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The Podcast Explosion

3 Min Read

A look into the who, what, and why of audio’s most compelling format.

Want to catch the day’s headlines? Immerse yourself in a murder mystery? Nerd out on the neuroscience of happiness? All on your commute? Whatever your curiosity, there’s a podcast for it. And with the podcasting boom, audio has maintained solid footing in the world of content––telling great stories and growing a loyal audience along the way.

Chart-Topping Podcast Genres1 and Titles2

48% – Comedy … 2 Dope Queens, The Joe Rogan Experience, WTF with Marc Maron

40% – Educational … TED Radio Hour, Freakanomics Radio, Radiolab

38% – News … The Daily, Up First NPR, Serial

27% – Sports … Pardon My Take, Fantasy Focus Football, 30 for 30 ESPN

22% – Politics … Pod Save America, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, NPR Politics

18% – Gaming … Game Scoop, Giant Bombcast, Fireteam Chat

16% – Tech … 99% Invisible, TechStuff, Vergecast

16% – SciFi … Girl In Space, LifeAfter, Tanis

Who’s listening?

A whopping 68 million, or nearly 1 in 4 Americans,3 tune in monthly. These regular listeners tend to be educated, Millennial, and male––and the genre is growing fast.

A Growing Active Listenership:3 (defined as listening on a monthly basis)

  • 12% of the US population in 2013 to 24% in 2017
  • 65% of active listeners only started listening in the past 3 years.
Age of monthly listeners:
  • 44%: Millennials (Age 18–34)
  • 33%: Gen X (Age 35–54)
  • 16%: Baby Boomers (Age 55+)
  • 7%: Gen Z (Age 12–17)*
Gender of monthly listeners:
  • 56%: male
  • 44%: female
Education level of monthly listeners:
  • 30%: Graduate degree
  • 27%: Bachelor’s degree
  • 27%: Some college
  • 15%: High school or less
  • Listeners as Customers

    This burgeoning audience [read: market] isn’t lost on advertisers. In the past 2 years, podcasting ad revenue has grown by double digits.4

    • $69M in 2015
    • $119M in 2016
    • $220M in 2017 (projected)

    Why we listen

    Journalists have linked the podcast boom to the ubiquity of smartphones, time spent in transit, and online music services. Others attribute it to the brain-stimulating and addictive effect of audio learning, or the multitasking potential of listening. The beauty is in the overlap.


    • The retention rate of auditory learning is 2x higher than reading and 4x higher than attending a lecture.5
    • Between 2014-2015, podcast-based lesson plan downloads grew by 650% on

    “Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind.” – Emma Rodera, communications professor, via The Atlantic7

    “In a sense, I’m painting something but I’m not holding the paintbrush. You are. So it’s this deep act of co-authorship, and in that is some potential for empathy.” – Jad Abumrad, host of Radiolab, via Slate8


    • Communications research has found that “dramatized audio” yields increased levels of mental imagery.7
    • Like to binge-listen? Often series-based and story-driven, podcasts play into the addicting, on-demand trend in entertainment.

    Perhaps podcasting’s secret ingredient is that it multitasks better than any other medium, bringing a dose of productivity to any part of your daily routine.

    Where do people listen?9

    • 52% while driving
    • 46% while traveling
    • 40% while walking, running, or biking
    • 37% while commuting on public transportation
    • 32% while working out

    Rising over the past decade, podcasting is now a mainstream, accessible, and easily digestible way to engage with stories and ideas. So, pick a subject and tune in- like millions of Americas, your curiosity may be hooked. 


    1. “State of the Media: Audio Today 2017,” 2017, Nielsen
    2. Top Podcasts page, 2017, iTunes
    3. The Podcast Consumer, 2017, Edison Research & Triton Digital
    4. “IAB Podcast Ad Revenue Study: An Analysis of the Largest Players in the Podcasting Industry,” 2017, Interactive Advertising Bureau
    5. “Adult Learning and Retention: Factors and Strategies,” 2010, Cultural Orientation Resource Center
    6. “The Value of Using Podcasts in Class,” 2016, The Atlantic
    7. “Inside the Podcast Brain: Why do audio stories captivate?” 2015, The Atlantic
    8. “What makes podcasts so addictive and pleasurable?” 2014, Slate
    9. “Podcasts by the numbers,” 2015, Midroll

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