Somewhat positive news today, on the ongoing slow breaking of the stranglehold of the establishment media in the UK. Ofcom (the UK broadcast regulator) has crunched three data sources and has reported that the number of podcast listeners in the UK was double in 2017, compared to what it was five years ago in 2012.
Good news, in terms of choice and intellectual diversity. Yet this growing market was still small compared to mass market broadcast radio and streaming music. Ofcom’s press release states that 6 million adults listen to talk podcasts each week, which equates to 11% of UK adults.
One area where a definite trend can be seen is among the under 35s in the UK, because the audience is so large and avid. There appears to be a strong trend among the youth toward decoupling from establishment radio, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. What Ofcom does spot is that the strongest market here is in youth comedy. Again, unsurprising, but I guess it’s useful to have that nailed down. And yet perhaps we shouldn’t assume that is all such comedy is edgy indie stuff being downloaded from the Wild Web, since a third of the supposed “podcast” content being counted by Ofcom is actually sourced from the BBC.
The same BBC output ‘skew’ probably also happens at the other end of the age spectrum. By the likes of the “In Our Time” .MP3 recording of the weekly programme, which must have huge numbers of listeners, and other similar programmes for older audiences.
Not quite such a positive story, then, when one starts to break it down. And definitely not a mass market breakthrough for most independent ‘talk radio’ podcasters, despite what the huge YouTube view counts and download counters may say for a few super-stars of podcasting.
But one has to suspect that heavy ‘talk podcast’ listeners — such as those interested in niche interests, lecture recordings, politics and current affairs — are being strongly under-counted by mainstream survey methods that are geared to identifying mass markets for advertisers. Under-counting seems highly likely in the Ofcom figures, due to Ofcom’s use of only three sources. All seem questionable in some way. ACast: I’ve never heard of them, and they appear to deal only in finding paywalled podcasts as a service to mass advertisers. Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR): geared to measuring broadcast radio audiences via self-selecting diarists and other partial means. They thus seem intrinsically likely to overlook those who have switched away from the establishment media. TouchPoints: is from the Chartered Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, and has a similar approach and thus similar problems. They seem focussed on data of interest to national advertisers, based on an infrequently-updated (every two years?) 6,000 user sample of media consumption patterns. Currently their last report was published 2017, and expected respondents to complete “a 7 day diary every 30 minutes”, questionnaires, and install a tracking app in smartphones and on tablets. All three sources thus seem rather likely to be skewed in various ways, and may find it especially difficult to engage those who have decoupled from broadcast.
To be really useful, these lumpy and aggregate figures for podcasting also need to be more finely mapped, and listening tracked on a larger and more inclusive scale. Larger datasets could then be usefully mapped onto factors such as intellectual ability (vocabulary might serve as simple proxy there), cultural tastes, and regional tastes.