up to 100.

My experience is largely in working with quantitative data. A lot of the questions I asked were open-ended, which I think is appropriate for these topics. As such, I’m hard at work “coding” those responses as best as I can. I’ll try and make note of some interesting responses for those discussions.

On demographics, looking at only those who provided responses to these questions: Gender-wise, we have a reasonable spread: 28/35 male/female among friends, and 49/27 male/female among the latter group. (Obviously, not everyone gave me a gender; there were also a few who responded in a non-gender-binary.) Many respondents were white (75% in friend sample; 90% in external sample); most were from the United States (98% of friend sample; 73% of external sample). This is a clear case where if I were doing this more thoroughly I’d want to collect data from a more diverse sample.


In any case, let’s look at some graphs. When do people report listening to podcasts? I would have guessed that most people indicated they listened while doing housework or cooking, but even more people (the largest number in both samples) said they listened to podcasts while community. Many also indicate that they listen while working. (Very few people seem to sit and listen to a podcast while not doing anything else.)

When do people listen to podcasts?

I then wanted to take a look at what people reported that they looked for in a podcast. Put another way: why would anyone listen to podcasts? It’s probably no surprise that the reasons people gave to this question are echoed elsewhere in the survey, especially when asked what podcasts respondents recommend to others, and why that was. As above, by and large the two categories of respondents reacted similarly. Essentially: everyone wants to learn and to be amused. Getting into complicated topics, or exploring human interest (the “humanity” was described as “This American Life-style stories”) were also high up there.

what people look for

Early on, respondents were asked to rate genres in three ways:

  1. Which genres do they listen to? (Here, they only picked a few.)
  2. Which genres are their favorites? (Here, they could select as many as they wanted.)
  3. Of those favorite genres selected in step 2, they then ranked them.

Culture/arts and comedy were definitively highest among the most commonly listened to genres. Religious podcasts were the least-most listened-to in this sample, although by all markers they were listened to by some.

Most Commonly Listened Genres

Genres Most Selected as Favorites

Ranking of Favorite Genres

Looking at those rankings, they’re pretty consistent across groups. (Remember that the best possible ranking here [as usual] is a ranking of 1 – so the item with the smallest bar, culture & arts, is of course the one that most people endorsed as their favorite kind of podcast.) I asked respondents to select the genres they listened to, and then drag them into order from favorite to least-favorite. There are a few surprises here to me, including the fact that we ended up with exactly the same ranking for technology podcasts in two different samples (a square 4.57). The fact that religion is so low-ranked could mean, to someone who was excited about the topic, that there’s a lot of room for a well-produced and interesting religion podcast. It could also mean that no-one in these samples was interested in listening to podcasts about religion. The data don’t speak to which interpretation is correct.

For a last image, we can take a look at one of the additions for the second survey, a question that asked: “Think about the last time (or last few times) you skipped to the next podcast, or turned a podcast off. Why did you?”

Why External Respondents Skipped Podcasts

The responses for the most part fit what I wanted to hear: assuming you like a podcast well enough to stay subscribed, why would you skip it? Surprisingly few people seem to skip podcasts because of the ads, especially the ones in the middle of the episode. (That said, I think maybe the term “back matter”, which I used to refer to the credits & terminal ads / requests for donations that often terminate a podcast, may have confused people). I forgot one option: reruns. A lot of people (me included) won’t listen to a re-broadcast of an episode, unless it’s really good. (Not saying I never have, though!) I understand, of course, why hosts do this: when I’ve never heard it before, I generally don’t care about whether it’s new. But for the most part, people skipped episodes – 62% of respondents do – when they’re boring. Shocking, I know. Sometimes it’s just a segment, and sometimes it’s the full episode. But bad editing wasn’t up there (maybe it’s a reason to just no subscribe).

I’ll close with a few more statistics, and the promise that more information is certainly forthcoming, including “best-of” lists, and an analysis of most-recommended podcasts. Here are some of the stats:

  1. Almost everyone says they learn about new podcasts from podcasts they already listen to (65%) or from friends (61%). That leaves a lot of room for better methods of getting people to learn about podcasts. I know there are lists on websites and articles and even probably an app or five for discovery, but only 42% of the sample had learned about podcasts from a website. That said, the old “web ring” concept works somewhat, with 28% indicating they’d heard about a podcast from a company or collective. (Many seem to wish there was a better way to discover new podcasts, although I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes there was a better way to wean down the number we listen to.) And yes, okay, redditors learn about new episodes from reddit.

  2. Pretty much anyone subscribed to some sort of public radio podcast (NPR, PRX, PRI). After public radio, Gimlet and Radiotopia were close behind in terms of collectives/groups. (They were followed by Panoply, Nerdist, and Maximum Fun; a few others lagged behind including the BBC, Rooster Teeth, and Infinite Guest. A few people did indicate that they didn’t know what I was talking about, but I think it’s fairly clear that these are collectives formed that help produce and advertise shows.) I neglected to include an “other”" option, here, so I can’t speak to what other podcast collectives or national radio programs respondents might listen to. Judging again by that number I cite above (468 write-ins alone) there probably are others, no?


  1. Hammersley, Ben. (11 Feb 2004). “Audible revolution”. The Guardian. Accessed 03 January 2016. []
  2. I’m going to be following my prefered convention and referring to a singular “data” rather than plural. Many readers may be unaware of this continued debate, but in essence people argue that “data” is a plural form—the singular would be “datum” or “datapoint”—and therefore that the word “data” should have plural verb forms attached, e.g., “there are a lot of data”. This makes some sense, except that it’s just a bad, old convention. I never much cared for the convention, and then I read this piece some years ago, and it convinced me to completely stop bothering with the false plural unless it’s required. The piece’s title is straightforward: “Data is a singular noun”. In any case, I’ll leave you to it, if you’re curious. []
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