The divide in podcast awareness between Europe and the United States is striking, according to the 2021 Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. A surprising 17% of Europeans claim not to know what a podcast is, compared to 9% in the US.
The good news is there is room to grow. But media clearly need to do a better job explaining what podcasts are, how they serve audiences and perhaps experiment more with formats to reach new audiences (8-12% think they are too long).
A fifth of people, both in the US and the EU, claim they don’t have enough time for podcasts. But this can mean a few things.
One of the answers lies in the 2019 Digital News Report, which looked deeper into podcast listeners’ habits and found they listen a lot while traveling. They claim it saves them time, as they do not want to look at screens all the time and podcasts help them stay updated, learn something new and also be entertained.
From personal experience, whenever I introduced someone new to podcasts the first opposition was that they just don’t have time in their schedule. So I would give examples of when and where to listen (at home doing morning routines, while traveling, or during exercise). These were usually times when they listened to music. In the end, most people gave podcasts a try.
It all comes back to informing and explaining the medium. Also, keep in mind there are still many people who might be familiar with the term podcast. They might know it has something to do with digital audio, but need more guidance.
According to the report, recommendations from friends, family or work colleagues drive discovery of new shows.
In a way, podcasting might feel a bit old school. It’s not the algorithms driving new audiences towards your show, rather existing audiences. This just underscores how important it is to cultivate a community around your podcast. Not just loyal listeners but actual fans.
Personal recommendations can be a powerful thing. There is a whole marketing sub-industry built on helping brands to spread awareness by word of mouth.
But compared to setting up a targeted social media or search campaign, getting people to recommend your show to others is much much harder. It comes down to the quality of your product, how informative it is. It’s also about how entertaining you are and whether you engage with your audience.
In Europe, people said they discovered new shows by searching the internet. Looking at the Google Podcasts Manager keywords is how people on Google discover your show. So a good place to start is thinking more about the keywords you use in your shows and topics you cover.
More from The Fix: Big Tech foray into podcasts
Not that many years ago, Apple Podcasts was consistently the top platform for podcasting. In any category – most used, most downloads, most podcasts in directory, most promoted…
Times are changing, though. As the 2021 Digital News Report suggests, in big markets such as the US or UK (and Germany in Europe) it is either YouTube, a public broadcaster’s app (BBC Sounds) or Spotify that are in the lead.
In a way it is not surprising, Apple did not make significant moves in podcasting until 2021 when it introduced the option for easily setting up paid podcasts. But even then it also launched the app with several bugs and worldwide fails.
On the other hand, Spotify has made several high stakes acquisitions (Joe Rogan, Barack Obama, Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and others), as the Report also notes. The streaming giant bought several podcasting companies (Anchor.fm, Megaphone, Locker Room just to name a few) and started integrating them into the overall strategy.
As a result Spotify claims it has almost 3 million podcasts on its platform, even though many are not active any more (a recent study from Podnews showed only 19% of shows on Anchor.fm have been updated in the last 90 days).
Meanwhile, YouTube quietly became a force in podcasting even as there is no direct support for the medium. It is hard to pinpoint one main reason. Rather, there are several: famous podcasters also tend to upload their podcasts to YouTube as a video, people listen to music on YouTube and it is just another step to switch to a podcast.
Also, interestingly, audio apps by public broadcasters tend to do well. The Report showcased the UK, Germany, US and Australia, which all have strong public media with big brand awareness and quality programming. It would be interesting to compare results in all European countries, perhaps more public broadcasters would take notice and build their own audio apps.
The report also shows that the use of smart speakers is rising. Though, in Europe, there are still many countries that do not have language support.
While the 2021 Digital News Report flags many challenges, it also provides insights for those willing to act on them. Will European podcasters pick up the slack? I guess we’ll see in 2022.
More from The Fix: Paid podcasts are here, this is what you need to know
Hi! I'm David Tvrdon, a tech & media journalist and podcaster with a marketing background (and degree). Every week I send out the FWIW by David Tvrdon newsletter on tech, media, audio and journalism.