Thanks for listening: have we reached peak podcast?

New figures show a sharp decline in new shows with analysts asking if the podcast balloon has burst

Man wearing headphones
Are podcasts on the way out?
(Image credit: GUILLEM SARTORIO/AFP via Getty Images)

The number of podcasts launched in the last year fell by 80%, according to new industry statistics.

The figures suggest “the podcast balloon has burst”, said The Observer, with analysts asking whether podcasting was just a passing trend or a maturing industry that is settling into a more stable rhythm.

Analysts at Chartr uncovered the dramatic drop using international data supplied by the podcast engine Listen Notes. The number of new shows launched last year was 219,000. That is down from 729,000 in 2021, and 1,109,000 in 2020 at the height of global lockdowns.

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For some context, however, the number of podcasts started in 2019 was 337,099 – substantially lower than during the pandemic, but still higher than current figures.

Similarly, survey data from Edison Research shows that the number of people in the US who said they had listened to a podcast in the last month was 38% last year, down from 41% in 2021.

‘Difficult second album moment’

“It feels like we’re in that ‘difficult second album’ moment now, and of course there’s a lot to worry about,” Kate Taylor, an award-winning producer, told The Observer. She said the industry is experiencing “the jitters”, and attributes some of the drop to sponsorship deals being harder to come by, and investors not appreciating how much is needed to make content well.

“Roughly everyone launched a podcast in the Covid-19 pandemic’s nadir, and a big part of the decline is an after-effect of that,” said NiemanLab. So maybe the surplus in 2020-21 was “always destined to recede” – but the size of the drop does indicate there might be other factors here.

The “defining” problem of the industry is “podcast discovery” – how we find out about podcasts, especially in a crowded market with few barriers to entry. The industry seems to be facing a paradoxical problem which is that it “has become so crowded that fewer people want to enter it”.

This view seems to be backed up by statistics examining how listeners are rating podcasts. Both the average star ratings for podcasts in general and new podcasts launching are have been gradually decreasing for several years, said Rephonic. In fact, “podcast satisfaction, as measured in listener ratings, peaked in 2016”.

‘Flexible and relatively cheap’

We shouldn’t “write the podcast industry off” just yet, though, said Prolific North. Ad revenue for the podcast industry in the UK was estimated to be worth £40m in 2022 by consultancy PWC, which also predicted growth to £64m by 2025. In 2016, the industry was valued at £4m.

According to the Reuters Institute, 72% of publishers will also be putting more resources into podcasts and digital audio in the future.

Last month, reported Deadline, a panel of podcast executives told the UK’s Royal Television Society that “while it remains difficult to break into the important top ten on those charts, the flexibility of podcast-making in terms of subject matter and episode length, the relative cheapness of the exercise and the fact that anyone with a microphone can do it still makes it an attractive proposition”.

The panel also pointed out that while the money that can be made from hosting a podcast is comparatively little, “the [Intellectual Property] they generate can become valuable for adaptation by film and TV makers”.

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