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The Infinite Dial 2019

I don’t really think I need to do this introduction, but what the hell: the Infinite Dial report, prepared by Edison Research and Triton Digital, is an annual digital media study that contains what is, in my opinion, the definitive sizing on podcast listenership due to its assiduousness and the simple fact of its continuity. It’s an important guiding framework around these parts; think the American census, but without the political attacks.

Yesterday saw the release of the latest study, which revealed… well, good numbers. So good, in fact, that the Times even had a piece up on this year’s results, complete with a money quote from Edison SVP of Research Tom Webster that’s going to dot every podcast pitch deck from here to the ends of the universe: “That’s the biggest growth we’ve seen, and we’ve been covering podcasts since 2006.”

I’m working on a longer column on the report for Tuesday, but in the meantime, you should definitely sort through the document yourself, and here are some of the bigger takeaways:

(1) Monthly podcast listening made the biggest jump it’s ever made in the history of the study: 32% of Americans over the age of 12 (i.e. a third) now report themselves being monthly podcast listeners, up from 26% last year. That’s a full six percentage point jump, with the second largest increase being a four percentage point jump between 2015 (17%) and 2016 (21%). I think this is what they call, in NBA parlance, “The Leap.”

A caveat: I’ve historically focused on monthly listening numbers as the primary metric, but I am cognizant of the arguments against it. Most notably, the fact that weekly listening (now at 22%, up from 17% last year) is possibly a better proxy for actual active listenership, given the cadence of podcast publishing that tends to favor weekly drops. I might make that switch next year — assuming, of course, Hot Pod lives for another year — but for now, I’m sticking to monthlies, if only because that’s been our baseline this whole time.

(2) In the webinar presenting the study yesterday and elsewhere, Webster pointed to a few potential drivers of the increase in listenership: the rise of the daily news podcast, the rise of the adaptation pipeline that has resulted in projects generally raising the public profile of the medium, and, interestingly enough, Spotify.

Relatedly, the study put forward the following data point: monthly podcast listening among Spotify users aged 12-24 is now 53%, a high jump from 32% last year. Do note, however, that this is a really specific (though important) demographic of the Spotify listenership. It doesn’t necessarily translate to an argument suggesting that “Spotify is now meaningfully driving a major chunk of all podcast listening” — we’d need more contextualizing data for that – but that, within Spotify, some meaningful conversion of music listening users into podcast listening users is happening. That’s a really important distinction, and a really important note.

Now, an “easy add-on poke for me to make” to Webster’s argumentation that’s nonetheless important to ring up: I don’t think the growth in listenership can be solely attributed to the three factors he mentioned. Of course, that’s not what he’s saying, but I’ve seen some chatter making that assumption.

(3) Another flashy point for the pitch deck: more than half of Americans (51%) are now familiar with the term “podcast.” As pointed out in the presentation, this doesn’t mean that those Americans actually know what the word means necessarily — just that they’ve heard of it. This data point was interpreted to suggest that podcasting, to an extent, has achieved some form of mainstream status.

(4) The average number of podcasts consumed in last week by weekly podcast listeners is seven, the same as the last few studies. Seems like the number is sticking, but the more interesting thing to consider: it’s stuck despite the rise in podcast listening across the board. This says something about retention, probably.

(5) This is perhaps the most important point to me: the increases in podcast listening comes in parallel to increases in audiobook listening, which had largely been flat over the past few years. As the study observes, this points towards a trend in increased spoken word audio consumption. I’ll dig into this more on Tuesday, but I believe this, more than anything else, will become the focal point of everything that happens next.

More soon.