Why Binge Listening to Podcasts is a Thing

Podcasters have an episodic approach to content that lends itself to binge listening. People that listen to podcasts weekly listen to more than one – 64% of those that are listening weekly listen to more than two a week, according to Edison Research. This is not surprising, given the “serial” nature of some of the more popular podcasts, such as the popular Serial  (there’s a reason they were not allowed to trademark that name!)

Bridge Ratings confirms not only that more people are listening more to podcasts than ever before, but also that they are listening for an average of 33 minutes per session. This data, which is based on a year-long study of podcast listeners, confirms a healthy time spent listening trend that Bridge says has already “helped some ad agencies take the leap” into investing in podcast advertising.

Podcasts’ long form audio consists of several approaches:

  • Episodic programs, like Serial, where one story is told over a series of episodes -usually released week by week. While week by week releases can put a damper on bingeing, that only applies to listeners who are keeping current with the material. Listeners that are coming to the party mid-stream or later can consume more than one at a time.
  • Theme programs, which have new subjects each week, but tied together around a central theme. These are also compelling and often clever – listeners want to stay with the theme of the podcast and listen to several. WNYC’s Death, Sex and Money, about the topics we need to talk more about, and the New York Times/WBUR’s Modern Love, which covers lots of angles on love, take that approach.
  • Personality podcasts use the host as the consistent element from week to week, and topics cover whatever the host wants to talk about. Marc Maron’s WTF, Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour, and The Adam Carolla Show for example.

All three approaches are compelling, and I find myself wanting to stay with many of the podcasts I try and listen to more than one. That’s why Netflix-like consumption of podcasts is a big thing, one that is good for the listener as well as the advertiser.

Long form, compelling audio programming isn’t new – in fact broadcast radio’s roots are in that type of programming. The famous “War of the Worlds” was a Halloween episode of a regular weekly radio drama called The Mercury Theater on the Air. Amos and Andy was a personality driven one-hour weekly broadcast. Somewhere along the way that kind of programming disappeared and radio turned its attention to capturing quarter hours. Now we have “news and traffic every ten minutes” but the unique and creative storytelling approach to audio has in many cases left the broadcast building…

This week I’ve been listening to the podcast Modern Love, produced by the New York Times and WBUR. 

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