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Why Podcasts are So Popular in 2021

How and where to tune in

Cut off from in-person interaction, our attention turned to all things digital during the pandemic, including podcasts. A podcast is audio-only media similar to a radio program, but you can follow or subscribe to a podcast and listen to it whenever and wherever you want, on a variety of devices. While podcasts are hugely popular in 2021, their growth has been flourishing for a while. 

Here is some current data for podcasting in 2021 provided by Statista:

  • More than 55% of the U.S. population have listened to a podcast.
  • In 2020, more than 155 million people listened to a podcast every week.
  • About 24% of the US population (68 million) listen to multiple podcasts weekly.
  • Podcast listeners consume an average of seven different shows per week.
  • There are more than 700,000 active podcasts and 29 million podcast episodes available.
  • The most popular age group for podcasts listeners is 25-44 which make up 49% of total listeners.
  • Spotify is now the world’s most popular podcast app, closely followed by the Apple podcast app.

Reasons for podcast growth
It is fairly easy and low cost for just about anyone to create a podcast. This has created an explosion of new entries and more choices for listeners. Podcasters can also make money through ads on their podcast or by making their program subscription based.

It has also helped that many famous characters have jumped on the podcast bandwagon in pretty creative ways. Comedic actor Will Ferrell created a podcast based on his Anchorman character Ron Burgundy. Barack and Michelle Obama agreed to make a series of podcasts for Spotify. The BBC quoted the former President saying, “Podcasts offer an extraordinary opportunity to foster productive dialogue, make people smile and make people think, and, hopefully, bring us all a little closer together.” 

Media publishers are finding new life for dying print publications. Meredith Corp. developed several podcasts with content taken from publications such as Parents, People and Entertainment Weekly. Even famous TV producers like Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal), jumped on board with content for the iHeartPodcast network in 2019.

Podcast playing on a cell phone

Multitasking and podcasting
Podcasts keep us company as we go about our everyday lives, doing chores or relaxing at home, driving, working or working out. 

One would think that only having audio, as opposed to audio and video, wouldn’t be very attractive. But think about it for a moment. It’s hard to multitask while watching a video, even with the sound off. You can visualize through an audio story. It is much harder to interpret a story with pictures alone.

With downloaded podcast episodes, a listener has full playback controls. You can get out of your car, run an errand and resume the program right where you left off, or take the program with you via a mobile device and earbuds. 

The podcast format is ideal for multitaskers in a busy world. 

There’s something out there for everyone
For just about any topic in any category, there are likely at least one or sometimes hundreds of podcasts available on demand. We can hear a story, learn a skill, find out about an endangered species, be better at managing investments or shudder at true crime investigations. 

Producers typically update content every week, keeping audiences engaged. The top five categories for podcasts in 2021 are society & culture, business, comedy, health, news & politics. In 60 minutes or less, you can laugh, learn or approach expert status in your favorite subject area.

Monetizing a podcast
Free to low-cost content is a significant advantage for the listener. However, I speak from experience when I say it takes an investment of time and money to put together a podcast. 

You can put together a decent home audio studio for less than $500, but the value of your time is another matter. I pre-record a half hour show, with about 35 minutes of interview time and about two hours of prep time. The best shows are with experienced guests that require little or no post production editing. However, when things a guest says need to be cut out, there are technical difficulties or background noises, the production time goes up—sometimes way up. 

The show also needs to be uploaded with notes and cover artwork to a hosting site, and distributed to an aggregator like Spotify or Apply Podcasts. So, after the initial equipment investment, I am spending 3 to 5 hours per show, plus the cost of hosting and distribution for my regional program. In an audio-only format, I save a bit of time on hair, make-up and lighting than on other vlogging assignments.

Sponsors can help defray these costs, and some platforms incorporate advertising options for podcasters. Once a podcast reaches an audience of about 5,000 listeners, sponsorship opportunities become more lucrative as companies use programs that align with their branding to attract new business. 

Podcast advertising has become more common in recent years, with many companies using it to attract new business from the podcast audience. Crowdfunding is another option to support growing podcasts, where listeners can donate through sources such as Patreon, which charges a commission on every donation.

Another advantage for advertisers is that 80% of listeners finish almost the entire podcast episode—a considerably lower drop off rate than YouTube watchers.

Choosing your content
My listening tastes tend to run toward NPR with shows like Fresh Air or Science Friday. What you choose to listen to is a personal choice based on your interests. That said, you can find lists of popular podcasts in your favorite online publications or news sources. Or, check out this list of the most popular podcasts in the U.S. for 2021 according to Edison Research:

  1. The Joe Rogan Experience
  2. The Daily
  3. Crime Junkie
  4. This American Life
  5. Stuff You Should Know
  6. My Favorite Murder
  7. Pod Save America
  8. Office Ladies
  9. Serial
  10. The Ben Shapiro Show

The future of podcasting
The convenience of on demand audio programming makes podcasting the new radio. With ad revenue creating incentive for more content, podcasting is on an upward curve and shows no sign of slowing down. This proves one thing for certain—we love to listen to each other talk!

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