Podcast audience numbers


Podcasts can be downloaded to a computer or portable MP3 player

The number of US internet users who have experimented with downloading a podcast continues to grow but few remain hooked, research suggests.The survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found 12% of US people online had downloaded a podcast.

Earlier this year, a survey by the same research group found that just 7% of online Americans had downloaded a show.

But despite the growth, just 1% of respondents said that they would download a podcast on a typical day.

This figure remains unchanged from the February survey.

Research firm Nielsen NetRatings estimates that there are 207,161,706 internet users in the US.

Sound explosion

Podcasts are sound files, often made up of speech and music that can be downloaded and listened to on a computer, or transferred to a mobile MP3 player.

Increasingly they are automatically delivered using software.

They were originally the preserve of a small number of tech-savvy people who put them together on laptops and posted them to the internet. Topics varied from the sensible to the bizarre.

We are at a crossroads of a major transition in the way media content is delivered and consumed

Mary Madden
Pew Internet research

Cutting through podcast hype

But now in addition to these homegrown shows, media organisations like National Public Radio in the US and the BBC in the UK use podcasting as an alternative way to distribute their content.

As a result podcasting has exploded.

Podcast Alley, a website that acts as a directory of shows, listed just 1,000 podcasts in November 2004. Today, it lists more than 26,000 different podcasts with more than one million episodes.

“While podcast downloading is still an emerging activity primarily enjoyed by early adopters, the range of content now available speaks to both mainstream and niche audiences,” said Mary Madden, senior research specialist at Pew.

“We are at a crossroads of a major transition in the way media content is delivered and consumed.”

Dubious measure

However, there are large discrepancies between forecasts of how the podcast market will take off.

Man wearing headphones next to a computer

Podcasts are still the preseve of young, tech-savvy males

Last year, a forecast by research firm The Diffusion Group suggested that podcasts could have a US audience of 56 million by 2010.

Conversely a report by Forrester Research in May forecast an audience of just 12 million.

The difference in the two figures shows the difficulty of measuring and forecasting podcast numbers.

Charlene Li, one of the authors of the Forrester report admitted on her blog at the time of the report that “measurement is still really hard to do”.

In particular she said that “counting podcast downloads is a dubious way to measure usage”.

However, some findings do match-up.

In particular both the Forrester report and the new Pew Internet findings show that podcasts are the preserve of tech-savvy males.

15% of online men say they have downloaded a podcast compared to just 8% of online women, the Pew research reports.



29 September 2006

Scottish Executive podcast page

One podcast was downloaded just eight times

Attempts by ministers to tap into the online generation with downloads to mp3 players have been criticised by an MSP.Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives showed eight people downloaded a podcast of a recent sports summit at Stirling University.

Tory MSP Derek Brownlee questioned the amount spent on creating the downloads when “the figures are so poor”.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said the service had only recently started and he expected it to grow in popularity.

Finance Minister Tom McCabe revealed the figures in an answer to a parliamentary question.

Handheld device

The figures also showed 16 downloads for a recent schools junk food event and 32 for the Athletes Commission for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The first audio podcast of First Minister’s Questions was made available on 7 September and the second on 14 September.

Over these eight days, there were 580 downloads.

Mr Brownlee said that after registering his query on 14 September, the number of downloads for the Stirling event, attended by sports minister Patricia Ferguson, jumped from eight to 90.

This included one download by the executive’s web team.

Mr Brownlee, the Tory finance spokesman, said: “In the four days after I submitted my questions the number of downloads of Patricia Ferguson’s Sport Summit increased eleven-fold.

“Were civil servants and party workers ordered home to top up the original embarrassing answer of eight?”

Mr Brownlee added: “It is concerning that the figures are so poor and, as of yet, we do not know how much money has been spent on the project.”


Handheld devices are used to make the downloads

Podcasts – web-based broadcasts which can be downloaded to a mobile or handheld device such as an iPod – were first posted on the executive website on 8 September.

Mr Brownlee has requested information about the cost of the scheme from ministers.

An executive spokesman said the service had been developed in-house at no additional cost.

“To suggest that executive staff have been ordered to download ministerial podcasts to boost numbers is complete nonsense,” he said.

“We make no apology for trying to engage with different audiences through modern technology.”


23 January 2006

By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

Radio presenter Chris Moyles

Radio 1’s Chris Moyles is the BBC’s most popular podcast

Suddenly, it seems, podcasting has broken through to a new level.

The BBC’s first published podcast chart reveals that the Radio Four Today programme’s main interview was downloaded more than 400,000 times last month, second only, among BBC programmes, to Radio One’s Chris Moyles Show.

But the real change is in the way other media groups are now using podcasts to challenge broadcasters such as the BBC.

Last week, The Guardian newspaper announced that the Ricky Gervais Show had been downloaded over two million times, having already topped the Apple iTunes download charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Now other media owners are racing to get into the audio business.

After the Gervais podcast on Guardian Unlimited, the Conservative leader David Cameron popped up in the new Daily Telegraph podcast. Two days later, it was Tony Blair, podcast by The Sun, which said it was as significant a breakthrough as the first radio broadcast by a prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald in 1924.

Then last Friday, Jon Snow appeared in Channel 4’s first podcast, a documentary about cannabis and the young.

Print radio

The first sign of the potential for other media to get podcasting emerged two months ago.

We have a role in helping our audience find the best of what’s out there and we also have an opportunity to identify the rising talent emerging through podcasts

Simon Nelson, BBC Radio and Music

“What actually happened is that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant approached us to say they wanted to explore the idea of doing a show through our website” said Emily Bell, editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited.

“I think they wanted to work in a format where they were in complete control of what they put out, but also to put it out to a wider audience.”

The Daily Telegraph has gone further, appointing its own podcast editor, Guy Ruddle. He arrived from the BBC earlier this month and says you can now listen to the Telegraph’s business news and sports reports, as an alternative to Today’s.

“We are the only newspaper that is doing anything vaguely resembling a daily news bulletin, with news and comment and analysis,” he said.

“That to me is the future – the ability to give people an audio version of the newspaper and, eventually, for them to be able to scroll through items and pick out bits they want to listen to or not.”

The Telegraph also features its own columnists, some reading out their own words, which can sound a bit stilted at the moment, something Guy Ruddle, as a professional broadcaster, will no doubt sort out.

But on Friday, it had something more exciting, the first broadcast interview with one of its columnists, the Olympic and trans-Atlantic rower James Cracknell. It caught the moment as he reached land with broadcaster Ben Fogle, who had nearly drowned when their boat capsized.

Radio role

Is the move into podcasts by rival media a threat to radio broadcasters? Simon Nelson, head of new media for BBC Radio and Music, believes not.

A new video iPod

Digital music players such as the iPod are used to listen to podcasts

He says the huge demand for podcasts, including BBC programmes such as From Our Own Correspondent and In Our Time, shows the enduring relevance of radio in the digital world, wherever it comes from.

“I think we see our role as trying to stimulate that, trying to help people find the ways to do it simply,” he said.

“We have a role in helping our audience find the best of what’s out there and we also have an opportunity to identify the rising talent emerging through podcasts.”

The Ricky Gervais Show has demonstrated the potential, and the threat, for broadcasters. Gervais and Merchant were previously on the commercial radio station XFM and have also broadcast for Radio 2.

Since they started the online show for The Guardian, has proved a runaway hit for the newspaper.

“The scale of it has certainly surprised us,” said Ms Bell, “and opens up lots of possibilities for non-traditional broadcasters to get into an area that perhaps they wouldn’t have thought about.”


In the last 18 months, podcasting has moved from a fad to a recognized competitor for media market share. Industry experts estimate that US podcast audience is now between 10 and 15 million people, and a conservative research analyst projects the audience to reach nearly 57M by 2010. Recent industry surveys indicate that 2-in-5 US podcasters have commercial ambitions.


By Jonathan Fildes
BBC News science and technology reporter

Monday, 10 April 2006

Man wearing headphones next to a computer

Companies want to know who is listening to podcasts

People downloading to podcasts are still in a minority, despite the hype surrounding them, research suggests.

The number of US households listening to podcasts will increase to just 12 million by 2010, a Forrester Research report has found.

Tech savvy, young males are most likely to listen to take away audio it said.

But a survey by research firm BMRB found that nearly eight million Britons will go in search of a podcast in the next six months.

The different numbers could suggest that UK consumers are a bunch of technophiles, much happier to dip their toe into the water than their US counterparts, or that coming up with these numbers is an imprecise science.

Charlene Li, one of the authors of the Forrester report admitted on her blog that “measurement is still really hard to do”.

In particular she said that “counting podcast downloads is a dubious way to measure usage.”

Difficult numbers

Podcasts seem to have had a meteoric rise, moving from the preserve of a few interested techies to the technology of choice for any company trying to appeal to the digital generation.

It is like a radio broadcast, but one that you can download from the internet to any MP3 player, not just an iPod as the name suggests.

Hand holding an iPod

One of challenges with podcasting is that there are no audited or reliable reporting mechanisms

Sarah Prag, BBC

You can use pieces of software to automatically gather the podcasts and pop them straight on to your player, meaning that you always have the latest programme in your pocket.

The technology has got traditional broadcasters excited and worried at the same time. The technology gives them a new opportunity to distribute their programmes and potentially a whole new audience.

But podcasting is cheap. All you need is a laptop, a microphone and a bit of a flair for technology and you can create your own programmes.

As a result broadcasters are worried that their market share will be washed away over night by a torrent of amateur broadcasters and companies that look on podcasts as a useful way to get their message out.

Hence, broadcasters, advertising companies and financial institutions are all clamouring to work out who is online, where they’re downloading and what they’re listening to.

Tiny audience

The survey of 5,000 US consumers by Forrester found that 3% had tried listening to a podcast.

Of them, 2% had experimented with audio downloads but did not listen on a regular basis.

Girl with headphones at a computer

Fewer women download and listen to podcasts

There will be just 700,000 diehard downloaders in the US this year; a tiny audience compared to the 25 million people who tune into stations run by traditional broadcaster National Public Radio (NPR) every week.

The report says that it will take a long time for people to ditch their transistors and join this small group of breakaways because downloading programmes is complicated and content is sparse.

However, the good news for broadcasters is that the people who persevere gravitate towards audio from established radio stations rather than relative newbies.

Rough guess

The Forrester survey backs up some of the findings in a report from another research firm, BMRB.

Its survey looked at digital consumption in the UK. It also found that podcasts are the preserve of young males.

But it predicts a much quicker uptake of podcasts in UK households, with around eight million adults logging on and walking away with their favourite radio programmes in their pocket by September this year.

The huge discrepancy between the figures for the US and the UK could point to relative differences in listening habits, online dexterity or even national character.

It could also reflect just how difficult it is to make these predictions.

Digital listeners

Even broadcasters can only take a rough guess at many people are actually listening to their podcasts.

Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles

Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles tops the BBC downloads

“One of challenges with podcasting is that there are no audited or reliable reporting mechanisms,” said Sarah Prag, a senior project manager responsible for the BBC podcast trial. From next week, the BBC will offer 50 different podcasts.

In February, the latest month for which statistics are available, 1.7 million people downloaded BBC content. The Chris Moyles show on BBC Radio 1 is the most popular.

But according to Ms Prag that only tells the BBC how many files are downloaded. It does not say anything about the number of individuals or whether people are even listening to the files.

However the kinds of programmes people are listening to does give a hint about digital demographics.

Programmes like In Our Time and From Our Own Correspondent on BBC Radio 4 are not the kinds of programmes people normally associated with the MP3 generation, said Ms Prag.

“You would expect Chris Moyles to do well but what this tells us is that Radio 4 is doing extraordinarily well,” she told the BBC News website.

“It’s knocked some of our assumptions on the head.”