COVID-19’s Impact on Podcast Listening

We don’t have to say it, because you’re living it, but we’re experiencing the biggest change of daily schedules and human habits – on a global scale – than we have in a long time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For better or worse, there’s not an industry or business that isn’t pivoting or adjusting since consumer behaviors are altering so significantly. The podcast industry is, of course, no different. We’ve already seen changes like new daily shows popping up and producers asking for grace as sound quality may decrease, plus a variety of other alterations. 

We wanted to understand the impact of COVID-19 on podcasting by taking things a few steps further. We explored the data – from Voxnest Audience Network – to see how podcast listening behaviors have shifted in recent weeks. We’re in a unique position to forecast the trends for the US because Spreaker, the podcast hosting platform under the Voxnest umbrella, is the top hosting platform in Italy. While, of course, overall listening behaviors vary from region to region, we believe that by doing a deep dive into the listening habits of Italy, the country that’s been impacted the most thus far in the Western world, we can forecast what changes may be coming to the US. 

In this report, we’ll primarily be exploring analytics from Italy and Spain (another highly impacted country in Europe), plus we’ve included some overall data for Europe and early findings for the US.

Overall Impact on Listens

While the most interesting data comes from exploring the changes related to categories specifically, we still wanted to touch on overall listening behaviors before we dive into the more detailed findings. In Italy, we’ve seen listens increase by 10% and stabilize since the beginning of March, which is when Italy began feeling the full impact of the pandemic. You can see in the graph below that Europe, as a whole, is following a similar pattern to Italy; and while Spain saw a momentary dip, since their nationwide quarantine began, listens have started to increase significantly. 

With the US several weeks behind countries like Italy and Spain, we haven’t seen a significant lift or decrease yet, with listens stable (plus or minus 5%) since the first week of January. We’ll continue to keep an eye on this over the coming weeks, but expect to see an increase in listens just like Europe is already experiencing.

Impact on Category Listens

As we mentioned above, while it’s certainly noteworthy that overall listens are increasing in Europe, the more interesting changes that have occurred are in relation to which categories are being listened to more. In Europe as a whole, categories that are being listened to include the below categories found within the Italy and Spain lists, plus it’s interesting to note that some of the other categories with increased listens in Europe (within the top ten) include Education, Comedy and History.

Category Changes in Italy

With Italy at the forefront of the impact, we can see some pretty drastic category spikes. In Italy, we see that Spirituality & Religion boomed with an increase of 15 times its usual listens, followed by Self-Improvement and Marketing (almost 5x the normal listens), Kids (more than 3x).

Italy Categories WITH INCREASED LISTENS:
    1. Spirituality & Religion – With people experiencing everything from anxiety to fear, this increase is a reflection of people looking for support, comfort, and maybe even a little extra hope during this time. Plus, the increase can also be attributed to churches and other religious organizations publishing podcasts of their sermons/services, since they’re unable to meet in-person.
    2. Self-Improvement – Similar to the above category, people are looking for ways to better themselves and control their personal mindsets when there’s not much else they can control.
    3. Marketing – As we mentioned at the beginning of this report, all businesses are being required to pivot during this time, and it looks as though Italian business owners could be listening to podcasts in an effort to beef up or adjust what they’re doing to market their businesses.
    4. Arts – With a countrywide quarantine in place, it’s no wonder Italian listeners are looking to learn, explore or be entertained by the arts field.
    5. Kids & Family – With children out of school for nearly a month  (plus or minus in some regions), parents are required to get creative to keep their kids learning and entertained, and it’s clear that they’re turning to podcasts as one of the ways to do exactly that.

Category Changes in Spain

Spain’s category changes haven’t been as drastic as Italy’s, but their quarantine did begin after Italy’s, so we think these categories will likely continue to trend upwards the longer the situation persists. A few interesting additions are Comedy and Sports & Recreation.

Spain Categories WITH INCREASED LISTENS:
    1. Society & Culture – This category encompasses things like documentaries, philosophy, travel, and personal stories. It’s easy to see why this category has seen a jump… a captivating story can take a listener’s mind into a totally different reality.
    2. Comedy – During a time with much darkness, it’s clear that listeners in Spain are turning to funny podcasts for a little lightheartedness. 
    3. Technology – Many businesses and organizations have shifted their entire operations to online work, so this could be a reflection of listeners looking to better understand how to put technology to work best during this very digital time.
    4. Books – In the same vein as several of the other categories mentioned before, we can see that listeners’ free time has increased significantly and they’re looking for ways to learn and be entertained. 
    5. Sports & Recreation – Just because sports have stopped in real life, doesn’t mean the love and speculations/discussions about them have stopped. So while listeners are stuck inside, this category might take their mind to other, happier, places.

Category Changes in the US

While the changes in categories in the US aren’t as linear as those in Europe, we are still seeing some early shifts In the US the category variation with Books increased 2.5 times, followed by Games & Hobbies and Spirituality & Religion (more than 1.5 times their usual listens).

US Categories WITH INCREASED LISTENS:
    1. Books
    2. Games & Hobbies
    3. Spirituality & Religion 
    4. Current Events
    5. Kids & Family 

We covered details on all the above categories in the Italy and Spain sections except for Current Events. It’s pretty obvious as to why this category has seen a spike in listens. In an era where people are turning away from traditional news, we can see where they’re turning to instead.

 

Impact on Future Podcast Listening (& Creating) 

While it’s hard to predict nearly anything during these uncertain times, we do believe that, as more and more US citizens are being forced to “shelter in place,” they’ll be on the hunt for things to keep them occupied. Because podcasts vary so significantly, there’s always something for every listener, but especially right now. Whether a listener is looking to be encouraged, entertained or taught, there’s a podcast to satisfy that need, and we anticipate that listens will increase globally – especially for specific categories – over the remainder of this pandemic. We’re looking forward to tracking these changes as they shift in the coming weeks. 

In addition to the spike in listening, our hosting platform Spreaker has also seen a pretty significant jump in new users joining the platform to create podcasts. Over the last four weeks, Spreaker’s most popular plans have seen sign-ups increase by 75% globally, and new users in Italy have almost doubled! While we can’t change what’s happening in the world right now, the silver lining is that a little more creativity can be added to it.

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