Do Listening Behaviors Vary Based on a Podcast’s Category?

The Truth

Producing a successful podcast isn’t as simple as it once was. Don’t get us wrong, there’s still plenty of room to make a splash in the industry (as it’s just now really taking off), but it is important as a publisher to take note and make adjustments as insights and information become more readily available.

While there are plenty of general rules of thumb for things like topic selection, show flow/format, publishing times and marketing tactics, we wanted to see if we could drill down and find insights that would be specifically helpful depending on the category of podcast.  

Good thing we did a deep dive, because we found that listening behaviors, based on the podcast’s category, significantly differ. Which means that, as a podcaster, publishing time, based on the podcast’s category, truly matters. This also gives advertisers the data they need to partner with particular podcast categories as an opportunity to develop more time-specific ads.

The Data

We decided to take a look at the top five podcast categories in the U.S. and Europe over the last month (see below), and according to this recent data sourced from VAN there are some significant listening behavior differences based on continent and category. 

Top five podcast categories in the U.S.: 

1. Religion
2. Culture*
3. Sports
4. History
5. News & Information

Top five podcast categories in Europe:

1. Business
2. Culture*
3. Psychology
4. History
5. Education

*Because the category “Culture” is pretty vague, we wanted to shed a bit of light on the types of podcasts found within this category. Found within the top five podcasts in the U.S. culture category are Southern Fried True Crime and True Murder: The Most Shocking Killers. In the same vain, two of the top five podcasts in the Europe culture category are Kryminatorium and Those Conspiracy Guys. While the category has a large scope of topics, it’s clear to see that true crime podcasts (no surprise here!) make up a significant piece of the category and contribute to its popularity in both the U.S. and Europe. 

It’s important to note here that while the Culture category is the most noticeably large and vague of the top five within both the U.S. and Europe, generally speaking, podcast categories are very large and lack specificity. However, some change is coming later this summer, as Apple recently announced. While adding new categories and sub-categories won’t completely solve the podcast organization issue, it is a sign that the industry is rethinking categories as a whole, which could have major implications for producers and advertisers. 

Even with the overlap of a couple of categories between the U.S. and Europe in the above, the listeners of the same category have different listening behaviors. Here’s what our data revealed about the most popular listening times based on categories:


1. Religion

The most popular hours for this category are the early mornings and late evenings, which makes sense considering this is typically the time of the day when spiritual people are looking to pray and connect with God.

2. Culture

Because this category is such a broad one, we see that reflected in a wide range of listening times. Our assumption is that since true crime is one of the most popular subcategories, that’s why we don’t see a spike in listening times during the evenings. Although, we bet there are a few people out there who like to scare themselves late at night!

3. Sports

It’s no surprise that after work hours are some of the most popular listening times for sports podcasts; when listeners are free of work and responsibility, they can dedicate time to their passion (and who’s more passionate than sports fans?).

4. History 

The single most popular listening time for this category is at 10 pm (5.1% of downloads/listens) and the most popular window of hours is from 7-9 am (15.2% of downloads/listens), and a second spike of popularity occurs between the hours of 9-11 pm (14.4% of downloads/listens).

Late night learning seems to be the name of the game with this category. Consumers are tuning in at the very end of their day to discover historic stories.

5. News & Information 

The single most popular listening time for this category is at 9 pm (5.9% of downloads/listens) and the most popular window of hours is from 5-8 pm (16.5% of downloads/listens), and a second spike of popularity occurs between the hours of 4-10 pm (38% of downloads/listens).

Since there are no massive spikes within a large amount of hours, it’s clear to see that consumers are tuning in for a recap of the day’s news after work.


1. Business

Listeners of this category are clearly focused on productivity and bettering their work performance, as they’re even dedicating their lunch break to consuming business podcasts. 

2. Culture

Similar to this category’s popularity in the U.S., due to a large portion of this category being dedicated to true crime, we see listeners tuning in while it’s light outside and there’s less to fear.

3. Psychology 

While this topic is broad, we can assume that listeners of this category are working towards improving themselves, and the morning is a great time to reflect and consume positive content.

4. History

The single most popular listening time for this category is at 5 pm (6% of downloads/listens) and the most popular window of hours is from 4-6 pm (18% of downloads/listens), and a second spike of popularity occurs at 10 pm (5.3% of downloads/listens).

Similar to the history category in the U.S., consumers are tuning into history podcasts in the evenings, although they’re also consuming history during their commute, in addition to listening at-home.

5. Education

The single most popular listening time for this category is at 5 pm (5.3% of downloads/listens) and the most popular window of hours is from 4-6 pm (15.7% of downloads/listens), and a second spike of popularity occurs at 8 am (4.9% of downloads/listens).

Educators spend their days interacting with students and doing a variety of hands-on activities, so it looks like they’re listening to podcasts during their commutes in the mornings and evenings.

The Insights

There are a lot of valuable nuggets for podcasters found within our research, but here are the top four insights that, if examined and incorporated, could help niche podcasters gain even more traction in the audio world:

1. Regardless of category, there are some overarching key times when listeners are consuming podcasts the most.

    • Within the U.S., 7-8 am and 9-10 pm are consistently the top performing hours.
    • Within Europe, 7 am and 5 pm are the most popular listening times.

The data patterns spell it out clearly; regardless of location, podcasts are a part of consumers’ morning commutes and nightly routines. Listeners are opting to take a portion of time that used to be filled with silence and are choosing to instead learn or be entertained. During a morning commute, listeners may be less engaged while they perform other tasks (i.e. driving). Conversely, those listening at home in the evenings could be prepared for more deep and connected listening. Either way, podcasters should be aware of the potential differences in listening times. 

2. Not all listeners are equal. Depending on the category, consideration should be made for publishing time. 

Take, for example, the data from the U.S. “News & Information” category. It’s clear to see that listeners are consuming their news in the evening. This information could come as a surprise to some publishers, so it is important to note that listeners are searching for a “wrap-up” of their day and that they’re engaged with this category while at home.

3. With the vague and large nature of podcast categories, finding advertising partners can be a challenge.

As we spelled out earlier in the report, it’s hard to avoid the glaring issue of how podcasts are organized right now. It’s a problem because if advertisers are unable to understand what a particular podcast is about, how can publishers sell it? In short, it means a lot more work on the part of the publisher. So while we know that categories aren’t the only factor to consider when looking at podcast behaviors, we wanted to utilize the data that we do have to start understanding listeners a little bit better. 

4. Listening behaviors of the podcast’s category could be important factors used to inform publishers’ marketing and promotion plans.

With the above data in-mind, it’s hard to see how publishers could pass up utilizing this information to shape their episode marketing plans. Podcasts are no longer looked at simply as podcasts. They have unique categories, sub-categories, topics, guests, etc… Which means that one podcasts’ marketing plan should look drastically different from another. Taking listening times into consideration should be just the start of building a listener profile so that publishers can market directly to their unique listeners.


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