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Podcasting’s double-digit listener growth finally slowed in 2022

The news: After years of steady, double-digit percentage growth for podcasting, listenership is starting to slow. Listeners in key markets like the US and UK will only increase 5% and 4.7% in 2022, respectively.

Still, that doesn’t mean audio companies or advertisers are willing to give up on podcasts just yet. Podcast advertising is still growing at double-digit rates, and companies like Spotify have called the medium a $20 billion opportunity.

The end of surging growth: A side effect of podcasting’s mainstream appeal is exactly that—it’s become mainstream, and penetration is relatively high as a result.

  • Penetration is highest in North America, where it will reach 40.8% this year and rise to 46.3% by 2026. There’s still a hefty chunk of the population left to adopt podcasts, but slow growth shows that the core user base has been established.
  • But mainstream success means greater advertising interest. US podcast advertising spending will jump from $1.3 billion in 2021 to $1.7 billion in 2022 and yet again to $2.2 billion in 2023, per our April forecast.
  • The greatest opportunities for podcast listener growth lie in foreign markets. Listeners will grow in the double digits this year in China, Argentina, France, and Germany—China and Argentina are expected to keep up double-digit growth throughout the next two years.
  • 2022 was a fraught year for advertising, with historic channels like TV losing their throne, digital addressability falling to shambles, and regulation upending regular business. But podcasting (and audio channels like radio) remained relatively safe bets for advertisers during a tricky time.

The challenges: Podcast advertising has struggled to keep up with the format’s mainstream success. While the wide variety of topics in podcasting makes delivering relevant ads easier, uneven ad frequencies and fraud issues leave question marks, as do issues with young listeners.

  • Podcasting hasn’t made the same inroads with young users as it has with older generations. Consumers ages 25 to 34 make up the largest listener demographic, but listenership among consumers ages 18 to 24 falls off steeply. Figures are even lower for those ages 12 to 17.
  • To make inroads with young users, iHeartMedia and Spotify have both launched metaverse activations with Fortnite and Roblox, respectively. While user numbers for “iHeartLand” aren’t available, Spotify’s Roblox game world has proven successful, with over 22.1 million visits as of this writing.
  • Fraud has also become an issue, raising questions about high CPM costs and counting practices. In September, a Bloomberg investigation found that iHeartMedia (which will account for one-fifth of US podcasting revenues) and The New York Post bought millions of fraudulent listeners via mobile game ads that prompted podcast downloads.

Our take: Podcasting’s next frontier is beyond North American markets. Platforms will have to work hard to make inroads in countries where there are opportunities for greater growth than at home.

  • The platform-exclusive format that Spotify and others are pursuing isn’t turning out to be a golden ticket. While it may be a sound strategy for shows that already have strong listenership, it’s proven to be an effective way to kill the growth of up-and-coming shows.