New report: Podcast “super listeners” reveal lessons in audience engagement

Press Release

November 14, 2017

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Report highlights podcasting’s potential to inform and engage communities, both as journalism and as an alternate form of storytelling

MIAMI – Nov. 9, 2017 – A report released today explores the preferences of podcast “super listeners” – highly engaged consumers of digital audio news content – as champions of the medium, suggesting they can be tapped as powerful marketing tools to engage wider audiences. Supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and prepared by Edison Research, the report provides lessons for news organizations looking to attract audiences with new forms of storytelling.

“Everyone in the business of news and information is asking the question, ‘How are people informed in 2017?’ This survey offers a unique glimpse into the audience most plugged into mobile, on-demand content. It provides media organizations with important insights on emerging audiences and their preferences,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact.

The report is based on findings from interviews with 28,964 podcast listeners, 18 years of age or older, who listened to at least one audio podcast from one of six sources: National Public Radio, WNYC, American Public Media, WBUR, PRX and Gimlet Media. To better understand the habits of “super listeners”, the most active audiences for these producers, versus more general podcast audiences, results from those interviewed were compared with the 2017 Edison/Triton Infinite Dial research series, a nationally representative telephone survey tracking consumer use of media and technology. 

The report highlights podcasting’s potential to inform and engage communities, both as journalism and as an alternate form of storytelling, building on previous research in the space. A recent Edison Research survey found that 155 million Americans had listened to some form of online radio in February 2016, nearly three times the previous month. In addition, a Pew Research study revealed that 43 percent of adults “often” get news online, and most adults (85 percent) get news from a mobile device at least some of the time.

Significantly, the report finds that in addition to being passionate advocates for podcasting, and individual programs more generally, “super listeners” also place a great deal of trust in podcast content. Ninety-six percent said they had recommended a podcast to a friend, and 33 percent consider podcasts to be “very trustworthy,” with 49 percent saying they are “somewhat trustworthy.” In comparison with other media channels, the level of trust indicated for podcasts was nearly tied with the first place medium (national newspapers) and ahead of radio and local newspapers. Network TV news, cable TV news and social media were the bottom three in terms of trustworthiness.

Other key takeaways from the report include:

  • The “super listener” consumes twice the content: Of the people surveyed, weekly podcast listeners consumed just over 10 hours of podcast content per week, compared to a little over five hours per week reported through the national Infinite Dial study.
  • The “super listener” prefers a subscription-based model, and downloading and listening to content later: Eighty-one percent of respondents said they “subscribe to podcasts and download automatically to listen later” – significantly higher than those who click and listen immediately or download manually and listen later. In contrast, the national study shows “click and listen immediately” is more common among other groups.
  • The “super listener” prefers mobile content, and listens on the go: Ninety-three percent of “super listeners” say they listen to podcasts via smartphone, with 84 percent indicating that is their primary means of listening to podcasts. The primary listening location for super listeners is at home (31 percent), followed by in a vehicle (23 percent) and at work (19 percent). This differs significantly from the national study which shows at-home listening as 52 percent.
  • The “super listener” prefers in-depth content: Those interviewed were much more interested in national news (7.5 on a 1-10 scale) and international news (7.1) than in local news (5.6). While there was a stronger preference for fewer stories with greater depth (41 percent) than a wide variety of shorter segments (10 percent), approximately half of these respondents had no preference.
  • The “super listener” is an avid public media supporter: Respondents reported listening to an average of 13 shows a week, out of these they believed that six were produced or supported by public media. Nearly one-third said that they had donated money to their local public radio station in the last year, and 28 percent had donated to a podcast or radio program directly.

Read the full report at http://kng.ht/superlistener.

The report forms part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to support journalism excellence by exploring the digital transformation of the field, including new storytelling and newsgathering techniques. In January 2017, Knight released a report exploring its investments in podcasting as a storytelling platform. In addition, the foundation has made several investments in this area including support for the Journalism 360 initiative, in partnership with Google and the Online News Association.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Contact: Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, [email protected]