Podcasts are a popular new form of media, with surveys reporting that 26% of Americans listen to podcasts each month - up from 12% just five years ago. Music-based mobile apps have expanded to serve podcasts, and major media organizations now produce podcast content of their own. Despite their popularity, researchers have yet to explore how and why people consume podcasts.
Cx lab member and Cornell Tech Professor Shiri Azenkot, along with students Advika Nigam and Subhangi Agarwala, designed an interview study to investigate podcast listenership. They asked participants when, where, and how they listened to podcasts, what content they chose and why, and how they engaged socially with and around podcasts. The study’s results help researchers understand podcast listenership. They also raise suggestions for how to improve podcast platforms and recommendation systems to better serve users. The study is currently undergoing peer review.
The study’s findings highlight the medium’s uniqueness. While podcasts share some characteristics with talk radio, pre-recorded audio content, and video blogging, they aren’t exactly alike, meaning that people consume them and socialize with them in new ways. Below are some of the main themes that the researchers found:
Mobile devices are most popular. most people listen to podcasts on their phones. Some also used smart speakers. Either way, they like to listen “eyes-free”.
Podcasts play well with multitasking. Participants reported listening while doing chores, working out, or commuting. The ability to multitask was a main advantage of the medium.
People listen to learn. Many listeners like podcast topics relating to their academic or professional interests. They noted that the audio-only format was less cognitively demanding than reading.
Social and solitary listening. Some participants listened to podcasts primarily when they were alone, or to disconnect from the rest of the world. Others listened together with their friends or partners.
Feelings of authenticity. Participants reported feeling that podcasts are honest and unbiased compared to more traditional media. Their ease of production gives a sense of spontaneity that participants appreciated.
Feelings toward podcasters. Listeners preferred podcast hosts who speak clearly, and appreciated the “chemistry” of multi-host podcasts. Some even developed one-sided relationships with podcast hosts.
So what do these results mean for podcasts, podcasting platforms, and podcast research? First, podcast recommendation systems should take the listener’s context into account, suggesting different content for different activities, moods, or locations. Podcast applications could further enable “eyes-free” listening, with interfaces that are easy to use while distracted or multitasking. Voice-only interfaces for smart speakers could also make podcast listening easier.
Future research on podcasts can build on this work in key areas. Larger and more diverse participant samples, increased focus on application usability and, more investigation of contextual factors can improve understanding of podcast consumption.
Want to learn more about this study? Download our research report here >