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Daily news podcasts are now in the league of mainstream news products

Four takeaways from the new RISJ report

Over the past four years, daily news podcasts have become one of the most important and fastest-growing products for many news media publishers, starting with The New York Times’s The Daily but extending far beyond it.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has published a report on the development of daily news podcasts. The research focuses on six developed countries of the Global North (the US, the UK, France, Australia, Sweden, and Denmark). We picked four key themes identified in the report.

The format was pioneered by The Daily but expanded far beyond

The report identifies 102 daily news podcasts in six countries; half of those are produced in the US.

The field’s pioneer and leader is The Daily, a news podcast from The New York Times launched in early 2017. By now, The Daily has reached 4 million downloads per day, making it one of the most popular podcasts in the world.

The longest-running daily news podcast was started in 2014, but it was The Daily that triggered a fast development of the field. Many of the daily news podcasts launched afterwards have been modeled on the NYT’s example.

Source: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, CC BY license

The Daily and similar products are categorised as “deep-dive,” whereby the producers examine one or a couple of topics in detail; typically using storytelling techniques and sound design. “Deep-dive” news podcasts are the most widespread in the field, accounting for 43% of daily news podcasts analysed.

However, the report also identifies three other types of daily news podcasts:

  1. “News round-ups,” the second most widespread category, aim at concisely delivering the main news stories of the day (such as FT News Briefing).
  2. “Microbulletins” are “very short news bulletins that provide a quick summary of the day’s news” (such as BBC Minute), often produced for smart voice devices.
  3. “Extended chat” podcasts involve round-table discussions or extended monologues, usually with more flexibility regarding topics (such as BBC’s Newscast or different coronavirus podcasts).

Daily news podcasts are “punching above their weight”

Although daily news podcasts are only a fraction of the whole podcasting industry, they are increasingly popular and influential.

According to the report, daily news podcasts comprise less than 1% of produced podcasts but make up around 10% of downloads in the US, France, and Australia. (In Sweden and Denmark, their proportion is considerably lower, perhaps because the market of daily news podcasts is younger in these countries).

Source: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, CC BY license

Top daily news podcasts reach more people than traditional print or TV products. With 4 million downloads per day, The Daily is perhaps among the most popular news products in the United States. The Guardian’s “Today in Focus” show reaches hundreds of thousands of listeners — more people than get the publisher’s daily newspaper.

Daily news podcasts have been faring well during the pandemic

As daily news podcasts are typically adjusted to fit into people’s daily routines such as commuting, the pandemic had a negative impact on listenership at the beginning as lockdowns disrupted traditional routines. But “listening has come back quickly” as people have adjusted to the new reality. Across the board, audience numbers have been growing over 2020.

In many cases, daily news podcasts have also felt less negative impact in terms of advertising revenue. That’s partly thanks to coronavirus-specific daily podcasts launched by media companies such as BBC in the UK and NPR in the US early into the pandemic. 

Source: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, CC BY license

Of course, podcasters themselves have been affected by lockdown disruptions and have had to adapt to the new reality, recording segments for daily shows in their closets instead of well-equipped studios. Yet, it seems that the industry has managed the transition well, and “coronavirus has brought more flexible approaches to production and formats that might not have happened otherwise.”

Daily news podcasts are a promising product that effectively attracts desired audiences

Importantly, daily news podcasts attract younger, better-educated audiences than traditional radio or newspaper products often do. Younger people “appreciate the diversity of voices and enjoy getting away from screens.”

Source: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, CC BY license

As the report puts it, “for many publishers [daily news podcasts as] flagship products will drive the biggest audiences as well as being critical brand ambassadors for the next generation of listeners.”

There are also interesting case studies that show daily news podcasts help drive brand loyalty and reduce churn, particularly for paying subscribers. Danish publication Politiken uses podcasts as part of subscribers-oriented products, and, the report’s authors emphasise, finds podcasts “a key way to build engagement and reduce churn.”

The opportunities for growth lie in the platforms’ expansion into podcasting — Spotify, Amazon, and Google are doubling down on their efforts in the field. Also, as the European market, particularly the continental one, is less developed — and less crowded — than the American one, European publishers have a lot of space to gain and many opportunities to pursue in the field of daily news podcasts.

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