July 15, 2024

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Podcast Listening Takes Surprising Dip Amid Coronavirus

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Since early March, when concerns around the coronavirus started to get more severe, people have been listening to podcasts a lot less.

Downloads in the space overall have dropped about 10 percent since the start of March, according to data from Podtrac, which follows trends and usage in the space. Total unique listeners also dropped roughly 20 percent in the same time frame. For both metrics, the drops became more precipitous around March 9, the same day financial trading in the U.S. was briefly halted after stocks fell so far so fast around ongoing economic concern given what were then only conversations about how to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. It was only the first day of a lockdown in Italy, now one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus.

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Podtrac found that last week, the entire American audience for podcasts fell 8 percent after declining 2 percent the week prior. While most podcast listening tends to happen during commuting and other solo activity, government orders in major states like New York and California for citizens to stay at home and the stop of all nonessential business seems to have zapped people’s interest or ability to listen. 

The company also broke out podcasts by topic: news, sports, comedy, society and culture and true crime. Each topic saw a decrease in listeners since March 9, although the news category only saw a dip of 10 percent, making it by far still the most listened to subject. On the other end is true crime, once a growing subject for the sector. It’s audience has fallen by almost 30 percent since early March. The audience for sports has fallen far as well, by about 13 percent. Unsurprising as all sporting events, even the Tokyo Olympics, have been canceled or postponed due to coronavirus mandates around group activity and public gatherings, leaving hosts of sports podcasts with nothing to discuss.

Comedy, typically a salve for hard times, has fallen as well, by roughly 15 percent since early March, along with the audience for the society and culture category, down about 17 percent, according to Podtrac.

Podcasts have been a booming medium for the last few years, with more than 550,000 podcasts now listed with Apple and seemingly weekly announcements by industry figures, actors and personalities of all sorts that they’re starting a show. It’s been a popular spot for advertisers, too, generally being a cost-effective method of reaching niche audiences and allowing hosts to read ads directly to listeners. 

But during the unprecedented time of the coronavirus pandemic, which has put much of the U.S. under lockdown in just the last two weeks, it’s TV and online news that seems to be winning out among people largely stuck at home. Last week, cable news networks saw year-over-year daily ratings climb: CNN up 193 percent; Fox News up 89 percent; MSNBC up 56 percent, according to Nielsen data.

As for online news outlets, traffic has surged around coverage of the coronavirus and the many changes and impacts it’s having on daily life and the economy at large. According to a report in NiemanLab, analytics companies Parsley and Chartbeat (one or the other used by nearly all news publications in the U.S.) said traffic has increased week over week since March 12 by between roughly 30 and 40 percent. Compared to several weeks ago, however, before the coronavirus took over daily life in the U.S., the increase in traffic is nearly 100 percent.

Despite increased traffic and viewership, advertising is expected to experience its share of fallout from the coronavirus. Twitter and Facebook have already said in financial disclosures that increased usage is not translating into ad sales and both companies, along with most major news publishers, are expecting a decline in advertising revenue. At least in the near term.   

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