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6 Things We Learned from Podcast Listeners

6 min read

Listening to podcasts

At Known, we’re always interested in learning more about how people publish, consume, and produce media. To expand our knowledge of the podcasting space, this spring we did some research on audio consumption. Yesterday I wrote about some of the results we got from a survey of podcast and audiobook listeners.

Today I want to share a few of the interesting things we learned after interviewing podcast fans. Following our initial survey, in March we interviewed five people who were heavy podcast listeners — people who listened to shows at least four times a week.

We wanted to round out our survey with real conversations. This gave us a chance to ask listeners what they liked, what they didn’t like, how they listened to podcasts, and what their favorite shows were. After our initial interviews in March, we spoke to four more listeners in May. Here are some of our takeaways.

1 — They listen across multiple devices

It’s 2015, and audio stretches from the web and mobile apps, to cars, connected homes, and smart watches. Everyone we spoke with listens to podcasts across multiple devices. It was common to hear people describe listening to a show on their phone with their headphones in while they do work around the house. Then they might kick up the volume on their desktop speakers and enjoy a lean-back experience in their living room or bedroom.

2 — They listen primarily at home

If your picture of a podcast listener is only someone who’s on the train or driving to work, you might be surprised to learn that the people we spoke with primarily listened at home. Podcasts provide the soundtrack to their chores and routine tasks, as well as their audio entertainment while relaxing on weekends and evenings.

While some of the people we talked to also listen to podcasts at the gym, on a run, and driving around doing errands, everyone said that they listened to shows at home. Several of our interviewees also mentioned that they couldn’t listen to content at work; it either wasn’t allowed or wasn’t productive for their jobs.

3 — Good podcast discovery is missing

New show discovery doesn’t necessarily happen through iTunes. In fact, many listeners prefer to avoid Apple’s platform altogether. Some of the people we spoke with mentioned YouTube as a better way to discover new shows based on things that interested them. Both related episode recommendations and YouTube’s search feature made the video network stand out as a better way to find relevant, interesting content.

Other interviewees mentioned topic or keyword search, better categories, and personalized recommendations as areas that were missing for them during podcast discovery.

One woman echoed others when she said she discovers new shows when she hears them mentioned on another podcast or when a friend makes a recommendation — in person or through social media. In her opinion, checking iTunes for interesting content is a last resort.

4 — Sharing episodes is a burden

Many of the listeners we talked to were enthusiastic about sharing content with family, friends, and colleagues when the content seemed relevant. However, the process of sharing isn’t always easy. Word-of-mouth is an easy first choice, but for those who wanted to pass along an actual episode, copying and pasting an episode’s URL into an email was the method of choice.

This process works okay if you’re listening on a computer and the episode has a shareable link. However, if you’re listening in an app, in software like iTunes, or otherwise listening in a player that doesn’t generate an easily shareable episode permalink, things get harder. One interviewee described the process of sharing as a big commitment.

5 — Signals on the content and quality are important

Several interviewees found it challenging to assess the quality and content of new shows. With over 300,000 shows floating around in the ecosystem, many don’t live up to the expectations of listeners expecting professional, produced content.

Audio consumers look for clues around what the show is about and how good it is before committing. One woman said, “For me it’s really important that the title of the podcast is a good description. So, for example there is the Savage Lovecast. I don’t even bother listening to that one because they just number them. They’re like Savage Lovecast #436. I’m not going to listen to that because I don’t know what it’s about.”

Several people said that they’d go so far as to listen to the first bit of a new show, but if it didn’t sound professional or included “fluff” or small talk, they’d move on. “I want it to be concise, and I want it to be informative and important information.”

6 — The technology is a turn-off

The technology around podcasts and feeds might be keeping some people from becoming more invested in them. In a world where music and video can be accessed with the click of a button, concepts like feeds, RSS, and subscriptions can seem daunting.

On the subject of podcast subscriptions, one person said, “A lot of podcasts say ‘subscribe here, subscribe to this feed’ and I rarely do because it’s just a little complicated…Sometimes I see ‘RSS feed’, and I think, ‘What does that mean?’” He said he felt like RSS feeds were a technology that he’d never been taught, and he wished there was an easy one-click subscribe button to press while listening to a show. Until then, he’d rather not subscribe to shows and prefers to download episodes manually.

Another woman voiced frustration around the process of syncing content between devices. While she typically listens to shows on both her computer and phone, shows don’t always stay up-to-date and in sync. Recently, she’s started listening more often on just her phone because she doesn’t like the burden of managing subscriptions on multiple devices.


If you like podcasts as much as we do, you may be interested in our last post on data from podcast and audiobook listeners. Stay tuned for our next article on podcast creators and what we learned from interviewing the people who make the shows.

After hearing podcast listeners talk about how hard it was to find and share episodes that were relevant to their interests, we put some of our favorites together into playlists. Check them out over at Wavelist.